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Clay Shirky (1964 – ), American writer, digital go-to guru and opinion-leader, is a leading voice regarding the impact of Internet technologies in society. He is an adjunct professor at New York University's (NYU) Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), and teaches courses about digital media specifically the interrelated effects of social networks and their impact on societies and cultures. From the earliest days of the graphical web, Shirky has tackled seemingly inexplicable issues associated with the evolving web's ecosystem. His ideas are often cogently expressed; his writing has a distinctive imaginative quality and appears in newspapers and academic outlets around the world such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Business Review and Wired. He is widely-regarded as a reliable digital futurist and is a frequent speaker at conferences. Shirky currently divides his time between consulting, teaching and writing. His consulting work focuses on assessing the rise of technologies, peer-to-peer interactivity, and wireless networks that provide alternatives to the client–server infrastructure of the present web. His clients include Nokia, the Library of Congress, Highlands Forum, Markle Foundation and the BBC.
Shirky's views on the digital future are relevant to librarians, and yet he is not well-known among librarians. His critiques of ontologies and organizational systems provide considerable room for debate. Some of his ideas are co-opted by hipster social librarians as a way to explain the effects of social media. Shirky's uncanny ability to predict the future has been compared to media revolutionary Marshall McLuhan, even though the latter was more obviously eccentric. Perhaps a more direct connection to library and information science is through his compatriot danah boyd with whom he has collaborated on various projects.