Book Review: Here comes everybody: The power of organizing without organizations

What a fascinating book! That is the only way I can describe it. I also consider it a wake up call to institutions like higher education. Recognize the power of amateur communications and adopt the methods or suffer surprise as other organizations have.

Clay Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations* should be on everyone’s shelf. Through countless stories, Shirky explains how various technologies have disrupted the status quo. He explains how people have organized and made a significant difference without the overhead of a formal organization. Across eleven chapters, Shirky presents stories and technologies, and more importantly, he explains how the technologies caused a disruption in the status quo. Many of these disruptions, as he pointed out, would not be possible without the right technology. He shares examples such as the Catholic Church scandals where incidents were once swept under the rug; however, because of new technologies recent incidents had a groundswell of resistance due to the ease of communication.

Shirky convincingly points out that everyday people can now engage in activities that were once reserved for professionals, and in some cases, easier and better than the professionals. He notes that due to social tools, we are more easily able to organize than ever before. He provides countless examples to support his findings from protests in Belarus, against the Catholic church, and in Egypt. He talks about how everyday people are becoming journalists and reporting on issues that are important to them. As a result, they are disrupting the information released by the professional news networks. Stories are often released before the professionals can report on them, or in other cases, by passing government controls. People are now able to come together and build things that are cost prohibitive for an organization or company. He cites Wikipedia and Linux as examples of open source development of large scale projects with no real organization.

Shirky also spends a considerable amount of time exploring networks. As he notes, “most of the barriers to group action have collapsed, and without those barriers, we are free to explore new ways of gathering together and getting things done” (Shirky, 2013, p. 21). He points out that we are able to engage with extremely large organizations because of how the networks are arranged and special individuals called connectors who have an above average number of connections. We no longer rely on physical institutions and organizations to dominate our lives, virtual connections are increasingly having an impact. We should work to develop our networks.

“Most of the barriers to group action have collapsed, and without those barriers, we are free to explore new ways of gathering together and getting things done”

One extremely important concept outlined in Shirky’s book is that of Coase’s Theory. Basically, the transaction costs are so low that anything is virtually possible. Because it is cheap and easy to participate in Flickr, massive photo libraries are built. Because it is cheap and easy to update an article, Wikipedia now has millions of articles. Because it is cheap and easy, millions of people have blogs to share stories and news.

Shirky has made a convincing case that today’s social tools are as disruptive as the Gutenberg printing press was to world in the 1400’s. I believe this is an important book to read. Not only does it give a glimpse into the future, it explains many of the unsettling aspects of current life. Those who are not in tune to the current disruptions will be shocked when their way of life suddenly disappears.


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