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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Shirky and Pink on Cognitive Surplus

In May, Wired published a conversation between Clay Shirky and Daniel Pink, in which they discuss the idea of cognitive surplus, the topic of Shirky's new book. I find the idea of cognitive surplus, which Shirky defines as the cognitive excesses we can spend as we please, fascinating. Shirky argues that Web 2.0 technologies have enabled us to use our cognitive surpluses to connect with each other and add value as never before:
Television was a solitary activity that crowded out other forms of social connection. But the very nature of these new technologies fosters social connection—creating, contributing, sharing. When someone buys a TV, the number of consumers goes up by one, but the number of producers stays the same. When someone buys a computer or mobile phone, the number of consumers and producers both increase by one. This lets ordinary citizens, who’ve previously been locked out, pool their free time for activities they like and care about. So instead of that free time seeping away in front of the television set, the cognitive surplus is going to be poured into everything from goofy enterprises like lolcats, where people stick captions on cat photos, to serious political activities like Ushahidi.com, where people report human rights abuses.
Shirky and Pink point to Wikipedia as a great example of what the pool of cognitive surplus can accomplish when properly connected with a framework that allows for collaboration across continents. Truly exciting times ahead!

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