Clay Shirky on distraction: turn the damn wi-fi off!

Whenever  I digest Clay Shirky’s books, such as Here comes everybody, I always wonder where someone like him finds time to draw out such astute observations about so many social and technological events swirling around us.

His latest, Cognitive Surplus,  is a must read for anyone wondering (or responding to the cynical question)’where do people like you fund time to blog and hang out on social media sites?”

So when I heard him last week on a webinar, remark that he often goes to a place with his Netbook and turns the wi-fi off, it all made sense. We celebrate the fact that many gadgets around us are wi-fi enabled –now including cameras and MP3 players. But just because we have the default option of being always on, always connected to the grid, we could be denying ourselves the time to sit back and come to our own conclusions.

“The volume of the media coming at us is so large,” he observed;” we need to filter it and ‘do new imaginative things’ out of them.

Whereas once literacy was once a goal for our children,  we now need to teach children how not to be distracted, he said. “Being deluged,” is the norm. “For all the fetishizaion of ‘inbox zero’ for example, there is no way to keep people from  wasting your time. The discipline comes to basically turning off the channels.

I tried it today at the coffee shop. I got so much more done. I was reminded of the book I intended top pick up, Distracted.  It deals with “networks of attention.”

That’s a new phrase to me!

“Attention is not always within our control. The unexpected, the changeable, the novel, even the habitual abduct our focus, intrude upon our awareness, and pull us off course for a time.”

The funny thing is, I would not have been able to find that book is not for my wi-fi connection. I know what Clay would say: “Get thee to a library!”

Clay Shirky on the power of web collaboration, media

Experiments in communication take off when they create ‘social capital’ rather than take that “big bang” approach, says Clay Shirky. He discussed this and more in an NPR interview and call-in last week.

Of course Shirky has written extensively on this subject of social capital, especially in Here comes everybody –the the best book on social media, to-date, in my opinion. His analysis of new media is spot on. As in observing how technology needs to become ‘technologically boring‘ before it gains social traction. It has to first lose its geek stigma, then become ‘normal’, then ubiquitous, to finally become pervasive enough to start a revolution.

And for those grappling with how much PR and media presence is necessary I love this quote from the book:

“All business are media businesses, because whatever else they do, all businesses rely on the managing of information for two audiences – employees and the world.”

Which opens a rich debate on the blurring line between internal and external communiction, whether PR should be taught in business schools etc, but that’s grist for the mill for another post.