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Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age | [Clay Shirky]

Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age

For decades, technology encouraged people to squander their time and intellect as passive consumers. Today, technology has finally caught up with human potential. In Cognitive Surplus, Internet guru Clay Shirky forecasts the thrilling changes we will all enjoy as new digital technology puts our untapped resources of talent and goodwill to use at last.
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Publisher's Summary

For decades, technology encouraged people to squander their time and intellect as passive consumers. Today, technology has finally caught up with human potential. In Cognitive Surplus, Internet guru Clay Shirky forecasts the thrilling changes we will all enjoy as new digital technology puts our untapped resources of talent and goodwill to use at last.

Since we Americans were suburbanized and educated by the postwar boom, we've had a surfeit of intellect, energy, and time - what Shirky calls a cognitive surplus. But this abundance had little impact on the common good because television consumed the lion's share of it - and we consume TV passively, in isolation from one another. Now, for the first time, people are embracing new media that allow us to pool our efforts at vanishingly low cost.

The results of this aggregated effort range from mind expanding - reference tools like Wikipedia - to lifesaving, such as Ushahidi.com, which has allowed Kenyans to sidestep government censorship and report on acts of violence in real time. Shirky argues persuasively that this cognitive surplus, ather than being some strange new departure from normal behavior, actually returns our society to forms of collaboration that were natural to us up through the early 20th century. He also charts the vast effects that our cognitive surplus---aided by new technologies---will have on 21-century society, and how we can best exploit those effects. Shirky envisions an era of lower creative quality on average but greater innovation, an increase in transparency in all areas of society, and a dramatic rise in productivity that will transform our civilization.

The potential impact of cognitive surplus is enormous. As Shirky points out, Wikipedia was built out of roughly 1 percent of the man-hours that Americans spend watching TV every year. Wikipedia and other current products of cognitive surplus are only the iceberg's tip. Shirky shows how society and our daily lives will be improved dramatically as we learn to exploit our goodwill and free time like never before.

©2010 Clay Shirky (P)2010 Tantor

What Members Say

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  •  
    Roy Beaumont, TX, United States 06-26-10
    Roy Beaumont, TX, United States 06-26-10 Member Since 2005
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Many Helpful Insights"

    This is a book about social networking, media, and the internet. Essentially, it sets out to tell us the impact of the web on creativity and productivity in the aggregate - how society is changed by the media and is changing the media.

    The book is really an eyeopener when Shirky puts the current electronic media in historical context. His discussions of the pre-internet era and how we interacted breaks the reader out of any illusions that the old days were better.

    Well written and fine reading by Kevin Foley make this a worth while book. I am always interested in books that are outside my area of interest and knowledge. This one will inform and excite everyone - with a background or not.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Andy Midlothian, VA, USA 06-17-10
    Andy Midlothian, VA, USA 06-17-10 Member Since 2008
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    "Stop Watching TV!"

    This book brings home he value we waste watching TV. Through social media we are reconnecting and producing value for society. Finally, a reason for Facebook and Twitter! I believe such a book is important as one of the first to point out a new trend that could be of paramount importance to our species. "Find the time" to do what is important to you. It is easy, stop watching TV and engage through social media.

    5 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Joshua Kim Etna, NH, United States 06-10-12
    Joshua Kim Etna, NH, United States 06-10-12 Member Since 2005

    mostly nonfiction listener

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    "Excellent"

    Thinking back on the hours of I invested watching Hogan's Heroes, Hawaii Five-O, Cheers, Magnum PI etc. etc. is always depressing. Shirky calls TV watching our unpaid second-job. According to Nielsen, the average American spends 34.5 hours a week watching TV. That is about 1,800 a year. Among young people, however, the time spent watching TV is going down - replaced by time spent creating and interacting on the Web. The best decision my family ever made was to decide not to have cable, satellite or broadcast TV in our home. TV is simply too tempting. If I had TV I'd probably be watching now instead of writing this book review. My brain loves to relax into TV - so does yours. Shirky argues that by allowing us all to create, to push the "publish" button, the Web is making us smarter and more connected. My hope is that Shirky turns his attention next to the implications of the cognitive surplus on higher education.

    4 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    07-11-10
    07-11-10 Member Since 2009
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    "How the internet is changing the world"

    I liked this book. I liked it a lot more than I thought I should have, given what it was about.

    Yeah, the internet has changed things, blah blah blah. Somehow, though, this book manages to really nail down how and why the internet and social media is changing things, beyond the surface level.

    What is it that makes people engage with the internet so much, and just what can people accomplish when they use their "cognitive surplus" to accomplish something using new media tools? This book discusses the answers to this question.

    3 of 3 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David East Palo Alto, CA, United States 07-03-10
    David East Palo Alto, CA, United States 07-03-10 Member Since 2010
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    "A Social Entrepreneur's Handbook"

    Great read for entrepreneurs trying to figure out social enterprise in our shifting technology environment.

    2 of 2 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Bill at Torg Stories Indiana native in New England 05-28-12
    Bill at Torg Stories Indiana native in New England 05-28-12 Member Since 2012
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    "Bought the Paperback Too!"
    Would you consider the audio edition of Cognitive Surplus to be better than the print version?

    No. The print and audio versions worked different for me, both in a good way.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    This isn't a book with characters, really. Not sure I think much of these questions to review books. Let me decide on my own content and structure for a review.


    Which scene was your favorite?

    The idea of all this free time that could be used to do public good.


    Did you have an extreme reaction to this book? Did it make you laugh or cry?

    It made me want to buy the paperback so I could look more closely and use in the writing courses I teach.


    Any additional comments?

    I plan to write more later. Choose "Golden Lines" and publish to Goodreads and Wordpress. I'm "Prof. Torg"

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Peter SARATOGA, CA, United States 05-17-12
    Peter SARATOGA, CA, United States 05-17-12 Member Since 2011
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    "Great"
    Any additional comments?

    This book provides a great perspective on the modern "cognitive revolution". It does not make predictions, rather it demonstrates the potential.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Amazon Customer Rochester, NY, United States 01-23-12
    Amazon Customer Rochester, NY, United States 01-23-12 Member Since 2002
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    "True Tales of a Bold New World"

    By now I'm familiar with the impact of social media on our lives. But not everyone who uses it "gets" it. Too many people tack "social media" onto their marketing plans and every interaction is a sales pitch. Clay Shirkey helps us understand the heartbeat of our growing interconnectedness. His book is most compelling when he reviews the research from behavioral economics -- what are our intrinsic motivators? At our most creative and generous online, we are driven by our love of being both autonomous and competent.

    Overall, the book encourages us to get involved, to pitch in -- whether it's relaxing games with friends or a project to unite folks for a great cause. Where do we find the time? By turning off the TV, of course.

    The reader was fine -- a real pro.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Al San Francisco, CA 01-13-12
    Al San Francisco, CA 01-13-12 Member Since 2009
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    "Excellent book on social media"

    This is an excellent book on people who are working on social media applications. It tells us that how to utilize and attract peoples times and offers many many wonderful successfull stories and pitfalls to avoid.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    G. Forde New Jersey 10-08-10
    G. Forde New Jersey 10-08-10 Member Since 2009
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    "Great book"

    If you want to understand how media consumption has evolved into participation read this book. Great examples and background.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
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