Should We Optimize Our Children's Online Presence?
Clay Shirky: I had a campaign years ago called “Give \r\nyour kid a GUID,” a Globally Unique ID, as they are called. That kind \r\nof Google calculation about providing a unique or rare ID for you kid. \r\nI’ve grown up with that, right? People write me, are you the clay \r\nShirky I knew in high school. Well, I can’t exactly say, no. I mean, \r\nit’s an unusual enough name. And that kind of... providing that kind of\r\n legibility, the sociologists call it, for a society is a big \r\ncalculation because everybody’s realized now, you can’t get the login \r\nnamed “Susan.” Right? It’s just you’re Susan1234567@AOL.com or you're \r\nSCrawford, or whatever. But the awareness that these name spaces are \r\nall global all the time is, I think effecting how people think about the\r\n world.
\r\nThere is certainly, I mean, I think the biggest difference we’ve seen so\r\n far in calculations that involve the Internet come from people with \r\nsomething significantly public at stake. Right? There’s lots and lots \r\nof private changes around anything from, "I don’t need to own a cookbook\r\n because I can get recipes from the Internet," to Match.com will help me\r\n find someone to date. The public stuff, though, is quite remarkable. \r\nIn particular, politicians after the Trent Lott defenestration and after\r\n the "macaca" moment in Virginia, have seen that saying one thing to one\r\n group and another thing to another group can be a career-ending moment.\r\n And as a result, for I believe for the first time in American history, \r\npoliticians are on message all the time, and that message is always \r\nnational. The upside of this is there’s a little bit less of the \r\npreaching trade barriers in Michigan and open borders in Florida kind of\r\n stuff—depending on whether you’re import or export driven, you know, \r\ntalking about import or export driven parts of the U.S. economy—but the \r\ndown side to that is we know less about what a politician thinks when \r\nthey get into office than if there had been lots of different \r\nenvironments they’d been talking in. I was delighted when Obama won, \r\nI’d given him money, I voted for him, but at the same time I was a \r\nlittle dismayed that the hope and change message was so dominant and so \r\nuniversally adhered to that... that the rhetoric that he used, he'd \r\ncorrectly assessed, had to work for every voter all the time wherever he\r\n was, but it meant that we knew less of him than we would have, I think,\r\n in an earlier campaign, even though that was the winning strategy.
\r\nQuestion: How is the Internet affecting business in emerging \r\nmarkets?
\r\nClay Shirky: I teach a class—I’m down at the Interactive \r\nTelecommunications Program at NYU—and I teach a class in partnership \r\nwith UNICEF. And one of the interesting things about thinking about \r\naccess on mobile phones, is you take a lot of web design principles, \r\nright? The idea of two-way data-driven social communications and you \r\nend up repurposing them for the simplest possible devices, right? SMS \r\nback and forth with mobile phones. And in many cases, you get really \r\nastonishing bits of value, like the Fisherman’s Marketplace in Kenya, \r\nright? Fishermen coming off the ocean can SMS ahead and figure out \r\nwhich port has the best price for the fish they currently have. All you\r\n need for that is SMS. This is fantastic. All of the M-Pesa mobile \r\nbanking stuff coming out of Africa, again designed to work with the \r\nsimplest possible phones.
On the other hand, the kind of \r\nrich, face-oriented, social interactions that we’ve all gotten used to \r\nfrom the Web get attenuated on the mobile phone. And so, I think the \r\nquestion becomes, and it’s still an open question, which of the design \r\nprinciples that were pioneered on the Web were pioneered because we had \r\nan open system—but now once we got those principles we can move that to \r\nanything? And the closer it gets to being market-oriented or \r\ntransactional, the easier it is to make it appear on the phone. And \r\nwhich of those things only work on a web-like interface, or on a PC-like\r\n interface with you know, a really visible large-scale screen, camera, \r\netc., etc. The separation of the PC and the phone is now ending, right,\r\n as netbooks, iPads, iPhones converge on not a single point, but on the \r\nrange that covers the difference between sitting in front of a large \r\nscreen at home and carrying around tiny screen on your phone. And one \r\nof the great design challenges in the next five years is essentially \r\nfigure out, at what point along that scale do you have to say, "I can’t \r\nsqueeze a Web site down any further. I have to custom," versus "It’s \r\nactually the social interaction pattern I care about; it will work on \r\nany device."
So Facebook squeezes down to the phone less well \r\nthan Twitter for the obvious reasons, and mobile banking and payment \r\nsystems squeeze down to the phone—n fact, they’re kind of born to be on \r\nthe phone. It’s not even a question of squeezing—work on the phone \r\nbeautifully and don’t really get much benefit from being on the Web.
And so rather than being in the lumpy world we were in ’95, here’s \r\nyour computer, bang! Here’s your phone, it’s crappy and can hardly hear\r\n anything. There’s nothing in between. Now we’ve got this whole range \r\nbetween the biggest and smallest devices. What we don’t yet know is \r\nwhere there are real break points and where it’s just a spectrum.
Recorded on May 26, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown
From U.S. elections to fishing markets in Kenya to baby names, Internet technology is changing our choices and behavior daily.
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