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

Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky
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Jan 16, 2012

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Read in February, 2011

One of the biggest lessons from Shirky’s book is the mistake it is to assume that the way we’ve always done things is the way we always should, or the way things are “supposed to be.” I work in publishing, so this theme really resonated with me, but this blog itself is an example of the kind of change Shirky is talking about. Not even two decades ago, I’d have struggled to find any forum for sharing personal book reviews, let alone an audience for them. After all, I don’t work at the Times; no one pays me for this (yet). Traditionally, I’ve always been a consumer, and therefore beholden to the opinions of my “betters” in the professional writing sector. Flash forward to October 2010: It took me five minutes to start this blog. Now I can write hundreds, nay, thousands, of words on any book I choose, regardless of whether 5 people or 500 are paying attention (I’ll let you guess which is closer to the real count). Nor am I the only (or best) example: Local indie bookstores now interact with customers on Twitter, authors engage directly with readers online, Stephen Elliott’s The Daily Rumpus lets users conduct a global book club without ever meeting face to face. And I haven’t even mentioned e-readers.

I’ll gladly admit a certain hesitation when it comes to change—after all, I’m the girl with 250+ unread books in her apartment, something of a paperback silo for when Kindle officially takes over (or nuclear war begins). But these types of changes are going to happen whether I like them or not, and whether I embrace them or not. Instead of backing away, there’s a lot to be said for viewing them as opportunities, or enablers of opportunities. In a landscape of criticism of new media—it makes us dumber, shortens our attention span, destroys privacy and generally melts our brains—Shirky’s argument is refreshing and managed to convince even closet Luddite me.

Now, time to go tweet about my breakfast.

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