Recently I've read two books related to the internet and to some extent social media. The first book I've mentioned and quoted repeatedly, Code 2.0 by Lawrence Lessig. The second is a book I just finished called Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky which is about how as the internet has evolved and grown we have been able to create our own content instead of simply being passive consumers.
Despite the fact that Code 2.0 was originally written in 1999 and then updated in 2006 and Surplus was written in 2010 I feel that Code is still more relevant. Some of this can be attributed to the approach of the authors. In both cases the authors discuss specific websites and how they impact social interaction between different actors. As side from arguing that the free time and the increased ability to create, Shirky focuses on social connections and ignores other considerations related to content creation. He oversimplifies the skills required to create new content and ignores vested interests ability to prevent content creation.
Lessig on the other hand, creates a framework where it is possible to analyze the interactions between the various actors that interact on the internet. He looks at the market forces, social forces, regulatory forces, and social norms that interact with the internet in different ways. In this way Lessig is able to create recommendations to improve the interaction with the various forces acting on the internet. His goal is to create a safe internet that allows privacy, transparency, great places where economic exchanges can happen and required controls to prevent abuse of the internet.
There are some other differences between these books. Shirky reminds me of Thomas Friedman's the World is Flat. It's an incredibly optimistic view of the internet. Effectively the author can't find anything wrong with the social interactions that occur on the internet. He isn't concerned with the privacy issues with sites like Facebook, hacking issues both white and black hat and censorship at any level. He ignores these issues and looks at the community aspect. Which is fine, but he should at least mention these factors as they can seriously impact the quality of a community that's being created. Lessig has a much less optimistic outlook and in fact believes that the internet will allow the government unprecedented access to our personal information and control over the information we control.
I think that these two books represent well the different ways that people look at the internet. I personally have a Lessig outlook. This maybe for a few reasons. I've read a few of his books, I can be cynical and I don't have endless optimism for any technology. I think that the internet is an amazing thing. That people are creating more content, but it's going to take some time before it gets to the point that Shirky is dreaming of. One of my friends over at KBMOD things that within a few years everyone will have a YouTube account the way that everyone has a Facebook account. I'm skeptical of this. I think there's more time required to be effective at being a YouTuber than being a Facebooker. Which will decrease the number of people that are willing to take up a hobby. Facebook takes about 10 seconds to update, with YouTube you have to feel comfortable in front of a camera or talking over some sort of content. I think it'll happen over time, but I think there will be something of a U shape of users. I think older generations that have more free time will pick it up.
I think both books have a positive outlook on the internet and social media. They both think that the more connections that happen the more connections that can occur. Overall, I personally think that if you're interested in the different forces interacting in the internet Lessig's book is for you. If you're interested in a rosy outlook on the positive impact of the internet then read Shirky's book.