Networks are necessary, but not sufficient, for social upheaval

My latest Guardian column, "Networks are not always revolutionary," argues that networks are necessary, but not sufficient, for many disruptive commercial, cultural and social phenomena, and that this character has led many people to either overstate or dismiss the role and potential of networked technology in current events:

"For most artists," as the famous Tim O'Reilly aphorism has it "the problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity." To me, this is inarguably true and self-evident - the staying power of this nugget has more to do with its admirable brevity and clarity than its novelty.

And yet, there are many who believe that O'Reilly is mistaken: they point to artists who are well-known, but who still have problems. There are YouTube video-creators who've racked up millions of views; bloggers with millions of readers, visual artists whose work has been appropriated and spread all around the world, such as the photographer Noam Galai, whose screaming self-portrait has found its way into everything from stencil graffiti to corporate logos, all without permission or payment. These artists, say the sceptics, have overcome obscurity, and yet they have yet to find a way to convert their fame to income.

But O'Reilly doesn't say, "Attain fame and you will attain fortune" - he merely says that for most artists, fame itself is out of their grasp.

Networks are not always revolutionary


  1. I always tie this ruminations to the next step in human colonization, space, and how much the human race would need to change, a deep one, in order to accomodate to such radical existence. Maybe I’m shooting off the roof, but probably we wouldn’t be human anymore.
    Back to this, perhaps the real revolution lies in obscurity and the fame we expect is based on an outdated concept, a world which doesn’t exist any more.
    Network provides a structure, but it also negates the individual creation as truly unique; the network shows the variations we previously would have taken years or centuries to discover.
    You won’t find an alien in a network, but outside. Once inside, it’s shine lessens. Information overload.

  2. Is “sceptic” the British way to spell “skeptic”, or did that just slip past you and the editor?

  3. “What’s worse than being an unpublished author? Being a known-unpublished author.” – Donald Hamilton

  4. I got a royalty check yesterday for $130. That may be it for the year. So go ahead, steal me. Like I should give a shit?

    1. No no no. You’re doing it wrong. If you want people to steal you, you have to proclaim loudly that you will prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law if they steal you.

      So far, I’m not interested in stealing you. But if you threaten me, well, I’ll steal the crap out of you for the lulz.

  5. I often find myself at odds with your conclusions Cory, but this article is on an even keel and it frankly addresses much of my criticism of the earlier net-centric reporting on Egypt. I always appreciate reading the pragmatics.

  6. Wouldn’t a more accurate assessment be “helpful but not sufficient?” Networked computing played a part in the Egyptian uprising, but to say that they’re “necessary” is to say that nobody had a successful revolution before networked computers.

    Certainly communication is necessary, but that can take various forms — fiery oratory, the distribution of pamphlets like Thomas Paine’s Common Sense, telephones, television, and yes, computer networks, among many other forms of communication.

    1. ‘Network’ and ‘Social networking’. Not ‘Networked computing’. You added your own word to Cory’s thesis and then objected to its presence there.

      1. Your counter to adamvillani rests on a false dichotomy. You can’t have a softwired “social network” without first haveing “networked computers.”

        And you have to admit adamvillani does have a point, even if he is only critiquing the implicit.

        1. Some of us have appear to have forgotten that the words ‘social network’ had and still have a central meaning that is entirely independent of computers.

          1. You are now telling me that “social networking” equals “communication.”

            And frankly I can’t follow your line of thought. Could you please explain to me how the common use of “social network” is devoid of any technological influence.

            What qualities makes this social network identifiable? How is this social network then different from other such independent social structures? (i.e how is a functioning social structure (like a peer group) NOT a social network, as that seems to be what you are impling by lifting “social network” from its root in technology.)

            So enlighten me, what is the central meaning of “social network”? And I remind you, by your own admission, you can’t define it by any linkage with technology.

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