More context for Haiti: Clay Shirky on the Sichuan quake of 2008

In his epilogue to Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky recalls the role of social media in reporting the Sichuan earthquake of May, 2008, and its aftermath.  These pages (293 ff.) are valuable for what they analyze and what they portend.  Below is a brief excerpt.

The one big lesson from the Sichuan quake is that there is never just one big lesson.  Truly complex events have complex causes and complex ramifications.  There are many threads to this story:  the effects of social cables of various thickness running between the world’s regions, of Small Worlds networks as a natural amplifier of news, of the former audience committing acts of journalism in the quake zone, of the hybridization between professional and amateur media, of the tension between citizen desire for openness and governmental desire for control.  All of these are connected pieces of the story, and although they are all patterns we have seen in the world before, their operation during the Sichuan quake was at a scale and level of intensity that dwarfed even the response after the 2005 Indian Ocean tsunami.  An event like the quake and its aftermath highlights how ubiquitous, rapid, and global social media has become, but it also accelerates the pace of that change, because once people adopt social media in an unusual situation, they are much likelier to integrate it into their everyday lives.

Increased options for communication in groups don’t just mean we will get more of the patterns we already recognize; they also mean we will also get more new kinds of patterns.  More is different, even for people who understand that more is different, which explains in part our persistent difficulties in getting technology predictions right.  (297-8)

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Filed under Books, Current events, History and historiography, Journalism, Media, Reading and writing, Tech

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