Question: Why do you think the world will be in chaos for 50 years?
Shirky: Well, so this was the thing, Elizabeth and I since time and it’s funny I also quoted her in the recent piece on newspaper did wrote these 2 volumes set of incredibly dense analysis of what actually happened when Gutenberg invented movable typewriter. Everybody recognize it as the revolution, my pretty movable type [IB] its pan-Catholic political force. There are some language differences but Latin is the kind of official language across this rink. Couple hundred years later right, middle 1650 we have national governments and each nation state has its own language and its own attitude towards religion and that is largely the world we live in today, right.
1650 was closer in spirit to the time we live in now than it was to 1450. The change was so enormous…but what was also clear is that there was never a moment where everybody said, “Oh I get it. This is what the printing press is going to do. Well let just do that thing.” It was 150 years of chaos and blood shed when people almost literally didn’t know what to think, right. It was perfectly clear that the printing press had broken a bunch of ancient institutions but no one knew what would replace it and you could never replace it even if you did know because those new institutions needed time to mature, right. Newspaper and novel have the same root word, right. They both came from the same idea of newness because that’s what’s printing presses were doing.
But it took a while for people to figure out like, oh fiction and non-fiction could maybe profitably separate. So for a long time people including myself had been in kind of casual way saying internet is the biggest thing since the printing press and when I came around to the Ted Talk and that was the talk that actually that led to the book. It was after doing that talk that there was I’ve got, I could write a book; it would be worth reading. When it came time to actually research what that meant and use it not in a casual way I realize oh yeah when something is as big as the printing press that doesn’t just mean oh it’s a big deal. What that means is that it breaks a lot of existing social bargains and no one knows what will replace them and the 50-year figure I pulled out of since I pulled out of the year I think the change will be faster because I think society just integrates innovation faster than it did in 1400s’ when movable type came along. But I also think right newspaper right the idea of newspaper as the bulwark of daily reporting on the City Council and the Water Board and Mayor, right.
The places where corruptions will just zip in to the body politic if no one is watching. I think those newspaper is going away and I don’t think that anything is going to quickly or completely replace those functions. I think we’re going to have a period of at least decades before we know how to get something that works the way, that provides kind of journalism that today the newspaper currently provide. And that’s the chaos I’m talking about is when the old model breaks faster than the new model gets put in its place and I think we are in for a lot of that.
Recorded on: May 7, 2009