Shirky Stays on Message at NY Tech Meetup

Clay Shirky was sporting a Three Wolf Moon t-shirt when he stepped to the mic at last night’s NY Tech Meetup. And then the Internet guru started talking about Legos.

“Lego has tricked two generations of kids into assembling their products at home,” he told the crowd of techies, bloggers and venture capitalists. “Violating child labor laws to boot!”

“Wikipedia has taken, in total, something like 100 million hours to create — a 100 million hours of cumulative thought have gone into every edit on every page in every language.” This is, he said, is both collaborative and productive. Like Legos.

Compare this time to the 200 billion hours of television that Shirky said Americans watch per year and you have what he referred to as a “cognitive surplus.” This tremendous amount of free time should be available to use in a more creative way than watching sitcoms, especially now that we are “networked together,” he said.

If you know anything about Shirky, or you read his recent interview with The Guardian, his talk offered few surprises. But Shirky threw curveballs by interacting with his audience — many of whom were hunched over laptops or tapping aggressively at their Blackberries. He urged them to resist the impulse to chastise large sites for profiting off the work work of their users, using the example of Harry Potter book reviews on Amazon.

“What these sites are in the business of doing is providing a platform for us to create value for each other,” he said adding that such reviews are a “joint creation of literature.” Cue the appreciative titters among the techies.

During the Meetup, there was also a visually stimualting presentation by Jetsetter, an invitation-only travel site with awe-inducing photos.

“Consumers need to be inspired,” said Drew Patterson, the site’s vice president of engineering. If the Tweets after the demontration were any indication, the site will have no problems in that department.

A presentation by Comixology, a site dedicated to bringing comics to iPhones, iPads and the web, also generated positive feedback.

The Meetup, held monthly to bring together the New York tech community, also featured five-minute demos by other start-ups, including sites with overcrowded names like StuffBuff, Foodspotting, HotPotato, Betterfly and HowAboutWe.

Shirky Stays on Message at NY Tech Meetup