Saturday, October 20, 2007

Shirky/Weinberger... the Movie


It's hard to boil new, complex ideas down into a 5-minute movie. Antropology professor Michael Wesch has a rare skill for it. The movie above, R/Evolution, thumbnails the Shirky/Weinberger argument, about the assumptions built into physical information, and how digitization changes knowledge.

It's something I've touched on many, many times—it's the intellectual justification for much of what LibraryThing does—but never as neatly as Wensch has done. R/Evolution has this flow to it. It's compelling stuff.

In this vein, I recommend the video he's best known for Web 2.0 ... The Machine is Us/ing Us, which won a 2007 Wired Rave award. LibraryThing member benjfrank recently pointed me to another of his videos, A Vision of Students Today.*

I think, however, there's a danger when you squeeze an argument. It took me a long time to be persuaded that Ontology is Overrated was right. I had to get over Shirky's somewhat glib style. Reading Shirky my instinct is to ask say "Wait, that's too simple!" and "But what about?" I like my arguments both tighter and more detailed. I'm a convert now, but I think I think many will have even stronger reactions to this video. I'm guessing that, for many, this will be their only exposure to the idea. That would be too bad. So, my recommendation is, see the movie, but don't settle for it. Read Shirky's Ontology is Overrated and Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous.

That said, I want Wesch to do a five-minute on LibraryThing :)

*Also compelling, but the former educator in me thinks that when students start going on about how what they're learning isn't "relevant to their life," some really good teacher should be there to hold up a sign saying: "The point of education is to make your head a more interesting place to live in." And when someone hold up a sign that says they only complete 40% of the reading, I want to hold up a sign that reads "40%=F!" Maybe I could IM it instead.

Hat-tip Felius (LibraryThing sysadmin John Dalton).

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10 Comments:

Anonymous Noisy said...

That's a really impressive bit of film. I'm not sure what it's trying to tell me. I try to be aware of Web 2.0 and its implications, and - frankly - I feel like I'm being left behind. On the other hand, what I do see appears to be so disorganised that I wonder if there is anything real there to be pulled out? Maybe that's what I'm being told: that the access layer to get at the information is almost more important than the information itself?

10/20/2007 5:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That "IN A FILE SYSTEM" book that showed up at -5:02 looked like it was placed in BT736.15 ... violence and Christianity. Another ivory-tower liberal trying to use subliminal messaging to spread anti-Christian hate.

10/20/2007 9:50 PM  
Anonymous benjfrank said...

First, you mentioned that I pointed you to the student video. My fault. I included the wrong link. It was the very video you're highlighting here that I described in my email and the one I intended to share with you. Sorry for the mix-up.

Second, you had a great take on it. Dr. Wesch is, indeed, able to squeeze so much meaning/explanation into 5 minutes. Giving up categories or "a shelf" is an extremely difficult concept for those of us whose brains were wired pre-Internet, and you were right to take your time coming around to Shirky's thinking.

But the fact is, our brains are naturally wired this way. Mentally, we put things not in one place but in multiple places. We carry ideas in our heads not on a shelf but connected to other ideas and experiences and hunches. It's the nature of information to be miscellaneous, connected in countless ways, and always subject for review.

Yes, this sort of collaborative "organization" of information does seem disorganized at first -- with no rigid authoritative structure. But, with LibraryThing's hoarde of 25 million tags as a great example, it starts to show a flexible organization much more powerful than its predecessor.

10/20/2007 10:37 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

>That "IN A FILE SYSTEM" book that showed up at -5:02 looked like it was placed in BT736.15 ... violence and Christianity. Another ivory-tower liberal trying to use subliminal messaging to spread anti-Christian hate.

Oh, stuff it.

10/21/2007 1:37 AM  
Blogger Tim said...

Incidentally, here's the link to that article "The Internet? Bah!"

http://www.martian.cx/School/ENGL102/Stoll.html

The author is Clifford Stoll. In other contexts, I rather admire the guy. His analysis of eduational games should be required reading for everyone working on them. (The idea of the "reward animation" is terrible; whoever invented it should get whatever the opposite of a Nobel Prize is.)

In a way, however, everything he says is true… of Web 1.0. What Web 2.0 adds back is in fact the people—figuring out what are the good articles about the Battle of Trafalgar, and what the bad ones are. And as for salespeople I'd like to think they're replaced by regular people—an improvement!

10/21/2007 1:45 AM  
Anonymous Heather19 said...

Another forum I frequent had a link to this video, and when I saw it for the first time I swear I spent like 5 minutes going "Woooooahhhh".

10/21/2007 8:45 PM  
Blogger "As You Know" Bob said...

Oh, it's certainly an impressive bit of video, but - not to be cranky - I couldn't help but notice that most of the message of the imagery is actually just simple text making a remarkably linear argument... with enough bells and whistles (and fast cuts and music) to make 30 seconds of argument take 5:30 minutes to 'experience'.

Linearity is getting no respect these days, now that bandwidth is so damn cheap.

(Oh: and you kids - get off my lawn!)

10/22/2007 12:58 AM  
Blogger Nathan said...

Re: "the former educator in me thinks that..."

You aren't the only one Tim. I think this post is masterful in pointing out what's wrong with the video about student's today:

http://blogs.princeton.edu/librarian/2007/10/visions_of_students_today.html

I did like the other ones though - they seemed a little bit more level-headed.

It's hard for me to believe the same group did both. :)

10/22/2007 8:41 AM  
Blogger Craig said...

@Noisy:
You aren't the only one, but often the lack of visibility is because of the prevalence of buzzwords often used, without explanation of their context or meaning.

You hit the nail right on the head, it is the access layer that 'Web2.0' is embracing that allows us to tease out information faster, clearer, and their relationships.

The early web was simply people putting information online in the same sort of format we were all used to. Web 2.0 is all about digital information finding a better home in the digital world.

The access layer is only important because it's new or newish. Information is still information, but figuring out new ways (and sometimes even better) of accessing existing information is getting the attention.

10/22/2007 11:37 AM  
Anonymous Ruadh said...

watching Shirky movie made me feel only one thing: I felt like throwing up, the same way you feel when you spin too fast or eat too much :)

12/22/2007 10:26 AM  

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