‘Here comes’ Clay Shirky, Digital Guru

See also danah boyd and Social media opinion-leaders

250px-ShirkyClay Shirky (1964 – ) is an American writer, digital guru and opinion-leader on the effects of Internet technologies on society. As an adjunct professor at New York University’s (NYU) Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), he teaches students about the interrelated effects of social networks and how they shape societies and cultures.

From the earliest days of the graphical web, Shirky has bravely tackled seemingly inexplicable issues associated with the evolving ecosystems of the Internet. His imaginative writing has a distinctive quality and has appeared in almost every newspaper and academic outlet including the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Business Review and Wired. He is widely regarded by others in the digital community as a reliable futurist and is consequently a frequent keynote speaker at tech conferences. Shirky currently divides his time between consulting, teaching, and writing; his consulting is focused on the rise of technologies such as peer-to-peer interactivity, web services and wireless networks that provide alternatives to the wired client–server infrastructure that characterizes the present web. His clients include Nokia, the Library of Congress, Highlands Forum, Markle Foundation and the BBC.

What’s interesting about Shirky is that his views of the digital future are very relevant to the future of libraries and librarians – and yet he is not well-known among librarians. His critiques of ontologies and organizational systems are refreshing and provide considerable room for debate. Many of his ideas are co-opted by hipster social librarians who are early adopters of social media either as a way to explain the effects of the social revolution to non-adopters or to connect Shirky to media intellectuals. For example, Shirky’s prescience and uncanny ability to predict the online future has been compared to media revolutionary Marshall McLuhan, even though the latter was more obviously academic in his writing and presentation of views. With Shirky, perhaps a more direct connection to the field of library and information science is through his compatriot danah boyd with whom he has collaborated on various projects.

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