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This month’s book was Here Comes Everybody, by Clay Shirky

This was the first of these regular discussions that I had attended, and I enjoyed the experience more than most meetings that I attend at the University. This was because everyone wanted to make a contribution, and there were varying views as to the quality and content of the book. Despite being “ a suit from CDC” I was treated like a human being , and felt that people actually listened to what contribution I made to the debate.

Of the eight or nine people around the table, opinion was divided on the book, which offers a series of case studies detailing the use of various internet-enabled social networking tools including Facebook , Wikipedia, MySpace and Meetup. It was also useful to have the producer of the wonderfully named “Birmingham. It’s not shit!” website Jon Bounds there to give his own case study of trying to translate and blog the Birmingham City Council “Big City Plan”, using some of the technologies described in the book.

We got stuck into the book from several angles. One colleague thought that the book focused too much on the technology and not enough on the social issues. Another felt that it was too light on political perspective. We knew what had been done, but some wanted to explore the wider implications of the technology enabled “revolution” that has taken place in social and pseudo-social communication and conversation. The first case study, about the case of a stolen phone aroused different responses. One colleague felt that the campaign amounted to “bullying” and raised issues of inequality and disempowerment. Another commented that covering those issues was “another book”.

I thought that, for the relatively un-informed  like me, this book was a very useful introduction to the various technologies and how they have developed. The case studies illustrate some uses of the technologies, but are not prescriptive. There is a real sense that our use of these technologies is in its early childhood if not infancy.

By turns speakers wanted the book to be more business focused, more organisational behaviour focused, more sociologically and politically focused. There were also those who wanted it to be less American in style and tone. Even those who wanted it to be more technical, to describe exactly how these technologies work and how to use them to create campaigns and networks.  All of this wanting it to be something else indicates to me, that it was worth reading and using as a discussion book. If anyone wants to borrow the book email me at [email protected].

The epilogue is about the influence that new methods like Twitter had on reporting the massive Sichuan earthquake on May 12th last year, when the Chinese government had to open up and broadcast 24 hours a day to compete with communication through social network technologies leaking out of the country. I was in that earthquake, and the phones weren’t working but email was. That was the way I got my reports out of Chengdu to the Western news media and to my friends and family back in UK and elsewhere.

Thanks to my media colleagues for inviting me. I’ll be back, John Kirk.

Birmingham Centre For Media And Cultural Research

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