I've been reading Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky. I'm not actually that far into the book yet, so there's time for him to come back around, but as yet, I'm finding a lot in the book to disagree with.
Yesterday's discovery of Dooce's clotheswasher issues have added to my dismay. I'm taking a completely different angle than the readers she complains about. Really, I'm not complaining about her at all -- I'm glad she got her washer issues sorted out. But in a similar way to what irritates me about Here Comes Everybody, she makes a point to say that the power of Twitter that we should all use is one that empowers the common man to make changes for the good.
I simply don't think that power exists for people who aren't Dooce or Clay Shirky.
And what really ticks me off about it is that they write blog posts and books about how anyone can use the Power Of Twitter (or similar crowdsourcing online social whatevers) to change the world, but what they seem to fail to mention is that it doesn't hurt - nay, it's required - to have a million followers, or to be the first person to do a thing.
If it was that easy, then Bosch would have heard the Rescue Mission of Salt Lake crying for new appliances and heeded their call. It's not that easy. You need someone with a million followers to bring it to light. And even then, it works once: There aren't free Bosch appliances going to every rescue mission everywhere.
I think that if everyone who lost a cell phone wrote about it online and submitted it to Digg, we'd pretty much not care about that any more. In fact, just after reading the one story presented in Here Comes Everybody, I already don't care about your lost phone being found by some defiant teenager.
What I doubt is that the promise of the power of the crowd extends to my 251 followers, most of whom are bots trying to sell me better hosting, porn, or more followers.
Ultimately, I think that the internet, the social web, has the power to do what these pundits describe, but only under very special circumstances, and certainly not for the people who need it most. In the worst case, this tripe is bought and consumed by people who want to use it to sell me more junk. The altruist in me wants to see positive social change, but I don't see this ending that way. It looks to me like email, yet another avenue for spam.