Cognitive Surplus

Clary Shirsky’s new book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, provides some nice validation for those of us geeks who prefer to spend our discretionary time away from T.V. but instead “working” online.

According to the New York Time Book Review by Farhad Manjoo:

The time we might free up by ditching TV is Shirky’s “cognitive surplus” — an ocean of hours that society could contribute to endeavors far more useful and fun than television. With the help of a researcher at I.B.M., Shirky calculated the total amount of time that people have spent creating one such project, Wikipedia. The collectively edited online encyclopedia is the product of about 100 million hours of human thought, Shirky found. In other words, in the time we spend watching TV, we could create 2,000 Wikipedia-size projects — and that’s just in America, and in just one year.

If it seems far-fetched to imagine the industrial world’s TV-watching hordes fleeing the couch to build projects as demanding as Wikipedia, Shirky has some news for you — they already are. “Cognitive Surplus” teems with examples of collaborative action.

That’s all well and good… and I feel better about my Facebook-to-Wikipedia-and-back-again-digressions already. Hey!  Look! This isn’t procrastination… it’s “building a social knowledge platform in order to leverage an authentic conversations with stakeholders”…or something like that.

Manjoo wraps things up with this cautionary note:

Nearly every one of his examples of online collectivism is positive; everyone here seems to be using the Internet to do such good things.

Yet it seems obvious that not everything — and perhaps not even most things — that we produce together online will be as heartwarming as a charity or as valuable as Wikipedia. Other examples of Internet-abetted collaborative endeavors include the “birthers,” Chinese hacker collectives and the worldwide jihadi movement. In this way a “cognitive surplus” is much like a budgetary surplus — having one doesn’t necessarily mean we’ll spend it well. You could give up your time at the TV to do good things or bad; most likely you’ll do both.

Ah yes… and this brings us to Rule #1 of Time Management and Productivity, which was nicely summarized once upon a time by Peter Drucker:

  Efficiency is doing things right; effectiveness is doing the right things.


About danspira

My blog is at: My face in real life appears at a higher resolution, although I do feel pixelated sometimes.

Posted on August 6, 2010, in Diversions, Productivity, Social Media and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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