Clay Shirky on How the Internet Will (One Day) Transform Government

More

Why we should both temper -- and embrace -- our optimism about the digital world

Clay Shirky is one of the most prominent and well-respected thinkers there is when it comes to the political impact of digital media. This summer, he gave a talk at the TEDGlobal conference in Edinburgh -- subject: how the Internet will (one day) change government -- and the video of that session has now been posted.

Notes and Dispatches from the Frontiers of Creativity
See full coverage

In the talk above, Shirky focuses on the power of community rather than technology, exploring the capabilities of open-source communities like GitHub. There is reason, he says, both to temper our optimism about the Internet and to embrace it. The revolutionary talk we often lapse into when we talk about the Internet -- the idea that it will, in general, change everything -- is not new, Shirky points out. "When the telegraph came along," he notes, "it was clear that it was going to globalize the news industry. What would this lead to? Well, obviously, it would lead to world peace. The television, a medium that allowed us not just to hear but see -- literally see -- what was going on elsewhere in the world, what would this lead to? World peace. The telephone? You guessed it: world peace."

And, of course, there is still -- much to the chagrin of the world's hopeful and the delight of the world's pageant contestants -- no world peace. But what all the idealistic predictions got right, Shirky points out, was this: "When a lot of new ideas suddenly come into circulation, it changes society." And what they got wrong was the most important part of the equation: "what happens next." 

The video is, being a TED talk, about 18 minutes long, and well worth the watch.

Jump to comments
Presented by

Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

What's the Number One Thing We Could Do to Improve City Life?

A group of journalists, professors, and non-profit leaders predict the future of livable, walkable cities


Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Adventures in Legal Weed

Colorado is now well into its first year as the first state to legalize recreational marijuana. How's it going? James Hamblin visits Aspen.

Video

What Makes a Story Great?

The storytellers behind House of CardsandThis American Life reflect on the creative process.

Video

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Video

Where Confiscated Wildlife Ends Up

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.

Video

Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.

Video

The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air

Writers

Up
Down

More in Technology

Just In