Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky

Notes:Shirky connects the 'gin craze' in London in 1720s and television in modern society. Argues that both form an anaesthetic for the pressures of a burgeoning society. It wasn't until society restructured around new urban realities that it subsided and the cognitive surplus of an increasingly urbanised society was harnessed and used for the betterment of society. Shirky argues that the 'gin' of our age is the sitcom; that television has become an infinitely expanding response to the crisis of social transformation. Television has pervading every aspect and hour of our lives. But it's not making us happy. He lists a range of surveys about the impact of television watching on the population:

  • Frey, Benesch & Stutzer (2007) concludes that unhappy people watch more television the happier people, and television viewing pushes aside other activities that are less immediately engaging but can produce longer-term satisfaction.??
  • Fowles notes the watching television has displaced a) other diversions, b) socialising and c) sleep. The reduction in the amount of human contact is called social surrogacy and is particularly an issue with replacing time with friends and family.??
  • Derrick and Gabriel concluded that people turn to favoured programmes when they are feeling lonely and that they feel less lonely when they are wathicng their favourite shows.
  • Gui and Stanca: television increases people's materialism and material aspirations which therefore decreases individuals' estimation of the relative importance of interpersonal relations for their life satisfaction. Leads to a decrease in investing in relational activities.
If the population of the United States stopped watching the two billion hours of television they watch annually, they could produce two thousand Wikipedia projects each year with this Cognitive Surplus.
Shirky outlines a range of projects that have improved the human lot through using people's collective cognitive surplus:
  • Wikipedia
  • Ushahidi
  • World of Warcraft
  • Citizen journalism (London bombings etc.)

Outlines social media projects that have become successful because they aren't completely free, but have some checks on people's anti-social behaviour??

  • Pickuppal
  • Couchsurfing
  • eBay
Premise for the rest of the book is that new behaviours in society appear when people have:??
  • means (new kinds of media)
  • motive (a desire to participate) and??
  • opportunity (a culture where participation is encouraged)

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