This is a fascinating short lecture from four years ago about the move away from rigid institutions toward more autonomous local networks. The lecturer, Clay Shirky, uses examples from photography and computer operating systems. Makes me wonder what academia will look like fifty years from now.
I'm not sure we can dismiss qualitative measures to the degree to which Shirky seems willing. I frequently have to source photos for publications. It's very difficult to get high quality imagery or content that wasn't produced with the backing of some sort of institution. His examples are too obvious. It is very easy to get high quality photos of, say, people dressed as mermaids. But that's not terribly necessary in the larger scheme of things. If he had typed in "Darfur" instead of "Iraq," he'd have come up with virtually nothing that wasn't created with the backing of a large institution. I suspect the images of Iraq were also created by an institution, probably a news organization, or the army, both of which pay people to go to Iraq (indiginous Iraqi imagery tends to be video, and shakier). His example of the cell phone -- "let's not make a plan, just call me" -- is counter to his point, in my experience. Back when we made plans, it was a lot more likely that I'd actually meet someone on time, or at all. I suspect institutions will matter for a very long time. I don't actually want to live in a world without newspapers and universities, or some similar entities.
May I remind you of the pre-cell phone episode when we tried to link up via LA's RTD bus system? I'm not saying a cell would have saved us, but at least we would have known what was up.
I don't know that Shirky would disagree with you. I don't think we're on the verge of the end of institutions. But the role of institutions is clearly changing. Just as with his example of the Gutenberg press, that invention didn't get rid of the need for publishers or writers or priests or information specialists. But it did change those fields and distribute power significantly.
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