Digital communication has dramatically changed how we communicate and exchange information. New technologies increase social visibility, making it easier for people to establish social connections. However, while the internet has increased social visibility, it also increases their exposure to public criticism. Shirky (2008) explains the significance behind communication shift: “When we change the way we communicate, we change society” (p. 17). Shirky (2008) explains that prior to the digital age, people relied on institutions for social action, explaining: “For most of modern life, our strong talents and desires for group effort have been filtered through relatively rigid institutional structures because of the complexity of managing groups” (p. 21). He further explains that institutions have high operating costs, therefore organizations tend to engage in group action where the outcome’s value outweigh operating costs. Therefore, in the interest of self- preservation, institutions must be selective in the group efforts they undertake. Digital technology has resulted in the adoption of new communication tools and practices, transforming the way we assemble and socialize.
Before the digital age, people relied on institutions for information (libraries, bookstores, television, radio, etc.) and organized communication. Before the internet, groups generally had to meet in person Shirky (2008) explains that electronic communication has had a major impact on social exchange: “More people can communicate more things to more people than has ever been possible in the past, and the size and speed of this increase, from under one million participants to over one billion in a generation” (p. 106). He explains that allowing unrestricted access to digital information and countless social platforms removed some of the institutional barriers that constrain social interaction by providing a global space for information exchange social interaction. Additionally, he notes that social tools are just that and are not themselves the direct cause of change: “Social tools don’t create collective action-they merely remove the obstacles to it. Those obstacles have been so significant and pervasive, however, that as they are being removed, the world is becoming a different place” (p. 159).
Shirky (2008) explains that a major effect of this shift involves the changing of social definitions- how we define ourselves and others. He argues that the digital age has caused people to become both producers and consumers of digital content. Anyone with a camera or cell phone can publish pictures or news stories online. His discussion of professional roles was particularly interesting to me- especially the dilemma involving journalist privilege. Shirky (2008) presents a number of situations that blur the distinction between amateur and professional. Individuals are no longer dependent on institutions for public exposure because they promote their work online to a number of different audiences. This example illustrates the idea of digital media breaking down institutional barriers by giving individuals the tools and resources to explore their creative interests.
Shirky’s (2008) discussion of user-generated content made me think about a show on Netflix, called Hit Record On TV.
HitRECord is an online collaborative production company founded and directed by Joseph Gordon-Levitt. In the show, Levitt presents the collaborative material created by users on his company’s website hitrecord.org. Users are permitted to upload, download, modify, and publish content. An example of collaborative material may involve one person uploading a piece of writing and a number of other users expanding on the story by adding music, sound effects, video, or other user-created effects. This online community is free to join and open to the public. Periodically, Levitt and other authors make community requests- asking for material on a particular concept and from artists working on various projects. Levitt makes the final decision on what material is aired on his show and adds that if the show airs a user’s material, they are paid for their contribution.
I think Levitt’s show and website serve as an excellent examples of user-generated content which Shirky (2008) defines as the “activities of the amateur creators are self-reinforcing. If people can share their work in an environment where they can also converse with one another, they will begin talking about the things they have shared” (p. 99). Levitt’s website becomes a ‘community’ through user interaction and collaborative contribution. This collaborative work becomes self-reinforcing through the continuous uploading, downloading, and editing of material by users.
I have never participated in a collaborative site like HitREecord and wondered if anyone has participated in a group like it? If not, would you be interested in joining a collaborative website like HitREcord? Why or why not?
Shirky, C. (2008). Here Comes Everybody. Penguin Books.