“Organizing without Organizations” and the StolenSidekick

Clay Shirky begins the first chapter of Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations by introducing a story of Ivanna, a woman who lost her cell phone. As a reader, this nontraditional opening to a class-required educational book was confusing and irritating. I wanted to Shirky to get to the point, not make me wade through 20-odd pages of a story about some lady in NYC whose left her Sidekick in the back of a cab, had it stolen by a teenager, asked her friend to help her recover it, and subsequently recruited a mass of people from all across the country and possibly the world to join her cause.

However, there is a reason for this story to be the first thing in his book that the author wants us to read. It’s a demonstration, one of the first examples of, as Shirky puts it: “how a story can go from local to global in a heartbeat”. How did Evan form a community of thousands of people who volunteered their support, professional knowledge, time and effort to recover a stolen mobile phone?

The answer is of course, the newest and most influential change to the way we communicate, the internet. No longer must small local happenings remain relevant to only that community. Social media, social software, whatever you call it, has the potential to create an infinite amount of communities of people connected only by a common cause or belief and an internet connection. Together, any of these groups with an adequate amount of motivated people can accomplish goals far greater and faster than any single person could do by themselves. Shirky uses the StolenSidekick story to point out to readers that ordinary citizens of the world, not just corporations or other professional organizations, can come together to realize goals or accomplish tasks.

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