However, by far the best review I’ve read came to my attention this week in the journal Metamute (“culture and politics after the Net”).
The first half of Felix Strader’s review follows the well-worn path trodden by other reviewers. It outlines Shirky’s basic premise and uses a couple of his case studies to illustrate these points.
But it is the second half of the review where Strader really reveals the gaping hole at the heart of the book:
“For a book that claims to analyse a revolution that ‘cannot be contained in the institutional structure of society’. we get extremely little on politics or power. […] This lack of depth is the result of the single most problematic aspect of the book. It focuses almost exclusively on aspects that are entirely uncontroversial.”
Stalder uses this gaping void to explore what he calls the “tension” at the heart of web 2.0. This tension exists between the growing number of decentralized ‘amateurs’ creating and contributing value and content to the network and the spaces in which this creation unfolds which are largely centralized and possess vested interests in maintaining control over the public spaces online.
This has a number of clear implications that Stalder believes Shirky must be aware of but keeps quiet about; perhaps given his role as a consultant to the same companies.
As a result, the book’s one glaring omission is about the battle over copyright and DRM:
“Tussle over copyright? Reading Shirky, you wouldn't know there is one. This is probably the most glaring absence. Number of entries for copyright in the index of the book? Zero! In my view, this is inexcusable because it cuts right to the core of why 'boring technologies' are currently so ‘socially interesting’. File sharing, in particular, demonstrates most clearly the power of ‘organizing without organization’ so radical that, for the moment, nobody knows how to contain it within current institutional structures. Number of entries on P2P or file sharing in the index? Again, zero!”
This omission is a monumental failure on Shirky’s behalf and “an indication”- to Stalder at least – “of how constrained discourse has become, particularly in the US.” Damningly, Stalder concludes that this narrow view of the power and potential of Web 2.0 is “Self-censorship at work.”
While this makes total sense, I can’t offer a critique as I haven’t read Shirky’s book. Rest assured it’s an issue I want to return to once I have.