Apr 30

Brady Forrest

Brady Forrest

Web 2.0 Expo: Clay Shirky's Keynote

The videos for the Web 2.0 Expo Keynotes are available on! I've embedded video of Clay Shirky's excellent keynote above. In his talk Clay discusses many of the concepts from his new book and explains why sitcoms are "cognitive heat sinks". A transcript of his talk is available in his post Gin, Television, and Social Surplus.

tags: web 2.0  | comments: 7   | Sphere It

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Comments: 7

  Thomas Lord [04.30.08 11:20 PM]

He lost me when he cited "I Love Lucy" as a waste of time. What a maroon.

In Classical Athens, theater was hardly a waste of time.

Finally, the labor potential of 1% of TV time is useful for many things other than selling the Shirky book or brand. For example: gardening.

Frankly, I think the talk is mainly inspired because he's sore about Colbert's getting a one up on him.


  decompiler [05.01.08 06:49 AM]

@Thomas Lord

Wow, are you a republican journalist? You completely missed the point, took what Mr. Shirky said, and somehow twisted it to your own claim to superiority.

If you really disagree with him, why are you out here, sharing what you think about this video? You're taking part in exactly what he says we all want - you looked for, and found, the mouse - you're proving his point.

Look, I agree that gardening is a fine way to spend that 1% - as is exercising, spending time with your family and friends, etc. - but Mr. Shirky is talking about media consumption vs. media participation. I don't think you'll find many people on the internet - especially reading O'Reilly Radar - that like to merely "consume" TV more than they like to "create/share/consume" information and opinions online.

  Thomas Lord [05.01.08 10:18 AM]


It isn't a popularity contest. Mr. Shirky is clearly superior in at least the tangible sense of material security. So, that's the first thing.

Second: I'm not "twisting" anything he said. His analysis compares TV viewing to getting blotto on gin. That is an attack on culture and attack that looks down upon hoi poloi. It is naive in its assessment of TV's contributions to our culture. It is naive in its reading of hoi poloi's reaction to TV. I really do think it is a good question to raise in response: if TV is such a waste of time, then why was theater in classical Greece not a waste of time? TV and classical theater can't be casually equivocated but neither are they entirely different in their contributions to the reproduction of society. "Audient" is very different from "drunk" and participation in the spectacle of TV is far from passive or nihilistic.

We must not overlook the economic context in which he delivers these sound-bites either. Is his message here tailored only to a few who contemplate the progressive possibilities of Internet-enabled cooperation? Or at least as much and more to an audience looking for sources of free labor? Interesting in this talk that, while he does strike back at TV, he nowhere addresses or acknowledges the P.T. Barnums running the show -- which was Colbert's main point (a proud and frank Barnum himself).

Finally, you can only arrive at the conclusion that I am somehow "proving his point" by conversing here if you think the conversation I engage in is the rule rather than the exception, and if you overlook the inversion game I am playing: using the machine to rattle the machine. You only get to me "proving his point" if you overlook the individuality and uniqueness of my self and what I am saying. In short, you only get there if you regard me as part of the free labor pool in service of higher powers. Such a view would put you in the Shirky camp -- that much is true.

Now, yes: new communication potentials change media. Widespread, casual cooperation, has many unexplored potentials. There is a Ted talk where these ideas are explored more rationally. Even that talk is naive in its assessment of how these things are actually orchestrated but at least it doesn't try to inflate a fashionable negativity towards television into an otherwise unsupported, hype-perpetuating thesis.


  decompiler [05.02.08 08:32 AM]

Mr. Lord,

Let me start by apologizing for the tone of my first post. I re-read both of our original posts this morning, and I'm not sure what my problem was yesterday but clearly I was out of line.

I don't agree with some of your points, nor do I think I can totally align myself with Mr. Shirky.

Agreed: watching TV is better than getting drunk, especially when considered as a nightly activity. I also agree that television - as all media - makes contributions to our society by helping to inform us, entertain us and give us something to socialize about. I have a few TV shows that I watch regularly, but I skip re-runs and commercials (thank God for TiVo) because I think of them as a near-complete waste of my time.

The analogy of the theater in classical Greece fits more with our movie theaters, I think. Unlike our TV programming, I doubt very much that Greek plays were interrupted every 10 to 15 minutes for 5 minutes of commercials featuring blood diamonds, BS pharmaceuticals, and mud-slinging political ads.

Also, I don't see where the economic part of your "free labor" argument is coming from. His example is Wikipedia, which is a free service created by people who want to work on it in their spare time, not by child labor in a sweat shop or taking advantage of migrant workers.

I don't think we need to address the media puppet masters, as they're irrelevant to the main point (as I understood it): if everyone took the time they spent watching commercials and re-runs, and instead participated in the two-way medium of the internet, we'd probably end up with more LOL catz, but we'd also have even more good quality content, as can be found on most of Wikipedia.

Finally, in saying that you're proving his point, I meant his point that we're learning to take better advantage of our "cognitive surplus." I was just pointing out that since you are out here reading and commenting on O'Reilly Radar, you clearly have more of a desire to participate in the two-way medium, rather than just absorb the one-way.

  Thomas Lord [05.02.08 10:00 AM]


I hope you won't worry about "tone" too much. I said earlier "the reader is never wrong". That's part of an aphorism I made up: "The reader is never wrong. The reader is also never right." In other words, we read and right or listen and speak or show and observe and these acts of communication are what they are. The reaction, even an impulsive and later regretted reaction, is as much a part of a piece of writing as the words. First there are two people in the room, in silence. Then one speaks. Now there are three in the room and the speech is an object that can be studied on its own. In this case, you said some things about, for example, toss off afterthought comments. I reacted defensively and that was a mistake because it blocked me at first from examining things. I think you made, basically, a good point.

TV does more, I think, than entertain and give points of reference for sociable chat. Much like Greek theater, TV is not only about the story-lines presented (or the products presented) but instead, everything on TV is unified by sets of common perceptions about how the world and society in particular are ordered. In that way, it is part of how our culture reproduces itself and evolves itself over time.

For example, we could look at The Honeymooners, All in the Family, and Family Guy. Underlying all the jokes is the template they're written on. Each show conveys (through representation of and representations that violate) common assumptions about family structure, home life, neighborly relations, and so on. Even the commercials, every 15 minutes, are part of the way in which we come to understand how "others" see and evaluate markets; or how they don't.

To be sure, the Internet (and cable before it) have a role in that mechanism of self-reproducing culture. More channels and less expensive broadcasting means that more (by no means all) people have a chance to "put on the show". Hegemonic strangleholds can be broken (or new ones formed). More refined senses of diversity can develop as can refinements of polarization. The Ted talk I linked to above begins with a discussion of the history of the economics of mass-circulation newspapers. It is interesting to contemplate that economic shift in the context of this cultural function of "the stage."

That is not, however, quite what Mr. Shirky is talking about when he brings up his hypothetical "10,000 Wikipedia projects." Which brings us to your next point:

Both Mr. Shirky and Mr. Benkler (the Ted talk) offer that things like Wikipedia or the Linux kernel are simply "what happens" when lots of people who care to each contribute at least a bit.

Colbert makes fun of that notion by contrasting it with his own form of participatory media. He "tells his audience what they like." He empowers them with a voice: "My voice," he explains.

Well, Wikipedia and the linux kernel for that matter are not so different from The Colbert Nation. They are participatory shows put on by, orchestrated by, and spoken for in the public forum by a few. In both of those cases, a few take significant economic gain from the participation of the audience, most of whom in turn get nothing but "satisfaction" or "reputation".

Two observations follow from that: First, we must recognize the disingenuous narrative, like Mr. Shirky's, that seeks to hide "the men behind the curtain." Second, we must recognize that those Wizards of OS who we are discouraged from noticing have quite a business plan going: in most commercially successful ventures, one is normally expected to hire and pay the workers.

Wikipedia is interesting in another way, as well: it could, and probably should, have been implemented as a set of protocols operating over multi-media net-news messages. There is simply no reason, other than profit taking, to centralize it as it is in its present form.

Indeed, it almost happened. Text-based net-news developed social conventions around the idea of the periodic "F.A.Q." post. That pattern could have been well developed into a system for collaborating on richer forms of reference article, at the same time supporting fine-grain forking and merging and competing choices about editorial selection. Yet in that form it would have been harder to raise money for or take money out of the system.

So, again, yes: labor exploitation. The narratives that promote these efforts are not truthful about how benefit from the projects is distributed. The narratives hold up false hope after false hope about the lasting benefits of contributing gratis. And a few laugh all the way to bank even while they deny any personal responsibility for the practice. "It's something that 'just happens'!" is the claim they need to keep this up. And it is precisely the claim that Mr. Shirky seems to be promoting.

Am I making his point by participating? Well, no. I have not awoken from the opiate-stupor of TV, discovered free time, and come here to create the next Wikipedia. I am simply speaking out in what, in this context, counts as the public square. To be sure, Mr. Shirky's narrative is sufficiently vague and malleable that I have trouble imagining any on-line act that could not be construed to somehow "support" his point but, to me, such a construction seems reductionist, self-serving, and de-humanizing.


  Sean [05.06.08 02:29 PM]

Thomas Lord: you have understood nothing. I could argue with you, but there's no point. Time will be enough.

  Thomas Lord [05.06.08 04:01 PM]


Your assertion that you have an objection is noted.


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