Clay Shirky: How Social Media Can Make History

Clay Shirky is a social media theorist and an adjunct professor in New York University’s graduate Interactive Telecommunications Program. He gave a in-depth speech about the transformative power of social media at the TED in New York.

In the speech Shirky claims that our generation has experienced the largest increase in expressive capability in human history. This transformation grants people the ability to get out their messages to anywhere in the world.

Shirky states that the media landscape in 20th century, which is mainly composed of printing, conversational media, recorded media, radio and television, has an interesting characteristics; the media that is good at creating groups is not good at creating conversation, and the media that is good at creating conversation is not good at creating groups. However, the advent of internet gives people chance to create groups and conversation at the same time. Internet makes a many-to-many pattern of communication possible. Also, as all media becomes digitized, internet has turned into a mode of carriage for all other media. Media is no long just a source of information; it has transformed in to a set of coordination, because now people who get information from media can talk and discuss with each other. However, the last big change that Shirky articulates is that the former audience or consumers in social media landscape are now producers as well. We are witnessing an incredibly dramatic increase in the impact of amateur and citizen media on government and society.

The speech spurred an intense discussion on how we can make the best use of this media given such a dynamic and interactive social media landscape. Some comments on the talk suggest “social media can lead to a new third party in politics”. Others indicate the potential of a “world voting system” on certain global issues. However, all these ideas are now increasingly reachable because of the transformative power of social media and our roles as the change-makers.

Related Resources:

Clay Shirky’s writings about the internet:

TED Talks: Clay Shirky “How Social Media Can Make History”:


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