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Organizing Without Organizations

I recently came across two interesting books by Clay Shirky, a professor at New York University. The first entitled “Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations” deals with how new technologies enable new kinds of groups to form and to collaborate/share. It is about "what happens when people are given the tools to do things together, without needing traditional organizational structures.” He goes on to say that the sudden lowering of the cost of collaboration brought about by the internet allows new kinds of creativity and problem solving.

His second book, “Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age”, expands on this theme and explains how we’ve moved from media tools (such as TV) that allowed us to consume passively, to tools (internet) that allow us to actively create and share. He defines “cogntive surplus” as our ability to volunteer as well as to contribute and collaborate on sometimes large global projects. It came about through the confluence of two forces: digital technology and generosity, both of which allow the harnessing of our free time and talents, never possible to this scale in the past.

Shirky contends that digital techologies coupled with the internet have revolutionalised our society much the same way (or even more so) as other revolutions had: the printing press; the telegraph/telephone; recorded media and the ability to harness broadcasting. In fact he describes the current revolution as “the largest increase in human expressive history.” Having overcome the historical barriers to collaboration (time, expense, and the ability to easily find people with similar interests) we can make better use of “our cognitive surplus” (which was previously used up by passive TV consumption among others).

The interesting thing about this is that we are creating and maintaining online collaborations which are often not driven by profit. Harnessing the power of the collective (crowdsourcing for social change) is an exciting and welcome development that draws on the very noble aspects of human nature.

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