Vindication and Unintentional Plagiarism [en]

[fr] Je retrouve dans Here Comes Everybody plein d'idées "à moi". Sont-ce vraiment les miennes? D'où viennent-elles? Peu importe, au final. Un livre dont je recommande chaudement la lecture.

I’m reading Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. I should have read it a long time ago, like most unread books on my bookshelf. It’s about the behavioural and social change brought about by social tools. Each chapter is making me go “yes, wow!” and I get a sense of vindication, because so much of what Shirky so clearly explains is stuff that I’ve been saying for years. It feels like “he agrees with me”.

The truth is certainly more complex. These “theories” that I’ve come up with over the years to explain the online connected world to outsiders, and which feel like mine, well, I didn’t conjure them out of thin air. We all know about unintentional plagiarism, don’t we? Maybe I even read them on Shirky’s blog, once upon a time. Or heard them from somebody who read the book, or knows him.

Though Clay Shirky and I have never met, we have many friends and acquaintances in common. The Acknowledgements section at the end of his book is so full of people I’ve met and spoken with (when they’re not simply friends) that it’s a little surreal. I’m offline, or I’d check on Facebook and see how many contacts we have in common. Fair to say that we’re part of a tightly connected area of the network. (One notable difference, amongst others, though: Shirky took the trouble to write a book :-))

Another possibility is that these are “ambient ideas”. I’ve forgotten the reference for this (but Scott Berkun‘s book The Myths of Innovation almost certainly talks about it), but innovation is generally not an isolated event. The climate is ripe, and it is not rare that more than one person comes up with a new idea around the same time. These are possibly the “collective theories” in certain circles we are part of. It’s at the same time fascinating and frustrating that it is not possible to trace precisely how ideas travel through the network.

It doesn’t really matter, though. It feels good to see in print what I’ve been thinking and saying for years, even if I don’t remember how I came to these conclusions. Allow me to risk basking in the warm fuzzy glow of confirmation bias for a while.

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