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A Clay Shirky Adventure. Part II: SHOCK!

You may have seen my ‘first look’ review of “Here Comes Everybody” by Clay Shirky.  To sum up:  I was pretty insulted and annoyed at the dense language and hammered in points.

The book is hard to get through.  It will take me weeks.  So instead of one huge review months from now, I’ll just take you all along on this deciphering adventure.  I’ll break out my Sword of Sense and slash through the thicket of pompous writing, chapter by chapter.  It’s a journey to page 319 (the last page including after notes) of Clay Shirky’s “Here Comes Everybody.”  Come along.  It should prove interesting.

After getting the book back from my library (someone reserved it, had it for 2 days, and returned it, which is understandable), I decided to go straight to the Bibliography (which really are better categorized as Footnotes).

What followed can only be described as pure shock, followed by just plain anger.

Why would footnoted references evoke so much emotional sturm and drang from me?  Here are two examples.  Maybe you can pick out what set me off this time:

p. 311 note for page 47: “cooperation The literature on cooperation is vast and somewhat confusing.  Cooperation per se does not need explaining; birds and bees do it, as the song goes.  The much harder question is how we came to engage in so much cooperation with people we are not related to.”

p. 313 note for page 84: “social networking site After the 2002 success of Friendster, the first widely adopted social networking service, many more were created.  Judith Meskill created a list of over three hundred (!) social networking services by 2005, and many more have been created since then.  That list, though no longer updated, is at socialsoftware.weblogsinc.com/2005/02/14/home-of-the-social-networking-services-meta-list/.”

Did you catch it? No? “Hmmm,” you may be thinking, “There doesn’t seem to be anything wrong with those paragraphs.  I wonder what PurpleCar is getting at?

Guess what.  THAT’S MY POINT.  You probably read through those examples without difficulty.  Here, in front of our very own eyes, is solid evidence that Mr. Shirky can, if he concentrates, write in plain English! He can even *gasp* sound caring.  These examples make me think that perhaps Mr. Shirky wants to ‘break it down’ for a wide audience.  The phrase ‘is vast and somewhat confusing‘ is simple and gracious.  The use of a cute little exclamation point in parentheses (!) is funny and nice.  He uses plain language that makes sense!  It can be taught!

The “it so easily could have been different” anger set in when I realized that the first two chapters could have been written that way.  I felt like I had just wasted 2 hours sitting in dead stop traffic only to realize I could have just driven on the shoulder the last 1/4 mile to my exit.

My guess is that for Mr. Shirky, the Bibliography section was the most time-consuming and difficult to write out of all the chapters of the book.  As I said before, it is much harder to be clear and concise, especially if you are constrained by the acceptable length (i.e. short) of a traditional footnote.  And in that attempt at brevity, Mr. Shirky comes across as personable and accessible.  I wish that he kept that tone throughout the book.  It would be much more of an enjoyable adventure.

Next up: Chapters 3 and 4.  Give me two weeks.

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