finding each other

Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations by Clay Shirky for me was a lesson in economics and sociology. I know a little about sociology–well if taking one college class as an 18 year-old counts, but almost nothing about econ. While econ fascinates me to some degree, there are some things in life that are just best left to your financial advisor (or whoever else works/cares about that stuff). Truthfully, there was so much in this book that just made me think, “Oh, yeah, that makes sense!” that I’m really not sure how to tie it together at this point.

First of all, on the power of organizing in a Web 2.0 era, consider Evan Guttman and his StolenSidekick webpage. This was a guy who got fired up about an injustice and mobilized people to get his way. Our author poses the following question:

Do we also want a world where, whenever someone with this kind of leverage gets riled up, they can unilaterally reset the priorities of the local police department? (I wish I could cite the page number here, but I read from a Kindle so the best I can do is offer a location: 261)

When you think of it that way, suddenly the internet seems like a pawn of the well-connected and well-spoken to serve their own agendas. (Talk about the digital divide!) Now I can honestly say that I have thrown that kind of tantrum (maybe not of the caliber that involves millions of New Yorkers) and haven’t relented until I saw some action–my venue of choice has always been customer service phone calls–but I have never drawn in other people to support my cause, so it was novel for me to consider this. I thought it was a little ridiculous of the guy to go that far just to deliver a “spanking” to that Sasha character, but impressive none the less.

Then, I read the stories of the Catholic abuse scandals and the airline complaints and I really started thinking about how powerful it was for people who felt strongly about a cause to be able to find each other and unite. It wasn’t that the second incident in either of these cases was any less infuriating (the case in the 1990s versus the one in the 2000s), it was that, finally, for something that is truly serious, the malefactor couldn’t just depend on the odd adage, “This too shall pass.” It’s like in the past, people would be able to do enough damage control that as long as it was out of the papers, they were in the clear. Trent Lott’s comments about Mississippi’s voting history and Strom Thurmann are another example–the papers missed the first story and couldn’t publish “old news” when they picked up on it later. However, the internet community can buzz and buzz and buzz until a critical mass is reached and the world pays attention.

While I was troubled by the idea of the “Pro-Ana” girls using the YM message boards to unite (and then migrating to other online locations once YM shut them down), some people need to find “their own communities”:

Much of the way we talk about identity assumes it is a personal attitude, but society maintains control over the use of identity as an associational tool. A recovering addict would find it very risky to ask coworkers for help finding a support group, as might someone looking for the local gay community. Whether society offers or withholds this support, however, matters less with each passing year. (location 2525)

The marginalized (provided they have online access) have the opportunity to be a little less marginalized. I like that.

There’s another beauty to this. It’s not about hiding out and talking to other online hermits who don’t have any friends in the real world (I’m exaggerating here–for awhile, there was a fear of that). People still want to be with people:

In the developed world, the experience of the average twenty-five-year-old is one of substantial overlap between online and offline friends and colleagues. The overlap is so great, in fact, that both the word and the concept of “cyberspace” have fallen into disuse. The internet augments real-world social life rather than providing an alternative to it. Instead of becoming a separate cyberspace, out electronic networks are becoming deeply embedded in real life. (location 2421)


This is what the end of cyberspace looks like: the popularity of these Meetup groups suggests that meeting online isn’t enough and that after communicating with one another using these various services, the members become convinced that they share enough to want to get together in the real world. (location 2449)

Between Meetup groups, political actions and flash mobs (I still want to know how flash mobs coordinate dance numbers though. That seems bigger to me than a mass email…), with transformations this large due to social tools, we each have to consider our role and our participation level in it all. I’m starting to think that none of those levels matter too much, as long as we’re all still aware of our place in the world. (Is that too touchy-feely or cliche?)

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