Archive for August, 2010

Text Reflection: Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus

August 17, 2010 Leave a comment

I recently read Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus and wanted to jot down some notes and reflections. First, some background. I came to Shirky after seeing a TED talk a few months ago and finding his perspective intriguing. The notion that technology allows us to do more with our free time wasn’t all that enlightening but it was a fairly interesting presentation. Lawrence Lessig’s Remix provides a far more thorough exploration of the topic, but Shirky does hit on some important concepts.

Chief among these is the so-called “Shirky Principle” or an observation that an organization that commits itself to managing a social problem also commits itself to maintaining that problem. The main reason for this paradox is the organization’s need for society’s need- basically, as soon as the stated problem is resolved the need for the organization disappears and all involved are unemployed.

Cognitive Surplus contains lots of nice examples of people’s use of technology in order to better society. The text is organized nicely to offer these examples and then utilize them to explain the notion of the surplus.

At the core of the text is the notion of the “culture of learning and sharing” that intrigues me the most. As with all technological developments, it is the culture that determines success and failure. My great hope for society is a recognition and celebration of this new culture. Shirky explores the variety of this culture, highlighting the spectrum of use ranging from sharing of lolcats to a site that aggregates communications inside an area undergoing some form of societal stress.

The main message I want to take away from the book is this notion of spectrum. As technology transforms our sense of communication we need to recognize the importance of the “culture of learning and sharing” and work towards expanding a society where everyone can share anything.

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