Clay Shirky argues that the history of the modern world could be rendered as the history of ways of arguing, where changes in media change what sort of arguments are possible — with deep social and political implications.

As you watch, think about examples from your own personal experience where technology has opened up greater opportunities for cooperative communication between people. Can you think of instances where the opposite has seemed to have been proven true.


Who is he:

Shirky is an adjunct professor in New York University’s graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program, where he teaches a course named “Social Weather.” Heʼs the author of several books. This spring at the TED headquarters in New York, he gave an impassioned talk against SOPA/PIPA that saw 1 million views in 48 hours.

Why should you listen:

Clay Shirky’s work focuses on the rising usefulness of networks — using decentralized technologies such as peer-to-peer sharing, wireless, software for social creation, and open-source development. New technologies are enabling new kinds of cooperative structures to flourish as a way of getting things done in business, science, the arts and elsewhere, as an alternative to centralized and institutional structures, which he sees as self-limiting. In his writings and speeches he has argued that “a group is its own worst enemy.”

 Discussion questions:

  1. What evidence does he present to support the claim that “a group is its own worst enemy.” Do you agree with his conclusions? In not, what conclusion would you draw from the data presented?
  2. What can we learn for “crisis mapping” in Kenya?
  3. Besides LOL cats, find other stupid, but creative, products and share them with someone. Come up with your own version of an LOL product and share it on Facebook, or your favorite social media site.
  4. What was the unexpected consequence of the “10 shekel fine” in the Day Care study. Can you write about other examples of interventions “gone wrong” (that is having the exact opposite effect than was intended)?
  5. Propose a creative project that could make the world a better place to live.
  6. Implement the project (could be the beginning step toward you being awarded the Nobel Peace prize!!!).

How cognitive surplus will change the world with Clay Shirky


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