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.

2 thoughts on “Vindication and Unintentional Plagiarism [en]

  1. When you write or blog it becomes clear how easy it is to refer to people whose work you have read or has influenced you. A link doesn’t take much time at all. What’s interesting is how frequently people don’t bother to point out those sources, even if they completely disagree with them. I’m a huge fan of the web and blogging but it’s sad whenever I see someone clearly influenced by something before who doesn’t see the value, for their readers, of pointing back to what came before.

    Thanks for including links and talking about what influenced your thinking.

    We all suffer confirmation bias and lack of recollection of the sources of the ideas that run in our minds, but for anyone thinking about the future linking backwards matters.

  2. Thanks for stopping by to comment, Scott. One of the things that made me fall in love with the web was links. I could find something interesting to read somewhere, and follow links to more, and more links to more, and more. I do indeed try and link to my sources — the problem though is when I simply cannot remember how I got somewhere.

    “Somewhere” being either “to this thing I’m reading” (cf. my article on “losing credit“) or worse, “this idea I have”. Ideas are fuzzy, messy things. They creep into your brain sometimes almost unnoticed, morph and merge with what they find there, and show up one day in a conversation, a reading session, or a walk in the park. And they don’t come with a pedigree attached.

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