That headline is not entirely forthcoming. When I say ‘Little Rice’ I don’t mean tiny grains of rice, although that’s part of it. I also don’t mean the Chinese cell phone manufacturer and software developer that is apparently showing China how to do business in the modern world, although that’s a bigger part of it. What I mean is, Little Rice, the forthcoming book by Clay Shirky about — well that cell phone thing I was talking about earlier.
When I say BIG DEAL, well I mean exactly what I say (write?).
Anyway, here’s why I enjoyed this book so much and why I think it is probably one of the more important books I’ll read this year:
Shirky seems to do this thing where he looks at what is going on around him, and then tells you what it is and why it’s important. I feel that is exactly what’s happening in Little Rice.
Years ago (2008) he wrote a little ditty called Here Comes Everybody which I’m pretty sure was wildly successful and also super important in terms of understanding the potential of social media and why it was such a big deal. I read it in 2011 for a blogging class I took and it was still relevant (perhaps the most relevant thing I’d read in that class).
Little Rice might be that next most relevant thing I’ve read in terms of Economy and Chinese Politics. I won’t rehash what he writes (you’ll have to read it) but I will say that I knew next to nothing about what life is like over in China. I knew nothing about what technology was like, or what politics were like. The Chinese’ ideologies, their party system etc. I feel pretty much caught up, and I also feel like we should all be looking at China because they’re about to start shaping the our world just by sheer numbers alone (please note this is not meant to be alarmist in any way. Just a neat thing to watch and possibly something that people in more important places than I am can use to their benefit.)
Shirky is able to weave all of these rather ‘heavy’ ideas into a narrative about Xiaomi which is, apparently, a Chinese company that does cell phones, software (User Interfaces), Ecommerce, and everything else under the sun. He compares them to Apple, but also notes that they think of themselves more like Amazon. Interesting no?
Something I found surprising in Little Rice was the way Shirky frames the Maker Movement. Shirky seems to feel that there is something ‘nostalgic’ about DIY and people making things. I can maybe concede this point if we’re thinking about people selling furniture they made on Etsy or 3D printing pieces for their costumes at Comic Con. However, I think what the maker movement is really about is cheap and accessible prototyping as well as niche manufacturing/ purchase on demand. Shirky talks about China being a country of ‘Makers’ in terms of electronics; where Chinese people are constantly ripping open their electronics to find out how things work and to tweak or customize builds on computers, cell phones etc. He asks when the last time anyone in America built their own computer?
3 weeks ago my roommate put his together from scratch. Lawyer’d.
Anyway, that was a minor complaint. Shirky positions China on the edge of a knife in terms of personal freedoms, wealth and the global economy. Politics could make way for capitalism and we could see the end of the Party in China (the longest lasting and most successful authoritarian government according to Shirky). Or they could figure out how to have the best of both worlds: a single party system that is ideologically limited, but economically free (though this seems like a contradiction of terms).
I’m not sure what’s going to happen, but it’s definitely something I’m curious to watch. Anyway, give this one a read if you’re at all interested in non-fiction or how business and tech effect these arbitrary constructs we call nations. Enjoy!
Also, I kinda want to buy a phone from Xiaomi now.