With the advancement of technology, the barriers Shirky speaks about have broken down as well. He goes into great detail, especially in chapter one, about participation and how it is influential to bringing people together for a common goal. He also mentions that, “when we change the way we communicate, we change society”. (Shirky 17) Whether this change in society is positive or negative is for the viewer to decide. We can all come together like the example Shirky gives with the lost sidekick, or for negative reasons such as terrorism. It is this choice that gives us a type of social freedom. Shirky wants us to communicate without any boundaries, something that is now possible.
Years ago almost everything was mediated, keeping us under tight control so we could neither give our opinion nor “fight back”. While things are still mediated in some way, we do have a grasp of control that we did not have before. Shirky discusses the Belarusian government and the Catholic Church, how both these organizations are trying to keep control, but losing. Political protests have never been so open for people to come together for one goal. On this topic, Shirky states, “group action gives human society its particular character, and anything that changes the way groups get things done will affect society as a whole”. (Shirky 23) So, as we continue to come together through means of participation, getting our word out to others, society is changing and adapting accordingly. No longer is organizing groups for protest as difficult as it once was. Social media is one example of this, helping us break down the barriers that Shirky discusses.
In McLuhan’s Narcissus as Narcosis, he goes on to discuss how technology is an extension of ourselves, to the point of numbness. The computer has become something that some would say we could not live without. It has aided us in breaking down the barriers of our lives, extending our knowledge and making possibilities almost endless. Today forming up on social media, tomorrow, who knows? McLuhan states, “Man becomes the sex organs of the machine world .. Enabling it to fecundate and to evolve ever new forms. The machine world reciprocates by expediting his wishes and desires..” (McLuhan 73) In effect, we are changing ourselves by changing the technology around us. As we grow, it grows, thus enabling these barriers to break even further. McLuhan’s ideas on numbness and auto amputation provide insight, however. He states, “Socially, it is the accumulation of group pressures and irritations that prompt invention and innovation as counter-irritants.” (McLuhan 73) When we feel that we must speak out, it is technology that aids us. Technology has helped break down these barriers, thus our innovation and intervention in society.
Engelbart also mentions something on this topic, his article Augmenting Human Intellect stating, “Man’s population and gross product are increasing at a considerable rate, but the complexity of his problems grows still faster, and the urgency with which solutions must be found becomes steadily greater in response..” (Engelbart 62) For us to fix the issues that come up in our lives, we must understand them and react. Breaking these barriers down further will only help us, thus the need for an increase in technology. While McLuhan states we are numbing ourselves even further as we advance, perhaps it is necessary to further advance ourselves regardless. Breaking the barriers that society has in place with technology can either harm or help us, but only time will tell as the years go by.