strategy+business Winter 2013 : Page 75

B E S T B U S I N E S S B O O K S 2 0 13 / D I G I T I Z AT I O N tutions, is also augmented by digital media. A sharing economy has given birth to dozens of services such as Airbnb (people rent out rooms in their homes), Lyft (people put a big pink mustache on their cars and pro-vide rides to other Lyft members, at a fraction of the cost of a taxi), and NeighborGoods (people lend and borrow everyday items). The sharing economy definite-ly has legs, but it is uncertain whether it will become as powerful as citizen science and patient communities or whether its growth might be truncated by corporations, such as Hyatt or Hertz, defending their turf by acquir-ing these services. The social institutions of education at all levels are under enormous pressure to change as classroom models based on the era of factories and mass production break under the demands of 21st-century knowledge economies. At the same time, learning, monopolized by schools for thousands of years, is morphing because of digital texts and online learning communities. Khan Academy, MOOCs (mas-sive open online courses), well-funded “edupreneur” startups such as Udacity and Coursera, how-to videos on YouTube, platforms for peer learning such as P2PU and Skillshare: These seem less like iso-lated signals than a cultural shift at this point. As a participant and explorer in the field of online so-cial learning myself, I can testify that something big is afoot. But whether and how these emerging “socialstructures” will change the ancient, in-herently conservative institutions of public and private education is not yet clear. Probably Gorbis’s weakest argument for signifi-cant structural change is the chapter on the potential for socialstructed government. The signals she points out, however, are fascinating and hopeful. For example, Stanford professor James Fishkin has perfected and tested “deliberative democracy” in Texas and Mongolia, California and Brazil, by bringing together groups of citizens of all political stripes together, polling them on specific issues, enabling them to learn from and interro-gate experts who have different viewpoints, encouraging discussion, then polling them again—a rigorous experi-ment in innovative governance that shows how people can together learn to make better decisions about issues. Another example is the rewriting of Iceland’s constitu-tion in 2011 and 2012. The world’s oldest democracy enlisted citizens to propose new clauses and to deliber-ate online. These are indeed signals worth paying atten-tion to. But do they portend real political change? Like big data, socialstructing brings dangers as well as opportunities. The greatest danger, the author of The Nature of the Future argues, may be new bound-aries between those who are economically and educa-tionally equipped to take advantage of socialstructed institutions and those who are not. Any changes in the way people organize social ties, political institutions, established work patterns, and measures of value are unpredictable, but it can be forecast with certainty that some people will always take advantage of any imbal-ances revealed by new technolo-gies to further their own interests at others’ expense. I’m with Gor-bis when she writes, “If we are not careful, the new curve may also bring with it new dispari-ties. What direction this nascent curve takes is up to us. We are not passive bystanders in the unfold-ing of the future; we have some responsibility for and agency in shaping the kind of future we want to live in.” Spread or Dead best books 2013 digitization 75 Spreadable media is what results when socialstructing meets enter-tainment, advertising, and journalism. Consider the way that the circulation of media—for example, the millions of links, likes, tags, comments, blogs, tweets, and emails that can quickly make a video viral—has be-come a cultural force, and even a new form of economic production. In Spreadable Media: Creating Value and Meaning in a Networked Culture, media theorist Henry Jenkins, formerly of MIT and now at USC, and his coauthors, digital strategists Sam Ford and Joshua Green, make a convincing case that fan involvement in the re-creation and circulation of media content is not just an interest-ing side effect of many-to-many multimedia networks and smartphone video editing apps, but a significant force for empowerment and exploitation in and of itself. “What we are calling spreadability,” explain the authors, “starts from an assumption that circulation constitutes

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