The kindling was already everywhere

There are no easy answers. More important, there are no purely digital answers.

…We didn’t get where we are simply because of digital technologies. The Russian government may have used online platforms to remotely meddle in US elections, but Russia did not create the conditions of social distrust, weak institutions, and detached elites that made the US vulnerable to that kind of meddling.

…Russia did not make the US (and its allies) initiate and then terribly mishandle a major war in the Middle East, the after-effects of which—among them the current refugee crisis—are still wreaking havoc, and for which practically nobody has been held responsible. Russia did not create the 2008 financial collapse: that happened through corrupt practices that greatly enriched financial institutions, after which all the culpable parties walked away unscathed, often even richer, while millions of Americans lost their jobs and were unable to replace them with equally good ones.

Russia did not instigate the moves that have reduced Americans’ trust in health authorities, environmental agencies, and other regulators. Russia did not create the revolving door between Congress and the lobbying firms that employ ex-politicians at handsome salaries. Russia did not defund higher education in the United States. Russia did not create the global network of tax havens in which big corporations and the rich can pile up enormous wealth while basic government services get cut.

…If digital connectivity provided the spark, it ignited because the kindling was already everywhere.

How social media took us from Tahrir Square to Donald Trump by Zynep Tufekci (with light editing), MIT Technology Review, August 2018

Sclerotic, unchanging, and poorly led

There’s some kind of a problem here. People are coming out of these universities, they’re very very ready to work in organizations that are interesting and powerful and which listen to them and give them what they need…and they change the world. And the problem is that almost everyone who comes out of undergraduate and graduate school finds the organizations that they join [to be] sclerotic, unchanging, poorly lead… It’s a huge sort of whack to these young people. We’ve got a disconnect between the training and the inspiration of our young people and the institutions and organizations that they are joining.
Google CEO Eric Schmidt, interviewed by Salman Khan. [At 11:58] …Via Beth Harris and Stephen Zucker, co-deans of art and history, Khan Academy

At the Rijksmuseum, knowledge needs to be shared

From a 2012 interview with Taco Dibbits, Director of Collections, Rijksmuseum

[Starting around 2:50]

The Rijksmuseum is all about images. We want to share these images with everybody using the Internet. The technology is in fact about sharing. Of course, you design your own websites, create your own Facebook account, but in the end it’s all about sharing.

That’s why we have decided to put free to use, up to date information in the best available quality on the Internet. So whatever forum you’re on or what you’re looking for, you can download and use it as you like. The museum is about inspiration, learning, and knowledge. The Internet provides inspiration, when you are able to zoom in and touch the screen. In the museum, you’re not allowed to touch the collect, but on the Internet you are. On your iPhone you can magnify or reduce the  museum’s collection, which is very inspiring. You can print them in the highest quality on your bedcover or in a booklet; the possibilities are numerous.

Knowledge needs to be shared. The Rijksmuseum connects people to art and history and that connection, that exchange of knowledge, is of the utmost importance to us.

We have over a million objects in our collection, of which 200,000 can be found on the Internet. We employ over 450 people so it’s impossible for them to know everything there is about our collection. We invite people to have fun with our collection, to get inspired, but also to share their knowledge with us. If a person in India has information that is important to us, he can share this with us and at the same time with the rest of the community. This is why the Internet as provider of knowledge and source of inspiration is crucial for humanity and as such one of the most important inventions in history. 

via @LizzyJongma 

Frozen choices

Every such meeting, in other words, involves a thousand choices, but not a billion, because most of the big choices have already been made. These frozen choices are what gives institutions their vitality — they are in fact what make them institutions. Freed of the twin dangers of navel-gazing and random walks, an institution can concentrate its efforts on some persistent, medium-sized, and tractable problem, working at a scale and longevity unavailable to its individual participants.
— Clay Shirky, Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis, December 2, 2011

Shirky continues,

Institutions also reduce the choices a society has to make. In the second half of the 20th century, “the news” was whatever was in the newspaper on the morning, or network TV at night. Advertisers knew where to reach shoppers. Politicians knew who to they had to talk to to get their message out (sometimes voluntarily, sometimes not.) Readers understood an Letters page as the obvious way of getting wider circulation for their views.

That dual reduction of choices masks an essential asymmetry, though. Institutions are designed to reduce they choices for their members, but they only happen to reduce the choices in society. A publisher may want reporters at their desks at 10 am, and to be the main source of breaking news for the paper’s readers. The former desire is under the publisher’s control; the latter not.

Overlapping, partial, competitive, cooperative attempts

All of this seems to offer the grandmotherly option between Starkman and the FON [Future Of News] crew — ‘You’re both right, dear. We need institutions and we need experiments.’ Even given this hybridization, though, our views diverge: Plan A assumes that experiments should be spokes to the newspapers’ hub, their continued role as the clear center of public interest journalism assured, and on the terms previously negotiated.

Plan B follows Jonathan Stray’s observations about the digital public sphere: in a world where Wikipedia is a more popular source of information than any newspaper, maybe we won’t have a clear center anymore. Maybe we’ll just have lots of overlapping, partial, competitive, cooperative attempts to arm the public to deal with the world we live in.

Some of the experiments going on today, small and tentative as they are, will eventually harden into institutional form, and that development will be as surprising as the penny press subsidizing journalism for seven generations. The old landscape had institutions and so will the new one, but this doesn’t imply continuity.
— Clay Shirky, Institutions, Confidence, and the News Crisis, December 2, 2011

Shirky, on institutional change

Running an organization is difficult in and of itself, no matter what its goals. Every transaction it undertakes—every contract, every agreement, every meeting—requires it to expend some limited resource: time, attention, or money. Because of these transaction costs, some sources of value are too costly to take advantage of. As a result, no institution can put all its energies into pursuing its mission; it must expend considerable effort on maintaining discipline and structure, simply to keep itself viable. Self-preservation of the institution becomes job number one, while its stated goal is relegated to number two or lower, no matter what the mission statement says. The problems inherent in managing these transaction costs are one of the basic constraints shaping institutions of all kinds. [p29]

…New social tools are altering this equation by lowering the costs of coordinating group action. The easiest place to see this change is in activities that are too difficult to be pursued with traditional management but that have become possible with new forms of coordination.” [p31]
— Clay Shirky, from Here Comes Everybody