A Sense of Permission

September 14, 2009

in Adaptation,Audience,Storytelling,Words

Clay Shirky on Weekend Edition Saturday, with some emphasis added:

The conversation around the digital divide, this gap between who can participate and who can’t, has shifted. In the ’90s, it was mainly about access to hardware and network connections. Right? Not everybody has a computer. But as computers have gotten cheaper and spread, as they started showing up in specific places like libraries, and as phones increasingly have, even just through SMS, these kind of functions, the conversation’s really shifted from the question of access to a hardware to the sense of permission and to the sense of interest. And that’s a much squishier, more social question.

So part of the digital divide question, the new digital divide question is, how do we go to people who don’t sense they have permission to speak in public and offer them that permission? And then the other, as you say, is the interest. If there are people who are just uninterested in this stuff, how can you make an experience that’s still satisfying for them as, you know, traditional consumers of media, without making them feel bad for not being the people posting the Flickr pictures of potholes or, you know, adding a comment to an NPR story?

There can be a tendency amongst the tech-savvy to assume that if it’s important, if it matters, it is already bouncing around Twitter and Facebook and MySpace.

“If people aren’t comfortable and inclined to jump in, who cares?”

We risk missing far too much of the world’s experience with an attitude like that.

Later in the segment, Shirky touched on the dimensions of our online conversational patterns:

The closest most of us get to this is our wedding day, when you gather, you know, as many of the people you most love and would want to talk to in the world that you can get in one room. And then you suddenly realize I got three hours. And so, there is a constant width versus depth tradeoff, where you can either talk to a few people for a long time, or you could talk to a lot of people for a short time. But you can’t actually do what you want to do.

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