Gathering people together to take action

When I was studying for my politics degree I doubtlessly would have taken a course on the intersection of politics and the internet. Had something like this been on offer, of course.

Skip forward to 2008 this might have involved enrolling in a course by the farsighted Howard Rheingold (author of The Virtual Community in the early 1990s). He’s instructing a course on virtual communities/ social media at the University of California, Berkeley.

The course sounds brilliant. Imagine talking about how a 1960s commune influenced the development of the Whole Earth Lectronic Link (WELL) virtual community. Or about Habermas and the public sphere. Being the cyber denizen he is, Rheingold shares a series of lesson excerpts on his vlog.

No longer having the same amount of time to contemplate and debate as I did when I was a student, I rarely find for delving into the theory and praxis of cyberspace.

Then, out of nowhere, I find a book that makes me want to glug coffee and argue back and forth.

It’s with growing anticipation that I wait for “Here comes everybody” by New York professor and consultant Clay Shirky. The book is about the power of the internet for organising without organisations.

Even without a copy of the book I’ve found out quite a lot about it, including dozens of reviews. None of these have put me off yet but that could easily happen.

His schematic for describing the ultimate goal of the internet as being collective action is hugely attractive. And he seems to slide blithely by some of the web’s perils, such as the endemic marketing and disinformation by various elites. The examples don’t seem to have been drawn from activists in the traditional sense, but from regular citizens seeking to right wrongs.

I definitely think there is something worth talking about here. The promise of the internet to distribute power is in danger of being consumed by other purposes.

The more I look and scan, the less I feel the need to read the actual book. Though, as I found in the past after sitting in a lecture theatre listening to a professor up the front, actually understanding something only happens when you toss ideas around with other people and hear different points of view.

Aha! Maybe I could find some others in Wellington who also want to read Shirky’s book, drink coffee and rave.

All about Here comes everybody

Clay Shirky interview (mp3, 30 MB), by his publishers, 4 March 2008

Clay Shirky on Guardian Tech Weekly podcast, 25 March 2008

Presentation at Berkman Center for Internet and Society, Harvard University, video, 28 February 2008

“Does “Obama Girl” help Obama?” by Farhad Manjoo, Salon, 7 March 2008

Official Clay Shirky “Here comes everybody” blog