Shirky Chapter 3

This sudden shift in the way amateur user-generated content has challenged professional journalism is the first of what I believe will be many changes in mass media that will occur during mine or my children’s generation. Essentially, the rise of blogging and other online publishing has broken down the professional barriers of journalism. No longer must one hold a degree or two and have their work published by a large publishing company or written-word outlet to be a published author.
A downfall of this “mass amateurization” is that because anyone with an internet connection and basic grammar and typing skills can potentially become an author, that the value of the written words as a means of communicating important ideas will decrease. A blogger can either write about the current political revolution or natural disaster or war happening in their country, or start a blog about the day-to-day activities of their cat.

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Plagiarism: An Analysis

Plagiarism, as I have always been told and understood to be, is a serious violation of the code of ethics taken on by a write, especially in professional journalistic circles. I know that plagiarism is using the words of another author in your own work, either without citation, or by presenting it as your own words. In high school research papers, this issue had always been avoided by a clever re-arrangement of words. However, the column about Fareed Zakaria blurred the lines between what I thought to be acceptable paraphrasing and blatant plagiarism. Although the section of his article that has been brought up as plagiarism is not a verbatim copy, Zakaria barely endeavored to even change the order of sentences in the small paragraph. Knowing that he has been suspended from several of his positions at large media outlets, I realize that, even in my own seemingly unimportant assignments, simply paraphrasing information will not suffice.
In Jonah Lehrer’s case, he has been called out on a practice that I didn’t even know could be considered plagiarism: copying and pasting a prior work of your own into a new piece, without citing yourself, or at least acknowledging its original context. Of course, his made-up quotes from Bob Dylan are untruths and should serve to discredit him as an author of high moral standards, I did not know that bullshitting was a from of plagiarism.
Lehrer resigned from his position at the New Yorker, which begs the question: should Zakaria be called to resign from his journalistic positions as well? Do not all forms of plagiarism deserve the same scrutiny? Or are some instances less severe? For instance, Chris Anderson’s recent run-in with allegations of plagiarism have hardly affected his professional career. Because Anderson has a seemingly plausible excuse for his lack of citations, and because his publisher publicly accepted his apology, his book is still set to be released. Is this difference of punishment due to the fact that Anderson has an alibi? Perhaps the question is not whether different cases of plagiarism are more or less severe than others, but rather if the difference in backlash faced by the alleged plagiarists is acceptable.

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“Here Comes Everybody” & Wikipedia

In his first two chapters of Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky describes how people have been using the social media found on the internet to create groups, collaborations, break news, or organize things without the use of traditional institutions or “organizations”.

Human beings have been apt to share since the dawn of time. Through the internet, one person sharing a few photos can become an international news story. Not only can everyday people (you, me, Evan) work with the internet and “social tools” to draw awareness to a subject or recruit others with common interests to join a community, we can use that community to achieve something tangible and bigger than the sum of its parts. Wikipedia is made of hundred of thousands of entries that can be written and edited by anyone with an internet connection (and approved by the moderators, of course). It maintains its complex connections between

Bypassing the traditional “org chart” in which management oversight is trickled down through several stages of people (and in which communication is limited between these different layers), new social tools have made it possible for people to communicate ideas, news, and to collaborate much more freely and without managerial costs. As well, Wikipedia can has kept its cost of existence down considerably simply by not becoming a traditional institution. Institutions have often not ventured to pursue an activity because the cost of maintaining its managerial overhead. Wikipedia, as well as other social media are, as Shirky says himself on page 31, “altering this equation by lowering costs of coordinating group action”.

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“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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Comparing McSweeney’s “Internet-Age Writing Syllabus” & “College Writing Assignments with Real-World Applications”

As a young person, I’m used to the generalizations of my age group being exploited for entertaining purposes. I read McSweeney’s “Internet-Age Writing Syllabus” and “College Writing Assignments with Real-World Applications” and experienced the blush of shame that occurs when the (possibly) negative traits of your own generation are mocked. The humor in “Syllabus” is achieved through a satirical view of how Generation Y has experienced literature. It’s a spoof of a syllabus, outlining a class for a bleak but possible future: “Writing for Nonreaders in the Postprint Era”. The “College Writing Assignments” relied on the humor found than in the shared human experience . The article makes the point that in the “real world” the most difficult and challenging or likely things you’ll have to put into writing aren’t 20-page research papers.

Of course mostly every assumption made about my age bracket proved true: I read these articles in between checking my Twitter feed and clicking through Facebook notifications; I too have “over-shared” on social media accounts. In the  “Syllabus” the hypothetical students study topics such as “Reading is stoopid” and are required to read Perez Hilton’s Twitter feed. But they also focus on subjects that aren’t so silly, like using blogging as a writing tool, or questioning the Kindle’s role in the way that people read literature.  These articles convey a message, that traditional college literature or writing courses are less and less relevant to today’s students, particularly in regards to the internet. Contemporary writing/research classes should be applicable to the experiences that students have already had with the internet and other media platforms.   Most current and future college students belong to “The Millennials”. They were born in raised during the largest and fastest technological boom the world has ever seen.  As time passes and current media evolves and transforms and creates new standards, the instruction in the field must  undergo a metamorphosis as well. We’ve already grown up on Tumblr and Facebook and Twitter, why not teach us how to use these tools in a professionally conscious and applicable way?

 

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