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While we wouldn't want anyone to not read this eminently worthwhile book because of it, we would be remiss not to note that you can get the bulk of what the author has to say from the lecture posted above. Clay Shirky--apparently not an Internet alias--is a leading thinker on issues surrounding the web and social media. The "cognitive surplus" that he is referring to is the excess time we all have to think about things as a function of several revolutions coming together. For one thing, contrary to the myth that we like to indulge about how harried our lives are, we have a historically unprecedented amount of free time, a trillion hours a year amongst the world's educated population, by his estimate.

Consider that Americans alone watch 200 billion hours of television a year. Or we have been. But now, especially younger Americans are diverting some substantial portion of that time to the Internet. And while, at first glance, there may not seem to be a huge difference between a tv screen and a computer monitor, the fact that we interact with the latter whereas we sat dumbstruck before the former is truly revolutionary.

Interconnectivity is such a rote phrase these days that it is easy for us to lose sight of the fact that when we are emailing, Facebooking, blogging, writing content for a website, etc. we are communicating with friends, family, neighbors, and strangers in a way we could not communicate with or via a television. We can quarrel about the precise value of our internet communications, we would all have to accept that there is some value to it while there is no social value to the completely atomized tv viewer staring at a screen. Where we were once wasting all that free time we had to think, we are now using it more and more and creating a world in which a social media written by average people directly challenges the sorts of private media that was/is presented to us by distant professionals, garbed in authority.

While we can not know whether we will take full advantage of the opportunity that has been afforded us, Mr. Shirky wants to be darn sure that we recognize it:
Our media environment (that is to say our connective tissue) has shifted. In a historical eyeblink, we have gone from a world with two different models of media--public broadcasts by professionals and private conversations between pairs of people--to a world where public and private media blend together, where professional and amateur production blur, and where voluntary public participation has moved from nonexistent to fundamental. This was a big deal even when digital networks were used only by an elite group of affluent citizens, but it's becoming a much bigger deal as the connected population has spread globally and crossed into the billions.

The world's people, and the connections among us, provide the raw material for cognitive surplus. The technology will continue to improve, and the population will continue to grow, but change in the direction of more participation has already happened. What matters now is our imaginations. The opportunity before us , individually and collectively, is enormous; what we do with it will be largely determined by how well we are able to imagine and reward public creativity, participation, and sharing.
We're so accustomed to bitching about the imagined decline of the Republic and the culture that it is refreshing to have this pessimism challenged so forthrightly. A citizenry that is communicating amongst itself more and participating more in discussions about a whole host of topics should warm the cockles of even the most morose social critic. Mr. Shirky gives us much to think about--and talk about--here and much reason to be hopeful that the Internet will live up to some considerable portion of its promise.


Grade: (A)


See also:

Clay Shirky Links:

    -AUTHOR SITE: Clay Shirky’s Writings About the Internet
    -WIKIPEDIA: Clay Shirky
    -Clay Shirky | Profile on
    -FACULTY PAGE: Clay Shirky (Tisch School of the Arts at NYU)
    -BOOK SITE: Cognitive Surplus (Penguin)
    -DEFINITION: cognitive surplus (Urban Dictionary)
    -GOOGLE BOOK: Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky
    -ESSAY: Gin, Television, and Social Surplus (Clay Shirky, This is a lightly edited transcription of a speech I gave at the Web 2.0 conference, April 23, 2008.
    -LECTURE: GIN, TELEVISION, AND COGNITIVE SURPLUS (A Talk by Clay Shirky, 8/21/08, Edge)
    -ESSAY: Newspapers and Thinking the Unthinkable (Clay Shirky, March 13th, 2009)
    -LECTURE: It's Not Information Overload. It's Filter Failure (Clay Shirky, Web 2.0)
    -ESSAY: The Twitter Revolution: more than just a slogan: Political insurrection is never solely driven by technology. But it is profoundly changing the landscape of modern protest—in favour of those fighting for democracy (Clay Shirky, 6th January 2010, Prospect)
    -ESSAY: New Freedom Destroys Old Culture: A response to Nick Carr (Clay Shirky, 8/01/07, Corante)
    -ESSAY: Why We Must Shift Our Attention from “Save Newspapers” to “Save Society”: The revolution will not be published (Clay Shirky, July-August 2009, Utne Reader)
-LECTURE: Clay Shirky: Here Comes Everybody (Clay Shirky, Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University)
    -ESSAY: The net advantage: Media guru Clay Shirky responds to criticisms in Evgeny Morozov’s December cover story on why dictators benefit from the web. Despite pitfalls, he says, the internet remains a positive force for democracy (Clay Shirky, 11th December 2009, Prospect)
    -INTERVIEW: Big Think interview with Clay Shirky: A conversation with the writer and NYU Interactive Telecommunications Professor. (July 6, 2010, Big Think)
    -PROFILE: The Souls of the Machine: Clay Shirky says the Internet revolution has only just begun (Jeffrey R. Young, 6/13/10, Chronicle of Higher Education)
    -INTERVIEW: The shape of things to come: A self-confessed 'pretty unlikely early adopter', the digital guru Clay Shirky still proved to be uncannily prescient about the impact of the web - which is why Tom Teodorczuk is getting his media forecast for 2009 (The Guardian, Monday 5 January 2009)
    -INTERVIEW: Media Talk: Clay Shirky on Google, China, and all things internet: Web evangelist Clay Shirky is our special guest (Presented by Matt Wells and produced by Ben Green, 26 March 2010,
    -INTERVIEW: Interview with Clay Shirky, Part I: “There’s always a new Luddism whenever there’s change.” (Russ Juskalian, 12/19/08, Columbia Journalism Review)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview with Clay Shirky, Part II: “Newspapers have discovered civic function awfully late to be taken seriously” (Russ Juskalian, 12/22/08, CJR)
    -INTERVIEW: Shirky on Coase, Collaboration and Here Comes Everybody, Clay Shirky (Hosted by Russ Roberts, EconoTalk)
    -INTERVIEW: Radar Interview with Clay Shirky (Joshua-Michéle Ross, 2/16/09, Radar O'Reilly)
    -INTERVIEW: Wisdom on Crowds: What CEOs Need to Know About the Social Web (WSJ: BuzzWatch, 5/05/08))
    -INTERVIEW: 'Here Comes Everybody': What's Next On The Web (NPR: Talk of the Nation, 1/08/09)
    -INTERVIEW: People Power: There's a new era of online community and it's challenging our notions of entertainment, activism and audience. Clay Shirky’s new book, Here Comes Everybody, depicts this online world, driven by networks that grow and act in never-before-seen ways. (NPR: On The Media, February 29, 2008)
    -PROFILE: The Connectors: Meet the hypernetworked nodes who secretly run the world. (Jeff Howe, November 2003, Wired)
    -INTERVIEW: Interview with Clay Shirky (Mark Thwaite, The Book Depository)
    -ESSAY: The Shirky Principle (The Technium, 4/02/10)
    -ESSAY: The Digital Surplus and Its Enemies (Rob Horning, 19 February 2010, PopMatters)
    -ARCHIVES: Shirky (Wired)
    -REVIEW: of Cognitive Surplus (Caitlin Roper, LA Times)
    -REVIEW: of Cognitive Surplus (Evgeny Morozov, Boston Review)
    -REVIEW:of Cognitive Surplus (Charles Leadbetter, New Statesman)
    -REVIEW: of Cognitive Surplus (Stuart Kelly, The Scotsman)
    -REVIEW: of Cognitive Surplus (Tim, Walker, Independent)
    -REVIEW of Cognitive Surplus(Nicholas Blincoe, Daily Telegraph)
    -REVIEW: of Cognitive Surplus(Farhad Manjoo, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Here Comes Everybody by Clay Shirky (Timothy B. Lee, Ars Technica)
    -REVIEW: of Here Comes Everybody (Pat Kane, Independent)
    -REVIEW: of Here Comes Everybody (Stuart Jeffries, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Here Comes Everybody (Joshua Glinert, NetSquared)
    -REVIEW: of Here Comes Everybody (LIESL SCHILLINGER, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Here Comes Everybody (Helen Walters and Matt Vella, Bloomberg Businessweek)
    -REVIEW: of Here Comes Everybody (Tara Brabazon, Times Higher Education Supplement)

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