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256 pages, Hardcover
First published January 1, 2010
"You thought you knew what food was, you thought it was elemental. You forgot how much restaurant there was in restaurant food and how much home was in homemade."
"[W]hen you can get advice about a restaurant from the aggregate view of people who've actually eaten there, the value of the critic as a source of recommendation is reduced. Other functions of the critic, such as interpreting its chef's intentions or relating it to the history of a particular cuisine, remain, but the overall value of the reviewer's work shrinks..."
"One early critical complaint [about customer reviews] was an essay called 'The Zagat Effect,' written by Steven Shaw in 2000... Shaw complained bitterly about [Zagat], focusing in particular on their ranking New York City's Union Square Cafe as number one, which he felt was unjust: '...it is patently ridiculous to rank it ahead of a dozen other places, and in particular such world-class restaurants as Lespinasse, Jean Georges, and Daniel...'"
"A common objection to the spread of shared knowledge is the need for professional skill, an idea often expressed with the observation that you wouldn't want brain surgery performed by someone who learned their craft from Wikipedia... The funny thing about this rule, though, is that we don't really need it, because it is self evident. The stock figure of the amateur brain surgeon comes up only in conversations that AREN'T about brain surgery..."
"[T]he brain surgeon analogy... invites the hearer to assume that we should always go with a professional over an amateur. But curiously, no one believes the proposition, not even the people fretting about Wikipedia-trained brain surgeons. In fact, were this preference for the professional universally applied, we would all be patronizing prostitutes—they are, after all, far more experienced in their craft than most of us will ever be. By comparison, people in love are amateurs (in the most literal* meaning of the world). But here intimacy trumps skill. For similar reasons, I sing 'Happy Birthday' to my children, even with my terrible singing voice, not because I can do a better job than Placido Domingo or Lyle Lovett, but because those talented gentlemen do not love my children as I do."
Lolcat images, dumb as they are, have internally consistent rules, everything from “Captions should be spelled phonetically” to “The lettering should use a sans-serif font.” Even at the stipulated depths of stupidity, in other words, there are ways to do a lolcat wrong, which means there are ways to do it right, which means there is some metric of quality, even if limited. However little the world needs the next lolcat, the message You can play this game too is a change from what we’re used to in the media landscape. The stupidest creative act is still a creative act.Those who write amateur book reviews shouldn’t throw stones at the lolcat crowd; in point of fact, goodreads seems to fall lower on the creation spectrum; it’s cataloging, networking, and recommending; no creation—not really. Even moreso, the trend for many of the labor-intensive reviewers is to drop a blurb on goodreads and link to the rest offsite; you can read their review on their own website. Why let goodreads slurp up your content and garner pageviews—advertising dollars—for your efforts?
Like the owners of YouTube, the bar owner is in the curious business of offering value above the products and services he sells, value that is created by the customers for one another. People pay more to have a beer in a bar than they do at home because a bar is a more convivial place to have a drink; it draws in people who are seeking a little conversation or just want to be around other people, people who prefer being in the bar to being home alone. This inducement is powerful enough that the difference is worth paying for. The digital sharecropper logic would suggest that the bar owner is exploiting his customers, because their conversations in the bar are part of the “content” that makes them willing to overpay for the beer, but none of the customers actually feels that way.This refutation of digital serfdom can apply across a broad swath of the now-dated “web 2.0” ethos. Where all this time to complain about “begs the question” or write restaurant reviews or take and upload photos or edit wikipedia pages is coming from, and tentative forays into why people will spend six hours writing a review that maybe—if they're exceedingly lucky—six people will read is the bulk of Cognitive Surplus. The "where" is pretty straightforward: 8 hours of sleep, 8 hours of work, 8 hours of leisure time. Free time has become synonymous with television viewing: "Americans watch roughly two hundred billionhours of TV every year." The motivation behind what we do in when not at work is the more difficult question. “What’s hard to explain is how, in the space of a generation, watching television became a part-time job for every citizen in the developed world.”
The radicals will be unable to correctly predict the eventual ramifications [of technology] because they have an incentive to overstate the new system’s imagined value and because they lack the capacity to imagine the other uses to which the tools will be put....[p]roponents of the new and defenders of the old can’t merely discuss the transition, because each group has systemic biases that make its overall vision untrustworthy.In the two years since the publication of Cognitive Surplus, the ubiquity of high definition streaming video has transformed the internet from a sea of text to a mountain of video. News websites don't feature written articles, they play clips. The Weather Channel has a splash page filled with videos that autoload; it takes multiple clicks to reach the familiar excel-style weather chart. Sight+sound: “Because TV goes in through the eyes as well as the ears, it immobilizes even moderately attentive users, freezing them on chairs and couches, as a prerequisite for consumption.” TV on the internet. Old uses for new technology that went unheralded by technological radicals and media traditionalists alike.
To use a historical analogy, the United States was founded in 1776, but the country that today’s U.S. citizens actually live in was founded in 1787, the year the second (and current) constitution was written. The first constitution was written when the original thirteen colonies couldn’t imagine giving up much of their sovereignty to participate in the larger federation of states, so the country in the 1770s was less a nation than a loose collection of competing entities.Once the manufactured schism between “real world” and “cyberspace”—a distinction built by people who watched the internet come into existence, as opposed to those who have no frame of reference to a world without it—fades, people might be ready to “yoke themselves to one another” tightly enough to treat people you pass on the internet like people you pass on the street. Internet life is real life and the imaginary distinction between the two creates space for people to avoid internalizing their actions when they troll, grief, or shame someone else just 4 the lulz. It is damaging to pretend we are somewhere different when on a computer. It turns, again, on the precision of language to help overcome a concept that is outdated, ineffectual. The internet is a communication tool like any other, and to imbue it with special properties because we have given its usage a unique name simply begs the question.
By the late 1780s, the lack of mutual obligation was clearly keeping the union weak, so a new constitution was drawn up, obliging the states to contribute to national defense and forbidding them from erecting trade barriers, to name just two of the many new constraints. That constitution worked, and though it has been modified many times in the two centuries since it was ratified, the continuity between then and now is unbroken. For all the value of the 1787 constitution, though, it couldn’t have been enacted in 1777, because the states wouldn’t have been willing to yoke themselves to one another that tightly without an additional decade of experience. Groups tolerate governance, which is by definition a set of restrictions, only after enough value has accumulated to make the burden worthwhile. Since that value builds up only over time, the burden of the rules has to follow, not lead.