Growing up with a name that rhymes with turkey – and jerky – was no great fun. But, as an adult, I tell you, being globally unique in the age of Google can be extremely helpful. Occasionally people contact me to ask, “Are you the same Clay Shirky I was at school with?” and I think, “Well, of course – there’s only one of us.” I couldn’t even deny it if I wanted to.
As people have started watching porn on aeroplanes – imagining they’re sitting in a bubble – new social bargains will have to be created.
Someone asked me, “Where do people find the time to write Wikipedia?” But it has involved an estimated 100m hours, against the 200bn hours Americans spend watching TV each year. I think of me as a child sat watching every Gilligan’s Island, Brady Bunch and Partridge Family on TV as a lost opportunity poured down the sink of the worst sort of media.
It used to be that the principal guarantees of a conversation being private were that no one was listening and it wasn’t being preserved for posterity. Now you’d have to take active steps to hide yourself from the authorities and such steps are suspicious-making.
We were sold the story of being mainly self-interested, mainly rational actors interacting in market places. And the internet has shown that we have all these social, empathetic relationships with deep, authentic motivations that are nothing to do with selling and spending.
Flash mobs have been derided as a joke, “the flag-pole sitting of 2003”, but in Belarus, for instance, they were used to protest against the government. In Egypt, people going absent from Twitter causes others to be warned that they’re in police custody.
I say technologically equipped groups now have the ability to bring down governments, destroy companies and only damage religious institutions, because people’s commitment to preserving religion is higher than to any other institution.
More interesting than thinking about what’s possible in 10 years is thinking what’s possible now but that no one has built.
Within 10 minutes of one of my students leaving to go home, others staying late wrote: “Goodnight Tom” on a whiteboard, photographed themselves in front of it, put it on Flicker and tagged it with his name, knowing the first thing he would do when he got home was discover it.
I removed “cyberspace” from my vernacular. The idea, which I grew up with, of going into a place separate from the real world, is something my students just don’t recognise.
The one way it’s advantageous to look quite like Tom Hanks is that when I’m arranging to meet somewhere I can say: “I look like Tom Hanks with big ears and no hair.”
Algorithms don’t do a good job of detecting their own flaws. A perfect example is Obama’s change.gov site asking what priorities the administration should be concentrating on and – in a time of banking sector meltdown and two wars – an interest group pushes medical marijuana to number one. The question is: where do you put the over-ride switch and who runs it?
Unicef said that when they set up public computer kiosks with educational material, a cached Wikipedia, basic health information, etc, in villages that the people using them are aged six to 60, but when adding internet connectivity the age range reduces to 14 to 18. They consume porn and it creates an environment unfriendly to others.
The internet brings to everywhere some of the conundrums of dense city living.
Buy his book here comes everybody