“Every webpage is a latent community,” writes Clay Shirky in the most lucid piece of writing about Social Media™ that I’ve ever read. Yet despite its yawning blurb, Here comes everybody is not another book about the horrors of technology. Instead, it examines how the web influences congregations of people in a pragmatic and engaging manner; whether Shirky writes about the political, economic or the social side effects of technology, he always handles these issues with the careful study that they deserve.
In the extract below, Shirky details the many differences between television and the web, describing how our relationship with technology has dramatically influenced the personal relationships that we have with one another:
Television has millions of inbound arrows—viewers watching the screen—and no outbound arrows at all. You can see Oprah; Oprah can’t see you. On the Web, by contrast, the arrows of attention are all potentially reciprocal; anyone can point to anyone else, regardless of geography, infrastructure, or other limits. If Oprah had a weblog, you could link to her, and she could link to you.
As an almost-unrelated side note: I always find it strange when people talk about access to the web. According to a recent study half the population is offline, so internet access isn’t as democratic or universal as people might think – there are barriers people have to cross in order to gain entry. Or to put it another way, there are ‘arrows’ out there which are entirely unconnected to the others and are pointing in directions we can’t see.
Anyway, it’s particularly enjoyable when Shirky chronicles the significant cultural changes that the web has encouraged as well:
Love has profound effects on small groups of people—it helps explain why we treat our family and friends as we do—but its scope is local and limited. [...] We are used to a world where little things happen for love and big things happen for money. Love motivates people to bake a cake and money motivates people to make an encyclopedia. Now, though, we can do big things for love.
For the next couple of weeks I’ll be chanting this whenever I stumble over any cynical or snarky moods which happen to sneak up and catch me by surprise. In fact, that last refrain – “we can do big things for love” – sounds like it should be adopted as the mantra of the Indie Web movement.
We are the Indie Web and we make big things for love.