Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Posted by nliakos on December 29, 2012

by Clay Shirky (Penguin, 2010)

Shirky’s second book focuses on what we do in our free time (in the second half of the 20th century, we watched TV, but now we are more likely to use the Internet to interact) and why (intrinsic or extrinsic motivation). His thesis is that if we aggregate all the leisure time of all the people on the planet, we can do great things–but we may also choose to do inane things. He postulates four levels of creativity and sharing: personal (individual to individual), communal (in a group), public (for the public good, e.g., Wikipedia or Apache), and civic (with the goal of improving society). Creative artifacts range from the ridiculous (lolcats, or photos of cute cats with stupid captions) to the sublime (Ushahidi.com), with everything in between.  What we do with our time and our abilities depends on our means (the tools that enable us to create and share), our motivation (for love or money?), and the opportunity (described as an environment where a group of participants can do more than what individual people can do by themselves). Shirky advocates for more society-changing civic-level sharing but notes, “The question we now face. . . is what we’ll do with those opportunities. The question will be answered . . . by the opportunities we provide for one another and by the culture of the groups we form than by any particular technology.” (p. 192)

Clay Shirky’s first book is Here Comes Everybody.

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