Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age” as Want to Read:
Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

3.81  ·  Rating details ·  5,568 ratings  ·  350 reviews
The author of the breakout hit Here Comes Everybody reveals how new technology is changing us from consumers to collaborators, unleashing a torrent of creative production that will transform our world.

For decades, technology encouraged people to squander their time and intellect as passive consumers. Today, tech has finally caught up with human potential. In Cognitive S
Hardcover, 242 pages
Published June 10th 2010 by Penguin Press (first published 2010)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Cognitive Surplus, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Cognitive Surplus

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.81  · 
Rating details
 ·  5,568 ratings  ·  350 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age
Sep 18, 2010 rated it it was ok
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
Stephanie Sun
Feb 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
May 17, 2010 rated it liked it
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
Jan 26, 2014 rated it it was ok
Shelves: technoculture
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
Ron Christiansen
Dec 21, 2012 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
Aug 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Jane Friedman
Aug 07, 2010 rated it really liked it
Covers similar territory as HERE COMES EVERYBODY. I'll be using this as a required text in my history of media course. ...more
David Dinaburg
Feb 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
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-
Jay Cruz
Sep 07, 2010 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 rated it it was amazing
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
J.D. Lasica
Sep 13, 2010 rated it really liked it
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 col­lec­ ...more
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shirky writes about society and how we use our spare time, and the ramifications of our choices when we choose to create rather than just consume. (Or rather when we are presented with the opportunities to create rather than consume.)

This book has single handedly put me off watching television.

Shirky does make some generalised statements and does sometimes make controversial ones. Overall though, it is a very good read. I did zone out a couple of times when he goes a bit into theory, but the mi
Kylie Sparks
Dec 18, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Dec 16, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
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
Ruth Seeley
May 09, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Chad Olson
Jul 21, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Oct 31, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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? ...more
Aug 26, 2010 rated it really liked it
Interesting book. It has made me start thinking about better ways to spend my cognitive surplus.
Nov 07, 2010 rated it it was ok
I really enjoyed this book at first, but as I got farther into the book, it seemed slow and lacking in content.
Sep 30, 2012 rated it liked it
Moved to ...more
Sep 13, 2020 rated it really liked it
I originally read this book because it was required for my graduate level Information Communities course. That being said, this was a book that I found actually quite interesting and filled with various comments on today's people that I had never really considered before. The change from TV viewers to active participants in a socially open world was something I had never considered (having grown up during a time where that socially open world was hitting a large stride).

While I was required to
Jan 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
It wasn't what I expected, and I really enjoyed it. It reminded me of Malcolm Gladwell's books in that it discussed a variety of situations or events as examples of changes in thinking. It gave a view of changes in technology and thinking and memory in the context of a long period of time so we can all feel better about where we are now even though the pace of change or "progress" has certainly increased. I imagine that most generations feel like it's all going to heck in a handbasket at some po ...more
Ryan Shea
As the title suggests, this book is about the recent relative abundance of "cognitive surplus" the world has. In other words, we have enough time to dedicate five hours a day on average to watching TV. What is that? Well, it's effectively low transaction-cost social pacification - a surrogate friend network, just sit down and plug in. We tend to dramatically underestimate the creative ways that new technology might be used, from pointless memes, to truly transformative technologies. ...more
Mar 23, 2017 rated it liked it
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
Daniel McAteer
Jun 04, 2017 rated it really liked it
The main premise that Clay Shirky makes is human beings have moved from a place where they spend most of their free time consuming to a place where we can both produce and consume. It's inspiring to think about the possibilities that collective intelligence provides. Digital technology is making collaboration possible on a large scales and anyone who wants to be involved can. ...more
Aiman Adlawan
Oct 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
Cognitive Surplus is a great book that helps you understand the positive impact of social media. For the past few years, our attention shifted from television to our smart phones that is so handy that we can take anywhere and browse on the internet. This opens opportunity for every individual to be more visible in the world of social media that interconnects us.
Xandra Nelsen
Feb 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read for a grad class...

I wasn't expecting to actually enjoy this book. In fact, I'd dreaded reading it this whole last week because I knew that once I finished, I'd have to start my report. This has, without a doubt, been my favorite read of my grad school experience so far. Interesting, relevant, creative, and highly thought-provoking.
Todd Cheng
Oct 04, 2020 rated it it was ok
I expected more from Clay. A key points of the narrative is the lost cognitive capacity with rise of the TV and following net browsing. We spend much time browsing mindless web that hijacks our concentration eroded value.

It highlights the informal research ecosystem on Wikipedia and online communities of focused topics.

Autonomy and competence are to driving motivation.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide
  • Animal Spirits: How Human Psychology Drives the Economy, and Why It Matters for Global Capitalism
  • Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness
  • Everything Is Miscellaneous: The Power of the New Digital Disorder
  • Crowdsourcing: Why the Power of the Crowd Is Driving the Future of Business
  • The Paradox of Choice: Why More Is Less
  • What Technology Wants
  • The Filter Bubble: What the Internet is Hiding From You
  • Thinking, Fast and Slow
  • Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure
  • The Long Tail: Why the Future of Business is Selling Less of More
  • Too Big to Know: Rethinking Knowledge Now That the Facts Aren't the Facts, Experts Are Everywhere, and the Smartest Person in the Room Is the Room
  • The Master Switch: The Rise and Fall of Information Empires
  • Groundswell: Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies
  • The Cluetrain Manifesto
  • The Wealth of Networks: How Social Production Transforms Markets and Freedom
  • The Wisdom of Crowds
  • You Are Not a Gadget
See similar books…
See top shelves…
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

News & Interviews

Summer is perfect for plenty of things: mojitos, sleeping with the window fan on, and sprawling out with a hot romance novel (in a heavily...
6 likes · 0 comments
“Knowledge, unlike information, is a human characteristic; there can be information no one knows, but there can't be knowledge no one knows.” 9 likes
“Upgrading one's imagination about what is possible is always a leap of faith.” 4 likes
More quotes…