In summing up Shirky reflects how in his youth, atomic energy (now nuclear) was considered to be the most likely dominant society-changing technology. He, however, contends that history has borne out that instead the transistor and birth control pills created the biggest shifts in society. From the transistor came miniaturization of so many electronics. And birth control pills gave females whole new options of deciding their futures.
He argues that these two things "changed society precisely because no one was in control of how the technology was used, or by whom." p 295
Further he states that with social media tools, the same society changing paradigms are occurring - mobile phones, digital messaging, Wikipedia and that they enhance group-forming.
And then questions "What is likely to happen to society with the spread of ridiculously easy group-forming?" p 295
The quick answer - lots and lots more groups. But is that good or bad - Shirky could argue that the good will outweigh the bad.
However he also argues that the good and bad "are incommensurable, which is to say that the value of new sources of knowledge like Wikipedia cannot be measured against the increased resilience of networked terrorist groups" p 297.
No wonder my local uni was able to argue the case for funds to have a research institute for transnational crime established in recent years.
Freedom of speech is another issue being turned on its head by social media - perhaps as with the Third Way - Individual rights can only exist with individual responsibility - else the Tragedy of the Commons argument begins to prevail in this arena.
Also raised by Shirky - the relative advantages and disadvantages of mass amateurization.
However it is one thing to consider this in terms of professional media and say photography - it is another in say the medical field, or engineering design - and as we are finding with renewable energy - which seems to need a good component of mechanical engineering reliability concepts to ensure that wind towers, wave generators and geothermal all deliver reliably day in - day out - year after year.
In fact Shirky does canvas the dilemmas of the nuclear energy option.
He also notes it was not just the Gutenberg printing press that made the printed book widespread - but that also Aldus Manutius, a Venetian printer published a copy of Virgil's works in a smaller size that was able to be carried in a gentleman's saddlebags - thus books became cheaper and more portable.
So perhaps - whence E-Readers today perhaps ? Will the printed book survive ? What about bookstores ? What will libraries look like ?
"The lesson from Manutius' life is that future belongs to those who take the present for granted ... when a once-in-a-lifetime change comes along, we (those older & experienced) are at risk of dismissing it as a fad" p 303
Have a look at Denis Hancock's thoughts in his blog post on "Growing up Digital" over at Wikinomics.