While reading chapter 3 of Rettberg’s Blogging, the line that stuck out the most to me was the Clay Shirky quote:
“A new social system starts, and seems delightfully free of the elitism and cliquishness of the existing system. Then, as the new system grows, problems of scale set in. Not everyone can participate in every conversation. Not everyone gets to be heard. Some core group seems more connected than the rest of us, and so on” (Shirky, 2003).
It reminded me of what Rousseau wrote in the The Social Contract, which was that man inevitably moved from a state of nature into a social contract. Rousseau claimed that the rich and powerful got that way by convincing the underclass to yield to their authority. The solution to this system, Rousseau offers, is for the people to give up their rights, not to a king or elected official, but to the community. The community then makes decisions as a group to protect the welfare of all.
While it may seem wildly idealistic this shift may have already began on a small scale when it comes to the organization of the internet. However, as people connected and shared on a previously unimaginable scale, the gatekeepers of the old ideology, the elected officials, scrambled to maintain control over the flow of information in this new system.
It became abundantly clear that the US government sought this control in 2011 and 2012 with the introduction of SOPA and PIPA into Congress. Speaking of SOPA and PIPA, here is video of Clay Shirky explaining why they’re awful pieces of legislation. I’m starting to dig this guy.
More recently the government’s quest for data control was exposed by the revelation that the NSA (through the GCHQ) has tapped into fiber optic cables that circle the globe and carry profound amounts of data every day.
In April of 2010, Kevin Kelly, a writer for Wired turned a Clay Shirky quote into a principle. The Shirky Principle, as it’s now known, states that: “Institutions will try to preserve the problem to which they are the solution”. I can’t think of a better way to put it than that.