JD Lasica's Reviews > Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky
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Sep 13, 10

bookshelves: recommended
Read in July, 2010

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 “cog­ni­tive sur­plus” (a term not likely to roll off the tongues of the young peo­ple lead­ing the charge).

The book starts off pow­er­fully with a fas­ci­nat­ing look at the Gin Craze of 1720s Lon­don. Who knew that his­tor­i­cal par­al­lels could be drawn between that era and our own times? (“The sit­com has been our gin,” Shirky tells us, skirt­ing Steven Johnson’s argu­ments that tele­vi­sion series have become increas­ingly smart.) “The har­ness­ing of our cog­ni­tive sur­plus allows peo­ple to behave in increas­ingly gen­er­ous, pub­lic, and social ways, rel­a­tive to their old sta­tus as con­sumers and couch pota­toes,” he writes What’s changed is that “now we have the tools at our dis­posal,” an aston­ish­ing array of “flex­i­ble, cheap, and inclu­sive media” and plat­forms that offer us “oppor­tu­ni­ties to do all sorts of things we once didn’t do.” (Side note: I wrote about the per­sonal media rev­o­lu­tion in my 2005 book Dark­net.)

Shirky includes some amaz­ing sto­ries about the power of the new social tools — for instance, he talked about the Pink Chaddi Face­book cam­paign on stage at Per­sonal Democ­racy Forum in June. I wish the book had given a more thor­ough look at some of the ground-breaking uses of social media for social good, the crowd­sourc­ing phe­nom­e­non, review shar­ing sites and the bur­geon­ing col­lab­o­ra­tive approaches to build­ing online com­mu­ni­ties rather than lead­ing us down the now famil­iar ter­rain of fan fic­tion and file shar­ing. Still, the bot­tom line is this: “Cog­ni­tive Sur­plus” is a must-read for any­one inter­ested in the causes and under­pin­nings of the changes that have turned the medi­a­s­phere on its head and empow­ered the dig­i­tal gen­er­a­tion to bypass tra­di­tional insti­tu­tions and cre­ate a DIY approach to cul­ture and communication.
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Dave Burns Strangely, dashes show up between every syllable of your review when I view the summary on the main Cognative Surplus page, but text looks normal when I clicked in to the review. This didn't happen to any of the other reviews on the page. Did you use HTML or something unusual?


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