Book Review: Cognitive Surplus

Book Review: Cognitive Surplus

This is a great book to have an idea of how the internet is changing the way we collaborate. Social media in particular, is more than just a way to get likes and re-tweets. It’s more than just a way to reach fans, and have an online presence. Its real impact is changing our notion of what’s valuable, what’s interesting, and how we all collaborate with each other to make more of it.

Clay Shirky, who became popular because of his best-seller “Here Comes Everybody”, is back tackling the topic of people connecting with each other, and shows why he’s one of the best in analyzing the effect of the internet and its tools on our lives. The one thing that I enjoyed most of the book is seeing someone defend what people create online, whatever that is. Bloggers reporting news, people being offensive on YouTube, countless funny but unproductive sites, these are just some of the most frequent areas of criticism from the elites.

Of course, coming from the group that’s being hurt the most by the now non-existent barriers to publish, this criticism is not surprising. It’s refreshing to see Shirky, as a scholar, defend the amateurs and their collaboration for once. “Cognitive Surplus” is well-researched, well written, engaging and relevant.

Here are some of my favorite quotes from Cognitive Surplus:

“The ability for community members to speak to one another, out loud and in public, is a huge shift, and one that has value even in the absence of a way to filter for quality. It has value, indeed, because there is no way to filter for quality in advance: the definition of quality becomes more variable, from one community to the next, than when there was broad consensus about mainstream writing.”

“Similarly, when publication – the act of making something public – goes from being hard to being virtually effortless, people used to the old system often regard publishing by amateurs as frivolous, as if publishing was an inherently serious activity. It never was, though. Publishing had to be taken seriously when its cost and effort made people take it seriously -if you made too many mistakes, you were out of business. But if these factors collapse, then the risk collapses too. An activity that once seemed inherently valuable turned out to be only accidentally valuable, as a change in the economics revealed.”

“Every service that wants to harness the cognitive surplus at large scale faces these trade-offs. You can have a large group of users. You can have an active group of users. You can have a group of users all paying attention to the same thing. Pick two, because you can’t have all three at the same time.”

“One of the weakest notions in the entire pop culture canon is that of innate generational difference, the idea that today’s thirty somethings are members of a class of people called Generation X while twenty somethings are part of Generation Y, and that both differ innately from each other and from the baby boomers. The conceptual appeal of these labels is enormous, but the idea’s explanatory value is almost worthless, a kind of astrology for decades instead of months. Generations do differ, but less because people differ than because opportunities do.”

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