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Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Written by Clay Shirky

Narrated by Kevin Foley


Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Written by Clay Shirky

Narrated by Kevin Foley

ratings:
3.5/5 (19 ratings)
Length:
6 hours
Publisher:
Released:
Jun 10, 2010
ISBN:
9781400186815
Format:
Audiobook

Description

For decades, technology encouraged people to squander their time and intellect as passive consumers. Today, technology has finally caught up with human potential. In Cognitive Surplus, Internet guru Clay Shirky forecasts the thrilling changes we will all enjoy as new digital technology puts our untapped resources of talent and goodwill to use at last.



Since we Americans were suburbanized and educated by the postwar boom, we've had a surfeit of intellect, energy, and time-what Shirky calls a cognitive surplus. But this abundance had little impact on the common good because television consumed the lion's share of it-and we consume TV passively, in isolation from one another. Now, for the first time, people are embracing new media that allow us to pool our efforts at vanishingly low cost. The results of this aggregated effort range from mind expanding-reference tools like Wikipedia-to lifesaving, such as Ushahidi.com, which has allowed Kenyans to sidestep government censorship and report on acts of violence in real time.



Shirky argues persuasively that this cognitive surplus-rather than being some strange new departure from normal behavior-actually returns our society to forms of collaboration that were natural to us up through the early twentieth century. He also charts the vast effects that our cognitive surplus-aided by new technologies-will have on twenty-first-century society, and how we can best exploit those effects. Shirky envisions an era of lower creative quality on average but greater innovation, an increase in transparency in all areas of society, and a dramatic rise in productivity that will transform our civilization.



The potential impact of cognitive surplus is enormous. As Shirky points out, Wikipedia was built out of roughly 1 percent of the man-hours that Americans spend watching TV every year. Wikipedia and other current products of cognitive surplus are only the iceberg's tip. Shirky shows how society and our daily lives will be improved dramatically as we learn to exploit our goodwill and free time like never before.
Publisher:
Released:
Jun 10, 2010
ISBN:
9781400186815
Format:
Audiobook

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What people think about Cognitive Surplus

3.7
19 ratings / 16 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (3/5)
    Cognitive Surplus is Shirky's second book and takes a more academic/intellectual edge then his last one. They both explore this basic idea of "Cognitive Surplus" that massive amount of mental resource at our collective disposal with, only now, the ability to tap into it with collective projects like Wikipedia. This book is just as interesting as the first, but a bit harder to get through. One of the basic ideas is that we've always had the desire to do things, collectively, altruistically, en mass, but have never really had the ability before the dawning of the internet age.
    I'd recommend reading Shirky's first book, Here Comes Everybody, and if your still interested this is definitely worth a look too.
  • (4/5)
    This turned out to be about a different topic than I had expected but I still enjoyed it very much. The author looks at our society of Internet connectivity and social media. There were definitely some nuggets that made me think about things in a new way.
  • (4/5)
    I starting reading the print version of this, stalled out and set it down. Then I picked it up again using the audible.com version.

    I found this a very nice continuation of the work he began in Here Comes Everybody. Shirky takes similar research about social uses of media and uses them to explain and shed light on theories of Internet behaviors. Overall, in this volume he expands a general theory that humans have a desire/appreciation of group activity and cooperation. Internet technology and ubiquitious broadband access reduce the cost of cooperation and enable us to engage in this kind of activity more frequently.

    I do note that Shirky's work seems to parralel that of Yochai Benkler. Previously, Benkler's work has been much more specialized and harder to access. However, with his publication of The Penguin and the Leviathan, I recommend anyone who is interested in this area of study to read Benkler's work. It is phenomenal. (Shirky's book is pretty good too.)
  • (3/5)
    The author has some very good points. It feels lightly researched and he makes his points more through anecdotes rather than research. (To be fair he does provide some additional information in a notes section but no footnotes in the material.) The other problem with the material is his assumption that this surplus will only be used for good. He has a number of stories about people using this surplus for good, but there are I'm guessing an equal number of people that are communicating and connecting for less good reasons. Which doesn't argue that there isn't a surplus but does indicate that we should really be considering the consequences of this surplus rather than just embracing it as a good thing. A good but flawed read.
  • (3/5)
    Reading this in 2019 felt a bit old-hat, so I can't imagine it'll age well. But some good anecdotes/interesting facts, rather loosely held together by the thesis (which is that people are using their spare time to create content rather than just consume it - as indeed I'm doing right now).. Well written, if a bit shallow.
  • (4/5)
    Really enjoyed this. It's mostly about why people do things (especially on the internet) to amuse or help people for reasons other than money.
    It's also kind of about what people have been doing with their free time since they suddenly got a lot more of it in the 20th century, and how just watching TV isn't really enough anymore.
  • (4/5)
    Compulsive underlining and marking key paragraphs. Shirky elegantly illustrates how participatory culture changes the nature of media, and gives names to many of the phenomena we're peripherally aware of as users. He attempts to draw up guidelines for successful harnessing of cognitive surplus at the end, but I didn't find that as successful as his catalogue of examples.
  • (5/5)
    I found this a fascinating read. He talks about how now, with the combination of surplus time in society (all time that has previously been spent in watching television) plus new opportunities to share and create online (think Wikipedia, Apache, online charities, couchsurfing.org, meet up.com, pickupal etc.) that there are now amazing ways to use our cognitive surplus for public/civic good. Obviously he's talking to readers on the other side of the digital divide, employed people with surplus time and money. He says that people are no longer satisfied to be merely passive consumers of media. Given the opportunity to interact and to create, people prefer that. Gone are the days when only publishers can publish and only organizations can organize. Also, cyberworld, now that so many of us are on it, is no longer separate from the real world. It is part of it. This book crystallized many things I've already been thinking--as I belong to many online/real world communities and I was already in awe of the potentials there. Reading this book made me really excited about the potentials of online sharing/networking and publishing.
  • (4/5)
    This book uses examples from the present to illustrate a preferred future where people spend more time doing things, and less time watching television. Using examples ranging from the open source software movement to the group "Grobanites for Charity" (a Josh Groban fan group), Shirky shows what is possible when groups spontaneously come together. He cites research on intrinsic motivation, and the overall result is an optimistic tome.The book is filled with examples of collective action made possible by the global Internet's capacity to bring people together. If you need inspiration to get off the couch, this book should be sufficient. If it's not, then you probably should read Sirota's "The Uprising" instead. The come back and read this book for ideas.
  • (4/5)
    My copy of Cognitive Surplus is festooned with sticky-tabs, noting passages of particular interest that I'd like to revisit. Shirky's argument in this work is that society will be improved by the increased access, communication, and social interaction that is available to people now, via the internet and the social media aspect of its use. He spends many pages on the history, research, and examples to back his claims that the mix of these tools and the free time available to average Americans will lead to increased participation in projects that will improve society; and not many pages on the themes of his detractors. Shirky particularly draws upon the findings of Behavior Economics, and the study of what motivates people to make the choices that they do, with regards to how they spend their time (and by some extension, their money). Optimism also permeates the work, which is a refreshing change from the usual discussions around our technological and communication revolution. Taken historically, people have been through this before, and we (as a people) will come out the other side. Shirky mentions the casualties of such upheaval, but briefly, and with that self-same optimism that the upheaval will be seen as a necessary onward step, eventually.In all, it was a hopeful book, steeped in technological culture even as Shirky is analyzing the behavior of people within that culture.
  • (3/5)
    I originally wanted to read this book because I really loved "Here Comes Everybody." However, I have to say I was disappointed with "Cognitive Surplus." The best parts of this book are largely covered in "Here Comes Everybody" and in Dan Ariely's wonderful "Predictably Irrational." What's left is an anecdotal and biased muddle.
  • (4/5)
    Shirky describes the economic changes swirling around us as people have disposable free time and an unprecedented ability to create, combining to form a massive potential. Wikipedia is a drop in the bucket compared to what could be done if people reduced the time they watch TV and instead spend it on a massively collaborative project (akin to but different than Wikipedia).It is informative and pushes you to think about our economy and how media is evolving into something more than we once understood it to be. The collective power we hold as a group of separate individuals is truly staggering. As the ability to combine forces is refined it has the potential to change how we go about our lives. The possibilities of what could be possible are mind blowing.
  • (3/5)
    Before we had access to the Internet and the many social media applications so many of us use today, we spent quite a bit of our free time in the solitary and consumptive activity of watching TV. Now we may still be watching TV with some of our free time, but it is no longer a completely passive activity. People are participating in discussions online as they watch as well as using content to create new things to share with our online world. We have become participators, collaborators and producers. More often than not, we do this work for free. However, it is not just entertainment-related content we are sharing with each other. We are creating content to inform (think Wikipedia) and save lives (Ushahidi.com, reporting violence to Kenyans in real time-- to name a few ways. We (of much of the developed nations) have an excess of free time, energy and ideas and this is what Shirky refers to as “cognitive surplus.” The use of this surplus in creating content with our free time without monetary gain continues and is increasing because social media fulfills our innate desires of being members of a group and sharing with one another. Much of this book looks at what benefits to society can come from the pooling of this surplus. "Cognitive Surplus" is not really a deep look at how people are using social media and online communities but rather a book of quotable observations and examples. It is a really affirming book if you are involved in social media and are optimistic about the future of the use of these tools and applications. Though Shirky sees a promising future through the use of our cognitive surplus for goodwill, there is no real direction on how we will really accomplish this. Optimism is good and these are exciting times so I do recommend this book but I do so with some reservation. I do not believe that there is too much in this book that has not already been said by Shirky and others.
  • (4/5)
    I heard his Long Now talk and was intrigued by the idea of a collective cognitive surplus. Some of the stats were interesting, like how many people-hours have been devoted to Wikipedia, how many hours spent watching TV (collectively), and how many hours of free time Western people have available for various pursuits. But, my interest ran out of gas fairly quickly after that. DNF.
  • (4/5)
    Free LibraryThing Early Reviewer book. (Seriously, this program is amazing. If it exists in your country, you should sign up.) Flippant capsule review: great book, too bad about its adoption of the Geek Hierarchy.Less flippant review: Shirky’s typical wit and verve are on display here as he passionately advocates for the value of online engagement; he’s particularly good on the ridiculous dismissiveness of “where do people find the time to do all this trivial stuff online?” Sample line: “Did you ever see that episode of Gilligan’s Island where they almost get off the island and then Gilligan messes up and they don’t? I saw that one a lot when I was growing up.” That’s the cognitive surplus—all the free time that internet-enabled citizens have and can use to watch and talk and tweet and share.Unfortunately, while Shirky gets the Sturgeon’s Law defense of online content absolutely right—it’s not just that 90% of everything is crap, but that in any given genre you don’t get the good stuff without the crap—he seems uninterested in performing the same analysis on varieties of online participation. Of course lolcats are dumb and irrelevant, he argues, but the tools that produce them also allow direct political engagement, and that’s what we should care about.Thus: “making and sharing open source software creates value for more people than making and sharing Harry Potter fan fiction.” I’m pretty sure that this incorporates the Sturgeon’s Law mistake—the average open source software project is as unsuccessful as the average work of fan fiction, and while I’ll happily celebrate the immense value of open source, I’m not quite sure how to measure it against the literacy benefits of even average fan fiction, the community benefits of fandom ([livejournal.com profile] help_haiti and [livejournal.com profile] help_pakistan come to mind), and the New York Times-best-selling authors (plural!) I know who came out of fandom.More to the point, why do I have to choose? (The whole point of fandom as I know it is having one’s cake and eating it too.) The relationship between lolcats and Tea Parties is more complex than lolcats being a mere epiphenomenon of the really significant uses of online tools. Shirky identifies a “spectrum” of forms of creation that range from creating personal value to creating civic value, but his conception seems static: each person’s activity emits light at a certain frequency only.I would argue instead that “trivial” social spaces are an on-ramp for engagement of all kinds: seeing oneself as a producer is an important way of seeing oneself as a citizen. As Mimi Ito puts it, “[i]n fact it is the flow between the serious and the playful where we are seeing so much energy and engagement.” Shirky even uses Ito’s example of South Korean protests against American beef imports, significant enough that they threatened the entire South Korean government and led to the firing of the cabinet, along with an apology from the president for moving too fast without consulting the public. The protesters numbered over a million, an estimated 60-70% teens, mostly teenage girls. And a lot of them organized using fannish spaces—many were fans of a boy band, Dong Bang Shin Gi. Ito reports, “young women fans of this boy group were mobilizing to attend the protests. They carried placards saying ‘We don't want our boys to get sick because of mad[] cows.’ Their participation in the protests was grounded less in the concrete conditions of their everyday lives, and more in their solidarity with a shared media fandom.” As Ito concludes, “you should never underestimate the power of peer-to-peer social communication and the bonding force of popular culture. Although so much of what kids are doing online may look trivial and frivolous, what they are doing is building the capacity to connect, to communicate, and ultimately, to mobilize.” (This is also true of another story to which Shirky returns several times, the charitable fundraising performed by (female) fans of Josh Groban, without giving significance to the fact that it was founded out of fannishness.)Shirky says that one thirteen-year-old Korean protester said outright, “I’m here because of Dong Bang Shin Ki.” (I note that I couldn’t find that quote in the cited Ito piece.) That resonated strongly with me, because I’m here because of Kirk and Spock, and Sime/Gen, and Mulder and Scully. Fandom taught me that if I had something to say, I could say it, and if that I wanted something to exist, it was worth trying to build it. The run-it-up-the-flagpole attitude I learned in fandom was what convinced me to start a teaching resource for use in my field that, five years after I started it, is now used by teachers around the world, equalizing access and, I strongly believe, enhancing students’ understanding of the material.Anyway, key examples of social /civic participation in Shirky’s account involve women coming from fandom. And yet Shirky reassures us that we don’t have to worry about organizing our social or technological worlds to support fannish engagement, because it will naturally be provisioned (if I were being snarky, I’d say, “like housework and childcare”): it’s not that there’s anything wrong with lolcats and fan fiction, but “anything at the personal and communal end of the spectrum isn’t in much danger of going away, or even of being underprovisioned.”If only that were true, I wouldn’t be as troubled as I am by Shirky’s rhetorical choice to throw fandom under the bus. But laws like the DMCA and anti-anonymity measures taken by multiple governments (not for nothing, including South Korea) don’t leave fannish spaces untouched. A culture or a legal system that discourages you from commenting on and remixing the first things you love, in communities who love the same thing you do, also discourages you from commenting on and remixing everything else.This problem is related to another vital silence in Shirky’s book: the role of government. I know Larry Lessig already told us about West Coast Code versus East Coast Code, but hey, East Coast Code is still around. Take another prominent example Shirky uses to show the power of (women) organizing online: a Facebook group, the Association of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women, organized to fight back against anti-woman violence perpetrated in the Indian city of Mangalore by the religious fundamentalist group Sri Ram Sene. As Shirky tells it, “women communicated their shared resolve to politicians in Mangalore and to the regional government of Karnatka. Unfortunately politicians and police tend to react to threats more readily if there is evidence of public concern. Participation in the Pink Chaddi [underwear] campaign demonstrated publicly that a constituency of women were willing to counter Sene and wanted politicians and the police to do the same…. [T]he state of Mangalore arrested Muthali and several key members of Sene … as a way of preventing a repeat of the January attacks.” Shirky emphasizes the need for hard work by participants to sustain effective groups, and that’s clearly correct. A lot of that, government can’t help with. But there are definitely ways that it can hinder—and, as the Mangalore example suggests, those groups that get things done will often in the end get them done at least in part by getting government on their side. I’m sure Shirky would have some fascinating things to say about that. I’m just left wondering what they’d be.
  • (4/5)
    A fascinating look at the internet and social media, and an argument for why collaboration via these routes is revolutionizing our society.The points are well made and great examples are used to describe them. The first half of the book, covering the means, motive and opportunity for cognitive surplus is the most entertaining and clearest. The last half gets somewhat more muddy as it tries to explain the revolution and what might happen next, but this is to be expected as of course no one really knows what's next.I think this book is useful for everyone using the internet for any reason, and it's a great help to me for my research dissertation in information and library studies.