While reading the Shirky book, I couldn’t help but think back to an episode in my life, about 3 or 4 years ago, when I decided I wanted to get Lasik surgery. I visited a local doctor’s office (you know, the one who had the overly aggressive advertisements that he had done the most Lasik surgeries of anyone in the world) for their free screening.
To make a long story short, the “free” screening ended up costing me $150 even though I walked out of the office having decided against this particular doctor and the surgery in general given my eyesight and medical history. When I discovered they had cashed my “deposit” check, I was furious. My first reaction, other than to complain to my mother (who happened to work for a doctor who did these surgeries), was to register the domain name “butcherbooth.com” and post all about my horrific experience in his “free” screening. I started working out elaborate plans in my head of how I would rally the Internet to my cause and singlehandedly put this terrible doctor out of business.
My rage calmed, and I actually opted for the more structured, organizationally centered response; documenting the experience and getting my money back through my bank.
Of course, the documentation was riddled with empty threats of reporting them to the Better Business Bureau, the American Medical Association, etc etc etc.
My recollection of this experience came as I read the opening of the book in which someone successfully (maybe too successfully) gets my intended reaction over a misplaced cell phone. One would think, in that particular situation, that ‘finders keepers’ would be a sensible solution to consoling your feeling of losing a $300 phone. However, the loser’s friend decided to amp up that feeling to a whole ‘nother level…
Considering the power of the group, and the ability the group had to terrorize the poor girl who ended up with the lost cell phone, Shirkey’s analysis later on struck a chord:
Networked organizations are more resilient as a result of better communication tools and more flexible social structures, but this is as true of terrorist networks or criminal gangs as of Wikipedians or student protestors. (Shirky, 210)
The issues of cyber-bullying quickly come into focus. Even though it would feel good to disproportionately strike back at the injustice I felt over my lost $150, is it right to destroy a man’s whole practice over it just because I have the technical capability to do so? Considering these situations and others suggested in the book, it becomes clear that the web’s version of justice is clearly not the same as the “blind justice” ideal our society has tried to achieve with her blindfold and scale. Justice on the web is never balanced, fairly applied, or monitored in any way. In fact, you can rarely even see the full picture since factions tend to be navel gazers, infinitely linking to other individuals and opinions that only align with theirs. Indeed, “fair and balanced” is a pipe dream both in traditional media and new media.
Looking back, I still wonder what the result of my efforts would have been. The blog was a well-established technology, so it clearly passed the Shirky’s initial test:
Communications tools don’t get socially interesting until tehy get technologically boring. … It’s when a technology becomes normal, then ubiquitous and finally so pervasive as to be invisible, that the really profound changes happen (Shirky, 105)
Still, though, I lacked the built-in social ties to bring it completely to fruition. I suspect it would have taken some pretty active recruitment, as I had trouble even among all my friends of getting equally negative sentiment built up as I had felt. Most of them had the surgery from him or another doctor with similar results.
Perhaps my expectations were just too high to begin with?
Shirky gets a little problematic to me in a few places where, perhaps due to the copyright date of the text, he neglects to acknowledge the “nowness” of the new social media tools. Facebook, Twitter, and even Blogs (which he covers in great detail) don’t only follow the “publish, then filter” model, but they also highly favor what is going on now vs what might have happened in the recent past. The quality of the publication is not longer a question as the “now” tools of the status update tend to favor short burst of real time thought or multimedia presentation (video or photo) of the event itself. Editorializing is now done in 140 characters or less, lending itself less and less to prose and more and more to poetry.
All in all, though, I like the Shirky book and think it has great coverage of the implications of the changing media landscape.