Clay Shirky is a highly regarded thinker on technology and the media (and the author of “Here Comes Everybody”). Please read his essay, “Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable,” for class Thursday/Monday, in addition to reading chapters 8 and 9 in “Coaching Writers.”
Shirky argues that we are living through a revolution unlike that seen since the invention and spread of the printing press in the 1500s. He makes some provocative points. Do you feel like we are living through revolution? Choose one or two of these excerpts to respond to, or select a different passage that made you think:
1. That is what real revolutions are like. The old stuff gets broken faster than the new stuff is put in its place. The importance of any given experiment isn’t apparent at the moment it appears; big changes stall, small changes spread.
2. When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.
3. We’re collectively living through 1500, when it’s easier to see what’s broken than what will replace it. The internet turns 40 this fall. Access by the general public is less than half that age. Web use, as a normal part of life for a majority of the developed world, is less than half that age. We just got here. Even the revolutionaries can’t predict what will happen.
4. Society doesn’t need newspapers. What we need is journalism.
5. When we shift our attention from ’save newspapers’ to ’save society,’ the imperative changes from ‘preserve the current institutions’ to ‘do whatever works.’ And what works today isn’t the same as what used to work.