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No Longer Consumers, We are Collaborators

  • Sep 7, 2010
According to Clay Shirky's new book, Cognitive Surplus, the average American watches twenty hours of television a week. That is a part time job. We watch more television every year, but there is a curious trend occuring; people of the younger generations are watching less. While television provides people comfort, a sense of belonging, even when alone, and it tells stories and helps people pass the time, more people are spending more time creating their own media, contributing to open source initiatives and wiki's, and more. We are experiencing the birth of amazing possibilities that all of this cognitive surplus will bring to the internet and the world.

Chapter 1: Gin, Television, and Cognitive Surplus
Chapter 2: Means
Chapter 3: Motive
Chapter 4: Opportunity
Chapter 5: Culture
Chapter 6: Personal, Communal, Public, Civic
Chapter 7: Looking for the Mouse

While Cognitive Surplus talks about the amount of television we collectively watch, Shirky is not commenting on the quality (or lack of it) of those shows that we watch. Rather, he points out the number of hours we sit in front of the television consuming but not creating. However, he does document some of the initiatives that have taken off when people spend less time with the television and more time connecting with people, creating new sites, and allowing individuals to create content. Some of the choices he makes to illustrate his point could be lost on many people, for example lolcats (the most popular site is [...]), but Shirky uses the example well - a simple site that allows anyone to play. The best example is [...] where people contribute their medical history, results from treatments, and more. It is so popular, and the contributions so good, that it is has become the foremost site for medical trials, a support group that the current medical community cannot offer, and a clearinghouse for information and ideas.

Clay Shirky, in Cognitive Surplus, isn't advocating that we turn off the television, however he does illustrate what happens when people find other avenues for their "free time." For the more part, we are creating new communities, connecting with people, and providing new avenues of creativity. Also, it is the younger generations that are leading this inventiveness; they are watching less television, putting more time into the internet and connecting people in new and original ways. What we are seeing, experiencing on the internet demonstrates that "media" is no longer passive. It is producing, consuming, and sharing and it is open to everyone. The individual, or group, that takes a little time to evaluate a situation where others have been provided a canned experience, denied an opportunity, and ask "can we apply cognitive surplus to this situation and make the experience better?" will probably be rewarded for attempting the connections.

While not every advantage of "cognitive surplus" benefits humanity, Shirky spends all of his time providing positive anecdotes, while ignoring some of the "darker" aspects of internet collectives. However, his optimism is contagious; he sees the internet as a place for unbridled innovation and his examples reinforce that point. If you have read Shirky's previous book, Here Comes Everybody, where he talked about the power of leveraging the crowds, Cognitive Surplus is an excellent follow-up. After leveraging the crowds, the next step is to harness that knowledge, and time, to create new, interesting, and wonderful collaborative web sites. Our imaginations will provide new opportunities and the internet will provide the means to deliver creativity, sharing, and participation.

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January 10, 2011
I've read Here Comes Everybody and I do like the way this guy think. I haven't read this one and I'd make sure I get a copy of it soon! I do not think (from what's mentioned here) he has taken into account that we may multi-task while watching tv and also learned a great deal from television. Documentaries, news and some talk shows are most beneficial and no internet can substitute that (at least not at this moment). I do think it's our own personal choices of what we watched that are shaping the benefits reaped.
September 14, 2010
@Fionnchu Thanks for the comment. I don't think that he specifically addresses multitasking, but rather he use of a person's time when not watching television. I suppose many people use TV as background noise while contributing to the social sites (and more). He is an author that you cannot afford to pass up.
September 10, 2010
I'm glad Shirky distinguishes between watching tv passively vs using (as I am now) the Internet actively, Or, as we can do now, both at the same time, speaking of multitasking. How does that type of activity increase, decrease, or balance a "cognitive surplus"?
More Cognitive Surplus: Creativity ... reviews
review by . January 08, 2011
I tend to take things like Wikipedia for granted, assuming that someone has already put information out there that I need. But what drives and motivates someone to do that, and where do they find the time to participate in that fashion? Clay Shirky covers this information (and more) in his book Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. I found myself starting to understand how and why the shift from consumer to producer occurred, and what it means to me and to society.   …
Quick Tip by . June 12, 2011
Lots of potentials with regards to how we use our time & participate in this virtual world of ours. However, I much prefer Shirky's 2008 book HERE COMES EVERYBODY to his latest. We are in transition as regard to our roles in the new world and Shirky didn't quite spell out where we should focus our energies on, imho. He did bring in some interesting observations with regards to what's happening in the world of ours. As with us, this book seems like a transition, more like a series …
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Gregg Eldred ()
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About this book


The author of the breakout hitHere Comes Everybodyreveals how new technology is changing us from consumers to collaborators, unleashing a torrent of creative production that will transform our world.

For decades, technology encouraged people to squander their time and intellect as passive consumers. Today, tech has finally caught up with human potential. InCognitive 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 ...
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ISBN-10: 1594202532
ISBN-13: 978-1594202537
Author: Clay Shirky
Genre: Professional & Technical, Health, Mind & Body, Science
Publisher: Penguin Press HC, The
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