when we change the way we communicate we change society
so says clay shirky in here comes everybody:the power of organising without organisations. it's an absolute gem of a book (and the uk cover is so much better than the usa cover!!), the best of its kind i have read since the spider and the starfish. shirky looks at social media and the new technologies not for their own sake but for their effects. he is blogging about the themes in the book here. the quote above is really a rehearsal of marshall macluhan's theme that changing technologies creates a new environment. rather than do one large review i want to pick up some of his themes in a series of posts. we'll see how it goes depending on how busy my september continues to be. it may be a short series!
a phrase that i've used before and has been used in relation to the smart tools of web 2.0 is an architecture of particpation. the current technologies enable free and ready particpation of distributed groups of people with a whole variety of skills. in times gone by those people existed but getting them together to work on something was a feat in itself that required pretty high organisation and motivation. there were lots of institutuons and organisations who played that role. now it's so simple that everything has changed, and things can get done without the need for organisations (or at least organisations as they have been known). shirky kicks off with a disarmingly simple threefold process.
sharing - co-operation - collective action
sharing creates the fewest demands and you can see it happening via flickr (photos), digg (stories), blogs and the number of small niche communities with common interest or concern. co-operation requires a bit more co-ordination especially if there is to be some collaborative production involving decision making. something like wikipedia manages this sort of participation really well. then collective action is definitely a harder step. it needs a strong enough shared vision which binds a group together and people will put effort in for. shirky says this is much more rare.
perhaps an example will help. i was thinking about the truth isn't sexy campaign and have written something about it recently thinking about how networks work (it will be in the next CMS magazine Yes). this is a short version... it began with an idea (or a rage against injustice more like). a friend of mine si had a concern about sex trafficking following visits to bars where girls were visibly being picked up. the first phase of the process was sharing. chatting with a few friends he got connected with a few other people who were involved in care for sex workers or political campaigning. a few e-mails, google searches and coffees later, he begin to build up a picture of the scene and the various economic, immigration, political and cultural factors at play. crucially he also connected with some others - the second phase collaboration - who caught the vision for doing something and a small team was formed with aimie & shannon picking up the baton. the team quickly found themselves part of an informal network of brilliant people working on their own projects but also collaborating together. an idea began to form – no-one seemed to be working at the customer demand end of things, with men who pay for sex. via a few networked connections, a design agency got involved and a beer mat and poster campaign was born called The Truth Isn’t Sexy - the third phase collective action. 200,000 beermats have been distributed in city centre pubs and NUS bars along with other events and media and cross party MP’s have praised the truth isn’t sexy in the house of commons with the minister in charge of this area now publicly stating the importance of addressing demand - the main political objective. the group are going to self publish an activist's handbook for others wanting to take collective action on something...
the campaign cost virtually nothing apart from printing costs. It wasn’t spearheaded by an organisation. volunteers made it happen as networks of people shared the idea, co-operated and joined in collective action. this network of people is not a club you can join – it was much more organic and invisible. It wasn’t something that was led – at least not in any traditional sense – though the people involved had a high level of skill at getting people connected and participating. the technological tools that are available in the world of digital media, all free if you have a computer – e-mail, web sites, blogs, social networking sites and so on - were absolutely crucial to the process. this process is so simple that you can miss it! It’s particularly easy to miss if you are looking for success with an organisational or old paradigm pair of glasses - measurable outcomes in organisational strategy achieved by professionals supported by systems of hierarchy and control.
since reflecting on this i am seeing this process in all sorts of places. the new social tools enable 'ridiculously easy group forming', groups that can share, co-operate and do things. what are you waiting for?
the other side of this that interests me is what role organisations or institutions can or do play in this new world. this week i have spoken or taken worshops at two diocesan conferences (bath and wells and exeter - hi if you are reading from those) and am taking a weekend this weekend coming for winchester diocese ordinands. what does it mean for the church and for leadership? this is a question i have asked before. maybe the new environment affords a recovery of the notion of the body of christ and of leaders as those who can catalyse small group activity that transforms, create environments in which that happens and facilitate an architecture of participation and gift sharing? i probably sound like a stuck record on that theme - sorry if that's the case! nic posted a comment around church as assemblage on one of my recent posts - i have yet to read what that means but the story above is certainly assemblage of a kind. this is all a huge imaginative shift for what it might mean to lead. but the new environment might be closer to the values of the kingdom of god than we might have first imagined?...