Clay Shirky About Filter Failure

Clay Shirky gave a talk entitled “It’s Not Information Overload. It’s Filter Failure.” at O’Reilly Media’s Web 2.0 Expo. The following paragraphs constitute a short summary I file here mainly as a reminder for myself. I encourage you to follow the link and listen to the talk in its entirety (23:51).

Information overload has become a common place and an excuse for our inability to deal with the reality described by this chart, Shirky says. New techniques from the printing press to the internet change the way information is delivered and who filters it. The publisher used to take all the economic risks and therefore had a strong incentive to filter content for quality, These incentives are now weaker than ever because the cost of publishing dropped. Nowadays, it’s up to the individual to filter content coming in and going out. He illustrates his point with three great examples:

  • Spam which is an example of inbound information flow,
  • Privacy (Changing “relationship status” on Facebook) which is about managing outbound information flow and,
  • Using online social collaboration tools in College and being accused of cheating (Chris Avenir’s story)

Relating to this last one, Clay Shirky also stresses how dangerous over-reliance on metaphors can be when one uses them to make decisions about the new networked environments.

I also include several links to articles that reference the talk and where you might find additional value (either in the posts or in the comments):

“A Vision of Students Today” and bits of following discussions

The recent National Teacher of the Year award won by Michael Wesch gives me the opportunity to post a link to his famous video “A Vision of Students Today” and the accompanying text. This video has been posted all over the blogosphere at the time and triggered an impressive amount of interesting thoughts regarding college education in today’s world.

Every person lecturing today should take five minutes to see it. Most of my teachers seem to have ambivalent feelings and thoughts regarding the cloud of digital information that surrounds us. This creates a climate of ambiguity that is sometimes difficult to live in. I really hope we could have more open and broad discussions about these issues in Switzerland. Maybe helping spread this video will make it possible.

In the English speaking part of the internet, discussions about these issues do take place publicly. Here are a few examples of the posts I read and thought were worth sharing:

Again, if you know more posts discussing Michael Wesch’s ideas and adding value, you are encouraged to link to them in the comments.

Mac and PC: Conflict Over Matters of Characterisation

The 1984 Apple commercial featuring Big Brother was meant to convey the feeling of empowerment that was attached with bringing personal computers to the people. Unfortunately, as Bryan Pfaffenberger explains in “Social Meaning of the Personal Computer, Or, Why the Personal Computer Revolution was No Revolution”, this idea died out. Of course, this ad is still celebrated as a masterpiece even though the whole context has dramatically changed but bringing computational power to the masses is not their core mission statement anymore. So, what do their messages do? On the one hand, one may argue that now they rather communicate on the quality of their product as their copy says “It does what a PC does, only better”. On the other hand, while the copy seems to have shifted to more practical and qualitative aspects of the product, the television spots still tend to show that Macs and PCs are for different kinds of characters.

The politics of identity and matters of characterization at play in the “Get a Mac” narrative spots are very complicated and interesting and yet the resulting spots seem simple. I already covered this quickly in my first post. So I’ll fast forward here. Microsoft’s following move is what interests me in this post.

The answer of Microsoft is not only pointing towards authenticity as it has been said by Grant McCracken but constructs a narrative where it is Windows that empowers and gives freedom to the users (with the punch line “A life without walls”). They are in the position to break the mold, disrupt the rhetorical system edified by Apple. They gave themselves the place of the challenger as Apple had done in the “1984” spot. PC complaining to have been made “into a stereotype” in Microsoft’s answer uncovers the mechanics of Apple’s campaign. He is then followed by people very different from each other who appear on the screen and claim to be PCs. By ironically deconstructing Apple’s PC character, they refuse to fit in the model.

As the first one and maybe all the subsequent posts as well, it’s far from complete. I hope, however, that it is suitable food for thought and I’d like to hear from you in the comments on these issues.

Mac vs. PC Ad Campaigns

In one of my web wanderings, I came across a compilation of Apple’s “Get a Mac” campaign (7:40). It struck me as a major example of the web in action as countless people responded to the ads with their own video clips. I’ll let you look for them yourself because I can’t operate a selection, they’re too numerous and good. Software companies like Novell and Microsoft leveraged that power for their own subsequent advertisement series.

The interesting cultural dimension of the two opposing campaigns has been clearly demonstrated. Apple’s communication agency was so successful in capturing common stereotypes of Windows users and build upon them that neither PC users nor competitors could stay silent.

It was more complex than just push the coolness of Macs forward. John Hodgman and Justin Long, the actors in the original campaign impersonate not only brands but their users. One may go as far as to state that Mac as incarnated by Justin Long is a role model.

I had the misfortune to talk about my computer problems to a Mac user and she immediately stated that it was my own fault because I have a PC. A behaviour that was only to be expected from hardcore Apple fanatics not so long ago now spreads. The discussions between Mac and PC in the ads influence the way people make stances and relate to their digital tool set, therefore shaping the social meaning of personal computers and related tech instruments.

To analyse this influence further will require a lot more close reading but I can’t seem to gain sufficient critical distance with these clips and keep laughing out loud every time I see them. Maybe you also like some of them more than others and you may have interesting pieces of thought to share. Let me know in the comments.