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Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

3.82  ·  Rating Details ·  4,270 Ratings  ·  330 Reviews
Since the postwar boom, we've had a surfeit of intellect, energy and time, a cognitive surplus. Shirky argues 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 to and through the early 20th century.
Unknown Binding, 256 pages
Published August 25th 2010 by Penguin Press (first published 2010)
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The term "cognitive surplus" refers to the surplus of "intellect, energy, and time" that people have. Since most people have a 40-hour work week, there they have surplus time on their hands to do as they wish. This is a very passive activity.

In the past, many people spent time doing things like having picnics, going bowling, and other family and community activities. But when television came along, people replaced their active pursuits with television, a purely passive pursuit. Clay Shirky main
Fred Zimny
Jun 19, 2011 Fred Zimny rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The Guardian published early June 2011 the list with the 100 greatest non-fiction books. Clay Shirky’s Here comes everybody was included in the politics section. Clay Shirky released his book Cognitive surplus with as subtitle “How technology makes Consumers into Collaborators“. Having read his first one (and still being impressed) I decided to read his Cognitive Surpluss.

Clay Shirky teaches at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University, where he researches the interrelate
Stephanie Sun
The topics in this book are wide-ranging (and Shirky's analysis polymathic and trenchant), but I've been thinking a lot about that ongoing global civil suit Professional v. Amateur lately, and, in lieu of an (amateur =P) review, I wanted to just post some quotes from the book on Professional v. Amateur without comment.

Previously, I'd been using this (in the voice of Denise, a successful professional chef) from The Corrections to frame things:
"You thought you knew what food was, you thought it w
May 17, 2010 Natali rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I liked this book less than Here Comes Everybody but mostly because I don't think Shirky needed to write another ethnography. His last book was such a complete anthropological snapshot of how we share and collaborate with the technology available to us. This book is an extension of that and, while interesting, I was hoping that he might assert a hypothesis about what we will do with this collaboration. He really doesn't.

Shirky makes the point that we use our spare time to collaborate in ways th
Ron Christiansen
Dec 21, 2012 Ron Christiansen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nf, technology
Shirky opens up an intellectual space for his book with several crucial, almost obvious, yet often overlooked claims:

1. the current generation of young people are the first generation watching *less* TV than the previous generation
2. this extra time or cognitive surplus is often dedicated to production rather than pure consumption
3. participatory culture is a call back to the traditional past

From this crafted space he soundly argues that we should stop listening to those people lamenting the ris
Karen Quinn
Shirky picks up where he left off from "Here Comes Everybody," describing in finer grain the behaviours underlying the results of specific collective actions that have been powered by social media. His writing reads like a field guide for makers in the space, highlighting potential potholes in thinking, making it invaluable reading for those wondering how the opportunity presented by social media can be channeled towards civic action and innovation.

It's very interesting to read this book at the
David Dinaburg
Feb 12, 2013 David Dinaburg rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At one point, Prof. Shirky accurately deploys “begs the question”; had Cognitive Surplus not already been thoroughly enjoyable, adroit usage of the most frequently misapplied logical-device-turned-idiom throughout erudition brings great joy. Idiomatically, it has morphed in the bloviating, pompous version of “raises the question” and that is, of course, terribly wrong and absolutely nauseating (beware, nauseous).

It’s not that a reader wouldn’t be able to intuit “raises the question” from a faux-
Jan 26, 2014 Cara rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: techoculture
I was right there with Shirky at the beginning, but as this book progressed, I got more and more turned off by some of the latent assumptions buried in his thought process. Obviously, he's a very smart guy. And obviously, he really believes that social software and the current creator-culture are good things that can be very beneficial for society. But Shirky also has some pretty rigid values of his own that he clings to while attempting to dismantle other "traditional" values. He is a firm crea ...more
Jaycruz Cruz
Sep 07, 2010 Jaycruz Cruz rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Cognitive Surplus is written by the author Clay Shirky. He is also a teacher at New York University, where he teaches “New Media” at the Interactive Telecommunications Program. His previous book is called Here Comes Everybody where he tackled the subject of the power of the web for groups to organize. Shirky has also written for publications like The New York Times and Wired.

My first exposure to Clay Shirky was a talk he gave about the so called problem of information overload. In the talk he ex
Nelson Zagalo
Clay Shirky is a wide known professor of media and great defender of internet based social technologies. The ideas presented in this book are at some points interesting and relevant, because they fight against the attacks these kinds of technologies always have to face when they emerge. However in doing that, and in such a short book, Shirky takes too much lightly the social aspects of life.

In short the cognitive surplus here talked about is the time you spend in the internet interacting, sharin
Dave Emmett
Jun 15, 2010 Dave Emmett rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone, designers
This book picks up right where Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations left off, both in content and in awesomeness.

I would say this is right up there for one of the best books I've read this year.

A few of the ideas that resonated with me:

- Many of the things we take for granted as a culture are merely 'accidents of history'. That large corporations have traditionally been the best way to organize people was more of a result of the tools of the time than an inherent n
JD Lasica
Sep 13, 2010 JD Lasica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: recommended
Clay Shirky is a master at bringing meaning to the startling cultural and technological changes whirling through our lives. In Here Comes Everybody, Shirky provided context the revolution that is turning passive office workers into take-charge designers of their businesses’ corporate destinies. In his follow-up, Cognitive Surplus, he probes a bit deeper into what is propelling forward our individual creativity and the impulse to share and contribute to a collective output — what he calls “cognit ...more
Luca Conti
Nov 22, 2010 Luca Conti rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Surplus cognitivo è un libro che dovrebbe leggere chiunque si interessamente, professionalmente o per diletto, di social media e social network. Clay Shirky, con una prosa molto leggera e coinvolgente, ci guida in quello che potrebbe essere l’immediato futuro. Un mondo in cui un piccolo spostamento di attenzione globale dai media passivi ad Internet potrebbe generare cambiamenti sociali impensabili.

Il libro è ricco di casi, alcuni già racontati sul suo blog (come il fatto che riprendersi l’1% di
Kylie Sparks
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,, meet, 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 ti ...more
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
We live in amazing times. For the majority of those of us who live in America, we have vast reservoirs of free time.

But how do we choose to use that free time? Sadly, for the last fifty years, we have spent most of it passively watching television, watching television to the exclusion of other more social, more fulfilling activities. Last year, in fact, Americans watched about two hundred billion hours of television. And, even more sadly, studies show that those who watch tv are less happy, mor
Dec 16, 2010 Naomi rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
Shirky is one of those educators and social commentators people involved in organizations ignore at their peril. He describes a number of common pitfalls that relate to an old information and media economy and how changes are already here that invite people to connect with each other around what they love, share and produce to different social goods, and break past gatekeepers of culture and risk. He also describes what makes some of the communities and cultures exciting as they emerge from our ...more
Ruth Seeley
The three-star review reflects my frame of mind while reading this rather than the book's actual quality. It's good; puts a lot of what's happening with social and not-so-social media into context and, more important, uses global examples of which we haven't all heard already (part of the problem with any book that deals with the age of global connectivity is the domination by Americans and their ethno-cultural-centricity when reporting on what works and what doesn't - some of us will never indu ...more
Sep 30, 2012 Gwern rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Short, fluffy - an attempt to expand on what is a pretty short idea at core. If you read or watched any of his previous talks like "GIN, TELEVISION, AND COGNITIVE SURPLUS" and have followed some of his other writings, there's little new here for you. One advantage of being in book form is that he includes his references.
Chad Olson
Jul 21, 2011 Chad Olson rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: business
The main point is excellent. When dealing with change we seek relief. In the last half century it was TV. We watch billions of hours a year. No longer being forced to be consumers because of lower barriers to creativity and public expression, possibilities are limitless for what we do in groups and communities.

This could have also been written as a couple of essays; several examples have been covered better elsewhere.
ccccurt Heimbuck
I love Clay Shirky's stuff. I think this books has powerful implications for what the future of innovation will look like and who will power it. It's also a call to action. Less consumption, more production. What am I going to do with my cognitive surplus? What will you do with yours?
Interesting book. It has made me start thinking about better ways to spend my cognitive surplus.
April Mains
Jul 08, 2011 April Mains rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well written in a non academic style. He is a little hard on lolcats but intrigues one with all the possibilities to contribute.
Jane Friedman
Aug 07, 2010 Jane Friedman rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Covers similar territory as HERE COMES EVERYBODY. I'll be using this as a required text in my history of media course.
Nov 07, 2010 Brooke rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this book at first, but as I got farther into the book, it seemed slow and lacking in content.
Mar 23, 2017 Alex rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shirky shares lots of great insights around human behavior digging into their intrinsic and extrinsic motivations and to what extent they affect their decisions more specifically around how they spend their surplus/free time. Despite extensive examples, some from well ran studies, I still feel a lot of what he shares are his opinions (informed I should add, he's a smart guy) and to a degree still require some quantification. While reading this book, stay objective and use it as a platform to thi ...more
Teo 2050
3.5h @ 2x. Contents:
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May 20, 2017 - - rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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May 04, 2012 Justin rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read this book, it is really worth it. It provides an extremely insightful analysis of social evolution and the power of Web 2.0 applications in reconceptualizing mass media to provide opportunities for everybody not only to consume but also produce and share.

Spending four formative years in countries like Taiwan, South Korea and Egypt, where tv was mostly just plain bad and more often than not spoken in a language I could not understand, got me away from tv and into activities like sports and g
Elizabeth Licata
I liked this book. It was well written, clear and interesting. I don’t have much to criticize in this particular piece, so below is my summary of the book’s content.

Free time is a relatively new phenomenon. We’ve only really had free time since shortly after the Great Depression. What do we do with all our wonderful free time? We watch sitcoms. At least, that’s what we did until the internet came about. Since the advent of social media, we have seen a huge increase in amateur creation. Rather t
Shirky writes in a smart, accessible way about trends in the digital era. I've used both Here Comes Everybody and Cognitive Surplus in my Writing for New Media courses, both to great acclaim. Cognitive Surplus engages with the question of what we do with all this extra time and work that has emerged from industrial society, now that sharing networks have blossomed in such a way that we can do something with it. A few thoughts:

- The first half of the book explains how it is that people have the
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Mr. Shirky divides his time between consulting, teaching, and writing on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies. His consulting practice is focused on the rise of decentralized technologies such as peer-to-peer, web services, and wireless networks that provide alternatives to the wired client/server infrastructure that characterizes the Web. Current clients include Nokia, GBN, th ...more
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“Knowledge, unlike information, is a human characteristic; there can be information no one knows, but there can't be knowledge no one knows.” 8 likes
“Upgrading one's imagination about what is possible is always a leap of faith.” 3 likes
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