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Clay Shirky (1964 – ), American writer, digital guru and opinion-leader, is a leading voice in popular media circles around the impact of Internet technologies in society. Shirky is an adjunct professor at New York University's (NYU) Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), teaching courses about media specifically interrelated effects of social networks and their impact on societies and culture. From the early days of the web, Shirky has tackled a range of issues associated with the evolving web's ecosystem. His ideas are cogently expressed, and his writing has a distinctive imaginative quality appearing in newspapers and academic outlets such as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Business Review and Wired. Shirky is widely-regarded as a digital futurist and speaks around the world about technology. He divides his time between consulting, teaching and writing. His consultancy focuses on assessing the rise of technologies, peer-to-peer sociality 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.