There’s No Such Thing As A Protest Vote

In 2016, (the U.S. electoral system) will offer 130 million or so voters just three options:
A. I prefer Donald Trump be President, rather than Hillary Clinton.
B. I prefer Hillary Clinton be President, rather than Donald Trump.
C. Whatever everybody else decides is OK with me.

That’s it. Those are the choices. All strategies other than a preference for Trump over Clinton or vice-versa reduce to Option C.

Clay Shirky: There’s No Such Thing As A Protest Vote

The Political Power of Social Media

The excerpts below are from an essay by Clay Shirky, Professor of New Media at NYU and author of Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. The essay was published in 2011 but remains as relevant as today’s headlines (okay, more relevant than that).

One complaint about the idea of new media as a political force is that most people simply use these tools for commerce, social life, or self-distraction, but this is common to all forms of media.

The more promising way to think about social media is as long-term tools that can strengthen civil society and the public sphere.

In a famous study of political opinion after the 1948 U.S. presidential election, the sociologists Elihu Katz and Paul Lazarsfeld discovered that mass media alone do not change people’s minds; instead, there is a two-step process. Opinions are first transmitted by the media, and then they get echoed by friends, family members, and colleagues. It is in this second, social step that political opinions are formed. This is the step in which the Internet in general, and social media in particular, can make a difference. As with the printing press, the Internet spreads not just media consumption but media production as well — it allows people to privately and publicly articulate and debate a welter of conflicting views.

Little political change happens without the dissemination and adoption of ideas and opinions in the public sphere. Access to information is far less important, politically, than access to conversation. Moreover, a public sphere is more likely to emerge in a society as a result of people’s dissatisfaction with matters of economics or day-to-day governance than from their embrace of abstract political ideals.

“The conservative dilemma” — The dilemma is created by new media that increase public access to speech or assembly; with the spread of such media, whether photocopiers or Web browsers, a state accustomed to having a monopoly on public speech finds itself called to account for anomalies between its view of events and the public’s. The two responses to the conservative dilemma are censorship and propaganda.

“The cute cat theory of digital activism” — Tools specifically designed for dissident use are politically easy for the state to shut down, whereas tools in broad use become much harder to censor without risking politicizing the larger group of otherwise apolitical actors.

There are, broadly speaking, two arguments against the idea that social media will make a difference in national politics. The first is that the tools are themselves ineffective, and the second is that they produce as much harm to democratization as good, because repressive governments are becoming better at using these tools to suppress dissent.

Little Rice: Smartphones, Xiaomi, and the Chinese Dream

Amazon: “Smartphones have to be made someplace, and that place is China. In just five years, a company names Xiaomi (which means “little rice” in Mandarin) has grown into the most valuable startup ever, becoming the third largest manufacturer of smartphones, behind only Samsung and Apple. China is now both the world’s largest producer and consumer of a little device that brings the entire globe to its user’s fingertips. How has this changed the Chinese people? How did Xiaomi conquer the worlds’ biggest market” Can the rise of Xiaomi help realize the Chinese Dream, China’s bid to link personal success with national greatness? Clay Shirky, one of the most influential and original thinkers on the internet’s effects on society, spends a year in Shanghai chronicling China’s attempt to become a tech originator–and what it means for the future course of globalization.”

A few excerpts:

The mobile phone is a member of a small class of human inventions, a tool so essential it has become all but invisible, and life without it unimaginable.

There are only three universally personal items that someone will carry with them no matter where they live. The first two are money and keys; the third is the mobile phone, making it the first new invention added to that short list in three thousand years.

The number of mobile phone users crossed 4.5 billion last year, and because of dual accounts, there are now more mobile subscriptions in the world than there are people.

A smartphone is as different from a standard-issue Nokia 1100 as a computer is from a typewriter.

Mobile phones are a funny product, midway between commodity and luxury. They are a commodity in that everyone needs one. They are a luxury in that a phone makes a significant personal statement.

Status is a bigger feature of the iPhone (in China) than in the U.S. Electronics stores display phones running Android with the screen facing out, as usual, but iPhones are often displayed case out, to show off the Apple logo.

Nokia went from being the world’s most important mobile phone company to an also-ran in three years, collapsing into Microsoft’s waiting arms after another three, a generation of dominance undone in half a decade

If you make something that appeals to 5 percent of the Chinese population, you have a potential market the size of France.

“There is no news industry”

“If the public can speak directly to one another in large groups and with high visibility, then the self-definition of a journalist as a privileged translator takes a big hit. If you think of yourself as a member of the only class allowed to find and explain information, you find yourself in a very uncomfortable position.

“The easiest way to get people in institutions to do interesting new things is for that institution to go bankrupt and for those people to change jobs.”

Anything in the news business that can be commodified will be commodified. The people who cling to the idea that humans are required to rewrite wire service copy are spending money that no longer needs to be spent.”

From an interview with Clay Shirky by The Europlean Magazine

“Publishing is going away.”

From brief interview with Clay Shirky:

“Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. Because the word “publishing” means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says “publish,” and when you press it, it’s done.

In ye olden times of 1997, it was difficult and expensive to make things public, and it was easy and cheap to keep things private. Privacy was the default setting. We had a class of people called publishers because it took special professional skill to make words and images visible to the public. Now it doesn’t take professional skills. It doesn’t take any skills. It takes a WordPress install.”

And this nugget: “Institutions will try to preserve the problem for which they are the solution”

We need more chaos in the news business

Clay Shirky argues we need for the news business to be more chaotic than it is because ” there are many more ways of getting and reporting the news that we haven’t tried than that we have.” Here are some excerpts from his latest essay:

Buy a newspaper. Cut it up. Throw away the ads. Sort the remaining stories into piles. Now, describe the editorial logic holding those piles together.

For all that selling such a bundle was a business, though, people have never actually paid for news. We have, at most, helped pay for the things that paid for the news.

But even in their worst days, newspapers supported the minority of journalists reporting actual news, for the minority of citizens who cared.

I could tell (my) students that when I was growing up, the only news I read was thrown into our front yard by a boy on a bicycle. They might find this interesting, but only in the way I found it interesting that my father had grown up without indoor plumbing.

News has to be subsidized because society’s truth-tellers can’t be supported by what their work would fetch on the open market. Real news—reporting done for citizens instead of consumers—is a public good.

A 30% reduction in newsroom staff, with more to come, means this is the crisis, right now. Any way of creating news that gets cost below income, however odd, is a good way, and any way that doesn’t, however hallowed, is bad.

“The Newest Thinking On New Media”

That’s the title of the post by Mitch Joel where I found a five-part video series (runs close to an hour) of a conversation between Clay Shirky (Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus) and Jay Rosen (Press Think). From Mr. Joel’s introduction:

“If you’re trying to better understand new media, audience participation and Social Media, this conversation is filled with gold and depth.”

I am interested in all of those things and watched the full hour. These are two very smart, informed thinkers and if you are even remotely involved with media or journalism, this conversation can help you make sense of what’s happening in your world. Here’s Part 1 to get you started:

In one of the segments Mr. Shirky uses the term “infovore” to describe someone with a voracious appetite for information. I now have a name for my condition. I spend a minimum of 4-5 hours every day grazing the information savannah and I never get full.

Disruption for syndication in 2011

Another chilling (for those of us in the news business) forecast from Professor Clay Shirky:

“…syndication makes little sense in a world with URLs. When news outlets were segmented by geography, having live human beings sitting around in ten thousand separate markets deciding which stories to pull off the wire was a service. Now it’s just a cost.”

“Giving credit where credit is due will reward original work, whether scoops, hot news, or unique analysis or perspective. This will be great for readers. It may not, however, be so great for newspapers, or at least not for their revenues, because most of what shows up in a newspaper isn’t original or unique. It’s the first four grafs of something ripped off the wire and lightly re-written, a process repeated countless times a day with no new value being added to the story.”

If you read the news, or report the news… you’ll want to read this in full.

Clay Shirky: The Shock of Inclusion

“If you were in the news business in the 20th century, you worked in a kind of pipeline, where reporters and editors would gather facts and observations and turn them into stories, which were then committed to ink on paper or waves in the air, and finally consumed, at the far end of those various modes of transport, by the audience.

What’s going away, from the pipeline model, isn’t the importance of news, or the importance of dedicated professionals. What’s going away is the linearity of the process, and the passivity of the audience. What’s going away is a world where the news was only made by professionals, and consumed by amateurs who couldn’t do much to produce news on their own, or to distribute it, or to act on it en masse.

We are living through a shock of inclusion, where the former audience is becoming increasingly intertwined with all aspects of news, as sources who can go public on their own, as groups that can both create and comb through data in ways the professionals can’t, as disseminators and syndicators and users of the news.”

I pulled the paragraphs above from a longer essay by Professor Shirky.