Clay Shirky, Open Source and democracy

Clay Shirky at TED: “How the Internet will (one day) transform government”
[Via Boing Boing]

Clay Shirky’s TED talk, “How the Internet will (one day) transform government,” is a smart, fast, funny look at how the Internet lowers the cost of doing things together. Given that the core task of government and industry is the coordination of collective effort, this lowering cost means big changes.

The open-source world has learned to deal with a flood of new, oftentimes divergent, ideas using hosting services like GitHub — so why can’t governments? In this rousing talk Clay Shirky shows how democracies can take a lesson from the Internet, to be not just transparent but also to draw on the knowledge of all their citizens.

Clay Shirky argues that the history of the modern world could be rendered as the history of ways of arguing, where changes in media change what sort of arguments are possible — with deep social and political implications.


Clay is always interesting to listen to. Makes you think.

New ways of communicating always change society. What will happen this time? 

Well, I think his ‘more media means more argument’ view may be correct. I wrote about the argumentative theory last year –  that human reasoning is not about finding the truth but about winning arguments and getting the community to follow.

Our hypothesis is that the function of reasoning is argumentative. It is to devise and evaluate arguments intended to persuade.

So, perhaps the Internet will help us to better arguments, not just more. It may take awhile and we may just need better tools. Or use the ones we have in a better fashion.

Approaching new legislation and government like it is an Open Source Linux project could be intriguing. I wonder how we resolve arguments when the partisan numbers are very close?  Does it come down to reasoning based on facts or based on the best rhetoric?

But a new form of arguing could have all sorts of novel social effects. I have no idea just what it will be.

However, it certainly will be part of the disruptive effects of modern technology on society.

One thought on “Clay Shirky, Open Source and democracy

  1. Our government is finding out the hard way that it isn’t easy to do a cover-up anymore, what with the ordinary person having access to other nation’s media. The Libya mess is a lovely example.

Comments are closed.