But there appear to be no such truths; we are left with theoretical language without the theory. * the five stories in Clays essay follow a practice attributed to The Economist, which is the Third Rule of Big Ideas: simplify and exaggerate. Take the one about network televisions failure to translate web tv program In The motherhood to the mainstream. Clay writes this: twist Once the show moved to television, the Writers guild of America got involved. They were ok with For and About Moms, but by moms violated guild rules. The producers tried to negotiate, to no avail, so the idea of audience engagement was canned (as was In the motherhood itself some months later, after failing to engage viewers as the web version had). The critical fact was that the negotiation took place in the grid of the television industry, between entities incorporated around a 20th century business logic, and entirely within invented constraints. At no point did the negotiation about audience involvement hinge on the question would this be an interesting thing to try? The message is clear: unions and media corporations are inflexible dinosaurs, unable to deal with the chaotic creativity of the digital 21st century.
The rule extends beyond the title into the text itself. Clay has a reputation for being plain-spoken and jargon-free, but thats not really accurate. He doesnt load up his talks and essays with the jargon of the field he is talking about (culture summary but he does sprinkle them with jargon from many places, leaning most heavily to economics and engineering. He borrows liberally from economics with his talk of the marginal value of complexity, coasian transaction costs, and also the supply-and-demand curve (really?). He switches to engineering when he refers to societal collapse as sudden decoherence and discussed negotiations that took place in the grid of the television industry, and to business lingo with his talk of ecosystems and supply curves going parabolic. The language is colourful, and it carries the reader along. It speaks to his natural audience of geeks and techno-enthusiasts, but the lack of precision keeps the audience on its toes while hinting, again, at deeper truths behind the anecdotes.
To take it one step further, here is the second Rule of Big Ideas: make the point catchy, but make it ambiguous. As Thomas Friedman has said, he who names an issue, owns it, so a memorable name (The golden Arches Theory of Conflict Prevention) counts far more than an accurate one, and an oracular title is the best of all. The title of Shirkys essay is not up there with that of his next book cognitive surplus, which is an obvious attempt to coin a new phrase, but it does use the rule. The collapse of Complex Business Models has a ring of down-to-earth pragmatism about it: if you are slave to an obsolete business model, then you get what you deserve. But a business model is a strategy for matching costs to revenues in such a way that you end up with a profit, and all he really writes about is one part of a business model: production costs. Why then not call it The collapse of Complex Production Methods? My guess is that, consciously or not, Clay chose business model because it is a bigger, more abstract, and less concrete concept than production costs and using business models keeps the point of the essay ambitious, ambiguous and open to interpretation.
The common Application Announces Essay prompts
Lady gaga: Bad Romance (music video: Universal) - immigration 360,020,327. TImbaland: Apologize (music video: Mosley music Group) - 355,404,824. Susan boyle: Britains Got Talent (TV: Freemantle/ITV) - 347,670,927. Twilight (film: Summit Entertainment) - 343,969,063. Modern Warfare 2 (video game: Activision) - 339,913,412. Jeff Dunham: Achmed the dead Terrorist (TV) - 328,891,308. Mariah Carey: touch my body (music video: Universal) - 324,057,568.
Charlie bit my finger Again (user generated) - 288,666,331. Michael Jackson: beat boys It (music video: Records) - 286,279,009. It seems that complexity has its place after all. A natural response to this complaint would be that this one particular video is not the point; that I dont get it, that it is not what the essay is really about. After all, Clay also writes this sentence: In the future, at least some methods of producing video for the web will become as complex, with as many details to attend to, as television has today, and people will doubtless make pots of money on those. And here is one benefit of building an essay on anecdata: you can always argue that a particular story is not the point.
There is nothing behind the curtain. * aside: here is Clay shirky writing about: The most watched minute of video made in the last five years shows baby Charlie biting his brothers finger. (Twice!) which is, as of this date, no longer true. The most watched video made in the last five years shows Lady gaga and a group of hired models dancing on an elaborate set in a video that embodies complex production methods, that is part of the vevo channel (a joint venture between google and. Now there is a complex business model.
As a further aside, analysts Visible measures add in all copies of a video together with spoofs and pastiches, and their list of the top fifteen videos is as follows. Soulja boy: Crank dat (music video: Universal) - 722,438,268. Twilight Saga: New moon (film: Summit Entertainment) - 639,966,996. Beyonce: Single ladies (music video: Sony) - 522,039,429. Michael Jackson: Thriller (music video: Epic Records) - 443,535,722. The gummy bear Song (music video: Gummibear International) - 394,327,606. Lady gaga: poker Face (music video: Universal) - 374,606,128.
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They should be the spark that prompts more analytical, more rigorous investigation and introspection, testing out your idea to see where it fits reality and where it fails. In this essay, and in some of his others (see below) anecdotes are all there is, and thats just not good enough. Clay shirky tells no fewer than five separate stories in his short essay. He explains how his title is taken from a book called The essay collapse of Complex Societies; he tells a story about a consulting engagement he had at at t; he spins his short mit story; he talks about a web video mattress comedy called In the. Charming, each and every one, but what you might not notice on a first casual reading is that there is little to hold them together or back them. Switching from story to story keeps the reader off-balance and makes it seem plausible that there is, in fact, a coherent mechanism behind the anecdata if only we were quick enough to catch it as the stories fly. The resolution never appears.
Amy Smith is a professor in the department of Mechanical Engineering at mit, where she runs the development Lab, or d-lab, a lab organized around simple and cheap engineering solutions for the developing world. Among the rules of thumb she offers for building in that environment is this: If you want something to be 10 times cheaper, take out 90 of the materials. Making media is like that now except, for materials, substitute labor. The loose analogy with cheap engineering solutions tells us nothing new about the media and its problems. Why invoke it then? Well, it does suggest that successful engineering solutions for the developing world are evidence in favour of the thesis of the essay, although they are not, and it brings mit on side with the argument, which cant be bad. This is how stories and analogies work - they suggest connections between different fields, connect solutions to different problems. But stories and analogies should be a starting point for thought, plans and not its terminus.
the questions it raised, and by answering them, sealed off avenues where questions could have been asked. If you want to provoke discussion, logic and detail are not your friends. Instead, dont worry about loose ends and half-expressed ideas - just keep the audiences interest and provide colour, and let them fill in the gaps later. Make sure your audience is not sure whats coming next, not sure if they quite understood what they just heard. Thats what makes for good entertainment. Its the first Rule of Big Ideas: tell stories and think by analogy. Here is the shortest of the stories in Clay shirkys essay:.
Despite his title, the stories he tells are not a problem of complex business models but of expensive production, and even though it is uncredited, many readers will recognize the core of the essay from that other Clay, christensens The Innovators Dilemma. * everybody the likes a story, and Clay shirky tells a good one. Collecting stories is not difficult: if you think about a subject long enough, all kinds of tangential happenings remind you of it, so youll get a good selection to draw from before long. Sometimes these stories are only peripherally connected to the theme you are developing, but that doesnt matter because their role is not to advance your argument in any material way. Their role is to contribute to the impression of a widely-read, eclectically educated piece of writing and to keep your audience off balance, not sure where you are going next. In 1983 Nobel Prize winner roald Hoffmann visited the chemistry department at McMaster University. As the audienced assembled, Professor Ed Hileman leaned over a chair and said to me and other graduate students: you watch - hell give an interesting talk but there will be no questions. And he was right.
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