Clay Shirky on Culture Cones


Last month (January 2014) Clay Shirky gave a talk at Microsoft (50mins with Q&A). He took the opportunity to float some new ideas he has about Culture Cones, a metaphor he has borrowed from the physics concept of light cones.

He starts the description of the concept at 12m 45s into the talk.

Imagine two observers. The first is one light year from a supernova, the other is two light years away from the supernova.  If the supernova explodes with a flash, the event will "happen" one year later to the first observer and two years later to the second observer. One sees it a year before the other.

So it is with cultural events and memes. Culture cones move through networks like light cones through space.

Shirky asks, "When was the first time you heard about bitcoin?", a culture cone moving though society right now.

Less connected people experience these events much later. They just saw the supernova flash no matter how long ago it actually happened. Technologists have this all the time when their family eventually ask them about some new thing that is actually old, "So what’s this Tor thing?"

It’s worth watching the talk. He even mentions Boyd’s and OODA loops.

Clay Shirky – Social Computing Symposium -16 January 2014

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