Old and New Views of the Internet

August 26, 2010
Posted by Jay Livingston

1. Shortly after Clay Shirky published Here Comes Everybody, his take on how the new technology is changing social organization, he was asked to meet with a TV producer who thought he might be a good guest for a show. Shirky reports on the meeting in his new book Cognitive Surplus.

The producer asked about social media, and Shirky told her about Wikipedia. Astronomers had recently decided that Pluto was not a planet after all. Wikipedians responded with a flurry of activity, many people putting a lot of effort into the intense and frequent rewriting of the page on Pluto. Shirky expected the producer to ask about how knowledge is constructed, who knows what, who has authority, and other problems of wikis. “Instead, she sighed and said, ‘Where do people find the time?’”

“No one who works in TV gets to ask that question,” Shirky snapped.

Shirky doesn’t say whether she ever put him on her show. But the producer’s taken-for-granted assumptions are a good examle of the old-style view of the Internet and social media. She found it unremarkable, maybe even a good thing, that people spent an average of four hours a day sitting on the couch watching TV. (In a classroom of thirty-five students, that’s over 1000 person-hours a week in front of the tube.)

But when it came to active and intense involvement in a wiki conversation, she wondered where they find the time. She didn’t get it.

2. The newer world-view is represented by Ethan,* age 6, who does get it.

His grandfather was doing some work on the computer, and Ethan walked over to him, asking questions, as kids often do. “Grandpa, where do we go after we die?” he asked. His grandfather pretended to be busy with his work and said briefly, “I don’t know.”

Ethan pointed to computer screen. “Google it,” he said.

* Not his real name

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