Some thoughts on the coming of everybody

Clay Shirky discusses his new book, Here Comes Everybody, at the Harvard Law School’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society.

Very interesting guy. But I have to take issue with his main point, which seems to be that group action just got easier. Rather than overcoming the pitfalls of group complexity by introducing hierarchy, he contends, the internet makes the connections that comprise group complexity easier to produce–they are “more lightweight.” But if a connection is lightweight, how much of a connection is it really? Is it a connection when it can be broken with as little consideration as it takes to click a link?

This is part of the problem of with viewing human relationships in terms of networks and network theory. Before computer networks, we didn’t talk about “building connections” or “creating social networks”, as if making friends and community was a straightforward process that could be envisioned in advance and reproduced mechanistically. I don’t deny that this is frequently a useful way of talking and describing the world, but the metaphors drawn from the world of production and fabrication only go so far in the world of human relations and action.

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