"We all face the Prisoners' Dilemma whenever we interact with people we could take advantage of, or people who could take advantage of us, yet actually manage to trust one another often enough to accomplish things in groups" p 191
Shirky discusses Robert Putnam's 2000 work "Bowling Alone" aka the weakening of community & the decline of social capital - with its associated implications for the USA.
"One cause of the decline in social capital was a simple increase in the difficulty of people getting together - an increase in transaction costs, to use Coase's term. When an activity becomes more expensive, either in direct costs or increased hassle, people do less of it, and several effects of the last fifty years - including smaller households, delayed marriage, two-worker families, the spread of television, and suburbanization - have increased the costs for coordinating group activities outside work" p 193
Social capital was not a term I had heard widely used outside of government & political circles prior to 2000. I had learnt of it from Community Services Department personnel, town planners & social planning fraternity, who all well understood its benefits. To lose social capital creates more reliance on the State, social exclusion - fragmentation & invariably increases the tax burden on the community. To improve social capital creates more resilient societies.
In my local community a Community Development project was established in 1989 - differing from the usual community neighbourhood centre which offered services. This project was about mentoring & facilitating communities to advocate for themselves & to spread it through their networks. Thus increasing social capital. It was an intervention in an era of declining social capital. It was a model I used in my 12 years as an elected rep - teaching people "how to fish" - ie how to navigate the system, ethically of course, instead of being beaten or ignored by the system.
We were fortunate from at least the 1980's, with the number of people donating their time to participate in Council's Community Liaison Committees - seeing it as a benefit & freeing up scarce Council strategic planning dollars. After I had left, many committees were dismantled - being seen as a cost rather than the value of the services that the volunteers provided. Later, recognising their value, some committees were re-established by the Council.
Shirky relates how Scott Heiferman on reading Putnam's "Bowling Alone" decides to set up a service, an intervention to combat the decline of social capital, using cyberspace to connect people with common interests who had previously found it too challenging to connect up. The aim was that people would connect face to face - hence Meetup was born.
"The groups that actually used Meetup didn't look anything like Heifermen expected... " p 197 3 broad categories emerged - the first includewitches, pagans, vampires etc "people who share some religious or philosophical outlook but have no support from the broader US culture..... Presbyterians aren't on this list because they don't need Meetup to figure out when and how to assemble" p 198
"The second category of Meetup groups includes the members of websites and services who would like to assemble with other users of those services in real life ... Slashdot,... Ultima ... Bookcrossing" p 198
"The third category includes fans of cultural icons whose work is quirky enough that those fans want to be in one another's presence" p 199 eg Tori Amos fans.
An interesting 2003 article from Clay Shirky " A Group is its own worst Enemy" has recently been tweeted & retweeted on Twitter.
Shirky conjectures that groups & individuals can now more easily self publish and/or distribute news & music - but that this leads to 3 kinds of loss :
- job losses in the activities now overtaken by mass amateurization
- control of the media eg during last days of an election campaign - impossible when content can be published overseas from the country having an election
- online networking can make negative groups more resilient to preventative activities eg terrorists / criminals & authoritian regimes using social media tools (WSJ Feb 20 2010) although recent reports claim US military using Social Network Analysis tools to track down Saddam Hussein
"Meetup didn't end up recreating the old model of community, because it provided a different set of capabilities; the groups that took first and best advantage of those capabilities were the groups with a latent desire to meet but had faced insuperable hurdles" p 200
Banning "bad" groups on hosted social media sites may simply lead to their relocation elsewhere - it's even easier now to set up a group in MySpace or FaceBook
"When it is hard to form groups, both potentially good and bad groups are prevented from forming; when it becomes simple to form groups, we get both the good and the bad ones. This is going to force society to shift from simply preventing groups from forming to actively deciding which existing ones to try to oppose, a shift that parallels the publish-then -filter pattern generally" p 213.
"Always shut the gate after the horse has bolted - there may be other horses still in the paddock ... "