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Book Review: Cognitive Surplus

Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected AgeCognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age by Clay Shirky

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Lovely, lovely concrete examples for how modern technology and social forces have changed how people perceive, use, and interact with modern-day media.



The title is based on the fact that in the 60's and 70's and 80's, social environment encouraged and enabled people to watch enormous amounts of television on a regular basis, and that is the time and cognitive energy that is getting freed up by many to create with and interact with other people via means that weren't available decades ago. And, that as with most such revolutions in the ability to disseminate more and more common opinion and creations (like the printing press), the impact is very difficult to predict, but will make great changes.

He pulls in, also, the fundamentals of Dan Pink's Drive, that people are driven by the need to better themselves and a desire to better others even more than money or financial reward greater than what they need to live comfortably. And extrapolates along those lines for how and why everything from lolcats to Wikipedia from fanfiction to open source prosthetics work.

The parts of this book that is generalized are the parts that have to be, there is no accurate way to predict what social applications will be the Big Next Hit. No way to know what collaborative effort will next change the world. There is no way to predict how all this will affect governments used to being able to operate without having, basically, a cameraman capable of publishing a snapshot around the world of *anything* that happens.

I loved all the room that was left here for speculation and things that might possibly happen due to the vectors he describes.

One particularly moving example, for me at least, was of a group of Indian women who organized after a particularly conservative group of men went into a bar and beat up every woman they found there, in order to strike fear into all the women of the region that didn't live according to their beliefs. Using a social network, she organized thousands of women in the region to do a very low-key protest of just sending pink panties to the central headquarters of the organization. The protest itself moved local legislation and law keepers in the area to crack down on the conservative organization, to the point of actually arresting the leadership for the original assaults right in time to keep them from being able to fulfill promised assaults on Valentine's Day.

It makes one think of all the possibilities.

I really do love how Shirky crystallizes the patterns and the nomenclature of how to think about all this.

And, yeah, I'll admit that after reading this, I went to the Open Source Prosthesis site and signed up as I'm good at reading technical documentation for ideas that I can then clearly communicate. *laughs* The small things we can all contribute...


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