The first third of the book contains an interesting and highly readable popularisation of recent scientific texts on the role of networks in social or...moreThe first third of the book contains an interesting and highly readable popularisation of recent scientific texts on the role of networks in social organisation. Unfortunately the last two thirds of the book are filled with highly enthusiastic and uncritical examples of how these network structures might change various fields of society. Mainly these case studies fall short of valid analyses since they create false dichotomies between network structures, market structures and hierarchies. Instead of telling the more differentiated tale that network structures increasingly supplement traditional forms of social organisation the cases push the more sensationalist tale that network structures will replace traditional structures. For more balanced accounts of the phenomenon see for example: Bruce Bimber, Andrew Flanagin, Cynthia Stohl (http://www.cambridge.org/aus/catalogu...), Andrew Chadwick (http://www.andrewchadwick.com/post/91...) or Dave Karpf (http://themoveoneffect.com/about-the-...).(less)
There seems to be a pattern with me and books by Clay Shirky. I see the talk, like the basic idea and leave it at that, only to return a few months la...moreThere seems to be a pattern with me and books by Clay Shirky. I see the talk, like the basic idea and leave it at that, only to return a few months later to actually read the book and find much of value there. This was true for “Here Comes Everybody” and it’s also true this time around for “Cognitive Surplus”. Let’s see if the pattern holds in the future.
In “Cognitive Surplus” Shirky argues that during the second half of last century the majority of people in the West suddenly found themselves with a lot of spare time on their hands. Shirky calls this the Cognitive Surplus. To Shirky social media would enable users to do better things with that surplus than watch TV. Shirky starts by describing the new media environment and the ermergent possibilities to use social media for social good. Still, he does not argue in favor of a simplistic technological determinism the likes of: “We have the tools now they will be used for good”. Instead, he discusses preconditions for the successful use of social media, the strongest being: intrinsic motivation of the contributors and a supportive culture among groups of users. He closes with some rules of thumb of elements that, in his experience, contribute to the success of social media ventures. Usually I am not a big fan of those list, but his remarks seem sensible enough and might actually help in the development of social media services.
As usual with Shirky, “Cognitive Surplus” is a very readable book. Shirky uses well chosen stories to illustrate the possibilities of social media use. He combines these stories with accounts of research relevant to his argument. For me “Cognitive Surplus” works as a very useful addition to his prior book “Here Comes Everybody”. While in his prior book he argued very convincingly in favor of the transformative potential of widespread social media use, in “Cognitive Surplus” he adds some useful conjectures on the reasons why people might be motivated to invest significant time and effort into producing content through social media.(less)