Clay Shirky and the use of metaphor

This has been all over the web (I picked it up via John Connell) – Clay Shirky talking at the Supernova conference. He talks about a shinto shrine that was regulalry reconstructed from wood, and so UNESCO wouldn’t recognise it as being historical, because what they recognise is presence, whereas the Shinto shrine was about permanence of process. He argues that the latter is more significant. It’s a good metaphor for the open source community, he talks about PERL, and how the process, the community has proved far more endurable than the bricks and mortar of an organisation such as AT & T.

You see this bias towards stuff over process everywhere you look, and to continue my RAE rant, it is at the heart of that too – it’s really about the stuff you produce, not your contribution to the process. That’s because these are the easy things to measure, and like the AT & T guys who wanted contracts for support and couldn’t trust something as nebulous as a community, being able to point at something and say ‘that’s it, there, right there’ is comforting. It’s just wrong most of the time. One can’t help feeling education is like this too – it’s about hard assessment, stuff we can stamp and say ‘learning, done.’ Maybe this is what the real liberation of the web will be, that through the tracking of conversations and networks we can now see the process. To quote from a different Shirky piece – the  internet’s output is data, but its product is freedom

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