Checking into Clay Shirky’s Brain: Social Media as Revolutionary

17 Mar

Clay Shirky is a much respected writer, consultant and teacher on the social and economic effects of internet technologies.

Just how highly Shirky’s knowledge on this area is appreciated was seen during his keynote session at SXSWi with not only over 500 people turning up for this but some attendees checked into the session on Foursquare not under the venue name but rather as being present in Clay Shirky’s brain!



The focus of Shirky’s session was on how social tools such as blogging software, networking sites and online collaboration platforms support group conversation and group action in a way that previously could not be achieved through traditional institutions.

Shirky used the current situation in Egypt as an active example of social

Egyptian Christians join hands to protect praying Muslims in Tahrir Square. Photograph: Nevine Zaki

media being used to support political revolution. His inclusion a powerful photograph of Egyptian Christians joining hands to protect praying Muslims in Tahrir Square, and his call for “more responsive governments” resulted in loud applause from audience members.

He highlighted that any form of media which allows distribution of information, even as far back as the evolution of the printing press has the potential to evoke political change.

Shirky discussed key ways in which the internet has advanced this revolutionary potential-

  • It allows amateurs access to the public sphere.
  • Provides easy group formation and access to each other.
  • Allows not only access to information but more importantly access to conversations.
  • Unites people in a common goal which can then be synchronized into action.

The ideas discussed during his session are explored in more detail in Shirky’s book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations (2008).

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