Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age
Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age
Title : Cognitive Surplus
Author(s) : Clay Shirky
Editor(s) : Allen Lane
- - "Where do people find all that time?"
- - The ‘publish’ button
- - People you don’t know make your life better for free
- - "As much chaos as we can stand"
- - References
"Where do people find all that time?"
For the first time in decades, the younger generation watches less television than their parents did. Today in the United States, the 300 million Americans consume 200 billion hours of television every year. For comparative purposes, a mere 100 million hours of human production was enough to create the free and participatory encyclopedia Wikipedia. (Note: founded by Jimmy Wales in 2001, Wikipedia has now reached more than 15 million articles and 346 million monthly readers with 267 editions in as many different languages.)
With the time spent watching television, Americans alone could create 2,000 projects like Wikipedia each year – so let’s imagine what we could do in a world which now counts more than 2 billion internet users and 5 billion mobile connections.
That is the thesis Clay Shirky develops in his new book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. Thanks to the opportunities offered by new technologies, the younger generation now has the means to express its generosity and creativity through common and useful projects.
The ‘publish’ button
Do not be led to believe that the need to speak out publicly is anything new, the author recalls; this need "has always existed and long before Gutenberg invented the printing press." If past generations did not express their opinions as much, this is not because they did not feel the urge, but rather, because they did not have the tools to do so.
Other examples are used to support the thesis of the author. National Book Award winner writer Maxine Hong Kingston thanked the Open Salon platform because it enabled her to publish an article on Obama that no newspaper would agree to publish. Teenage fans of a South Korean boys’ band called through the fan platform for a large demonstration against the importation of U.S. beef in South Korea; non-politicized, the demonstrators numbered in the tens of thousands, day in and day out, until the government yielded.
Through these examples, Clay Shirky shows that digital tools are, first and foremost, vectors of freedom and cohesion, following with the logical conclusion that “digital technologies have become critical to coordinating human contact and real world activity” and to enabling humans to meet with their profound need to express in public.
"The old view of online as a separate space, cyberspace, apart from the real world, was an accident of history”: suddenly a button marked ‘publish’ appeared everywhere, giving everyone the opportunity to express themselves in public – and of course, people seized this opportunity.
People you don’t know make your life better for free
Obviously some web-based initiatives are not as useful as Wikipedia, Apache, or the Grobanite’s Foundation can be. The author cites icanhascheezburger.com website as an example of what happens when our cognitive surplus turns into "the stupidest possible creative act". On this website, hundreds of photos of cats are published every day, each one illustrating a story devised by the user. Clay Shirky considers these initiatives as silly, but nonetheless, he reckons that they are worthwhile in the sense that they transport users from a passive role in front of the television to an active role in the web, where users produce their own content and are forced to be creative.
"As much chaos as we can stand"
Today, new media must be integrated into society by what the author refers to a movement of "as much chaos as we can stand". Initiatives are multiplying; some of them become Facebook and YouTube, while others die because they are unable to find their audience.
In this chaos, thousands of useful projects are emerging - Patientlikeme, for instance, which allows patients with rare diseases to give each other moral support and share their symptoms to make advances in research. Ushahidi is another good example: the website, which means "testimony" in Swahili, was born in 2008 to report on post-election violence in Kenya. Since then, it has become an indispensable tool for NGOs to identify and report on humanitarian needs in countries that face economic, political and environmental crises, and from where information often leaks with difficulty[+] NoteSee "Social Networks in Africa, Public Tool and Business Boon", INA Global, 7/02/2011. .
On the other hand, thousands of other initiatives are dying in this chaos, sometimes only to resurface a few years later, when the concept has been clarified and users are ready. Sixdegrees (1997) and Friendster (2002), for instance, after having served millions of users, faced competition from Facebook (2004) and finally had to give in to their young competitor.
And if the author’s thesis is strong and brilliantly handled, it is unfortunate that he has not considered the time “wasted” on the Internet more carefully. Given the time we now spend glued to a screen rather than being outside, doing sports, spending time with friends or family, we need to ensure that useful projects benefit from our cognitive surplus more than useless projects do. If this is not the case, we will not be so optimistic about the greater use of the Internet. Thus, a major new challenge for Internet guru Clay Shirky could be to assess how much “useless” time is spent on the web, and to compare it with more “useful” time.
- Clay SHIRKY, Here Comes Everybody, The Penguin Press, 2008
- Paul BOND, "Study: Young People Watch Less TV", Hollywood Reporter, 2008
- Dave BAILEY, "Global Internet Population to Hit 2.2 Bilion by 2013", Computing, 2009
- "Over 5 Billion Mobile Phone Connections Worldwide", BBC news, 2010
- Mokoto RICH, "National Book Awards: Maxine Hong Kingston 2.0", The New York Times, 2008
- Edward L. DECI, "Intrinsic Motivation, Extrinsic Reinforcement, and Inequity", Journal of Personality and social psychology, 1972
- Bruno S. FREY and Lorenz GOETTE, Does Pay Motivate Volunteers?, Institute for Empirical Research in Economics, Zurich, 1999
- 1. See "Social Networks in Africa, Public Tool and Business Boon", INA Global, 7/02/2011.
Book title : Cognitive Surplus
Author(s) : Clay Shirky
Editor(s) : Allen Lane
Publication : 01/07/2010
N° ISBN : 978-1-846-14217-8
Number of pages : 256 pages