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Here Comes Everybody - Book Review

I was told by the Chief Executive of Patient Opinion at #mps09 (the conference myPublicServices – blog post can be found here) that this book would change my world, and in a way I guess it did.

Having only recently joined the Technology, Research and Transformation Team, I thought I didn’t know too much about technology, however this book completely changed my opinion. Technology doesn’t have to be all ‘high tech’ and ‘new fangled’ to change the way people live their everyday lives at home, on holiday, at work, etc,.The important point is how this technology is used. Shirky gives the example of the founding of VOTF (Voice of Faith) a small group of 30 members who wanted to act upon a scandal and after two months the group had over 25,000 members. The group merely used ‘the internet model’ to spread their message and as Shirky states ‘what technology did do was alter the spread, force and especially duration of the reaction’.

As we saw in late 2009, the same occurred when Daily Mail writer Jan Moir wrote an article about the late Stephen Gately from Boyzone. Readers were outraged by her claims that his death was linked to his sexuality. Celebrity twitterers Derren Brown and Stephen Fry urged their followers to complain and Jan Moir became a ‘trendy topic’ indicating the frequency with which it was mentioned on Twitter. Other members of Twitter sent messages to the BT, O2 and Marks and Spencer Twitter pages asking if the companies intended to remove their advertising from the webpage showcasing Moir's offending article. The Twitter uproar appeared on Friday afternoon to have been successful, with all adverts removed from the article after half past three.
Being a fellow Social Scientist, the chapter that really caught my interest was ‘solving social dilemmas’ which is as follows:

Two suspects are arrested by the police. The police have insufficient evidence for a conviction, and, having separated both prisoners, visit each of them to offer the same deal. If one testifies (defects from the other) for the prosecution against the other and the other remains silent (cooperates with the other), the betrayer goes free and the silent accomplice receives the full 10-year sentence. If both remain silent, both prisoners are sentenced to only six months in jail for a minor charge. If each betrays the other, each receives a five-year sentence. Each prisoner must choose to betray the other or to remain silent. Each one is assured that the other would not know about the betrayal before the end of the investigation. How should the prisoners act?

Skirky argues that we face many of these situations in life. Dilemmas where there will be risks, where we have to trust other people who we may not even know, which may not ever be completely solved. Despite these worries, human beings are social creatures. Social psychological studies have shown time and time again that we NEED social interaction. Even the famous Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs does not forget social interaction. Shirky argues that this makes social situations like the prison dilemma unavoidable but social tools can be used to aid this interaction. "The internet augments real-world social life rather than providing an alternative to it. Instead of becoming a separate cyberspace, our electronic networking are becoming deeply embedded in real life." I think this story I read today on a fellow Twitterer’s blog highlights Shirky’s point:

 'Well what horrendous weather we are having! Had a phone call at the beginning of the week requesting 150 cupcakes for a young lady who sadly passed away on Christmas Day. Of course I was more than happy to help! The funeral is in Tunbridge Wells tomorrow morning and I knew that if I waited till tomorrow morning we would not have been able to get out with the snow so had to think of something drastic. For anyone that knows me I am a huge lover of "Twitter". It is a fantastic way to meet new people and to network! Anyway I "Tweeted" a plea for anyone with a 4x4 vehicle to assist me in getting the cupcakes to my friends house in Wadhurst, as she is the lady doing the other catering for the funeral.A lovely lady from BBCKent sent me a message and suggested that the local BBC Radio Kent might be able to help. Within an hour I had received a phone call from them. I was interviewed live on the radio asking anyone in the area if they could help me. Within a few minutes of my radio interview a string of listeners had contacted BBC Radio Kent offering help! How amazing was that! I called the nearest caller to me, a lovely man called Roger Little from Biddenden who said he was more than happy to help as he had a large 4x4.' - Sally Howell-Bewsell, blog: http://thekentcupcakery.blogspot.com/

What I really like about this book is the way Shirky starts with a case study and works his point around it. Too many authors feel that the best way to put their opinions across is just to say it, but having an example to build on not only captures the reader’s attention, but it makes the point more realistic. However, I did feel that this wasn’t a book that you could dip in and out of as you pleased. Shirky has a tendency to skip from one idea to another when talking about a topic of interest so to stay fully aware of the journey he intended to take you on, you do have to read the whole chapter fully. No good for anyone who has a busy schedule and just wishes to read bits and pieces on a train journey!

Overall, I believe that anyone could read this, whether you are a technophobe or have your blackberry glued to your hand. Technology really has and continues to affect everybody, whether we choose to accept it or not, or even notice it for that matter. So, if you have the time, go and have a read about flashmobs, the Mermaid Parade and how the internet has transformed the world to name just a few. It really opened my eyes and I’m sure it will do the same for you.

'Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organising without Organisations' by Clark Shirky.
Publisher: Penguin Press
ISBN-10: 1594201536
ISBN-13: 978-1594201530

- Kirsty Russell

Picture: Clay Shirky talking at a conference with the cover of the book 'Here Comes Everybody' projected onto a screen behind him, with thanks to wayneKLin for publishing on Flickr under a Creative Commons license some rights reserved.

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  1. Tom Phillips said...

    Nice review, Kirsty. Relevant to some stuff I've been thinking about in another conetxt this week too.

    I think it's important sometimes to separate the medium from the message, as they used to say. We're fond of talking about the impact of technology when it is really the case that all the technology did was free up access to information/knowledge across an audience that was either far larger, or far more able to put it to use, than would otherwise have been the case. I was cautious about using the word "all" back there, because it unintentionally sounds like I want to belittle the impact.

    There's an evolutionary tree of these things - whether the impact comes from graffiti on the walls of Ancient Greece, messages from town criers, the impact of the first printing presses, pamphleteers in the 19th Century, radio, TV or the world wide web. The real revolution starts when people get hold of the information, assimilate it with other information, beliefs, etc, and begin to feel empowered by it. Small wonder that information management and knowledge management is key to the work of those in charge of propaganda and advertising.

    The ability to let information make that impact (or to let people make impact with the information)grows exponentially with advances in the technology, of course. There was a superb piece in the recent BBC2 series about the impact of the web that showed a South Korean primary school class. This graphically underlined how the means of accessing the information had simply ceased to be an issue. The real impact was being made by the immediacy with which the information could be assimilated into the rest of the learning process. The technology enable the impact. The information it conveys is what creates the impact.

    Can I borrow the book when you're finished with it?

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