Clay Shirky on Cognitive Surplus

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June 14, 2010 · 5 comments

Clay Shirky, adjunct professor at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, discusses his new book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. Shirky talks about social and economic effects of Internet technologies and interrelated effects of social and technological networks.  In this podcast he discusses social production, open source software, Wikipedia, defaults, Facebook, and more.

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  • http://twitter.com/emerigent/lists/memberships Emeri Gent [Em]

    What is the cognitive surplus of a World Cup game?

    This Brito-Shirky presentation represents 45 minutes plus 3 minutes of injury time. That equals to half a game of football. In half a game of World Cup football, Paraguay can score against Italy. In full game of World Cup football Italy can equalize against Paraguay. There is no cognitive surplus in something that I have seen done a thousand fold over.

    So what is my second half of play going to be. I can only be a goal scorer if I am contributing to my own life goals. A World Cup Final may be a great thing to watch as a part of my own life goals, but most of the games I might watch now are largely going to be games that I am going to forget.

    So I have listened to the first half of a presentation, what then should be my second half? “Cognitive Surplus” is a decision which media does not make for me, but that I make for media. There was plenty of things in this presentation that I know next to nothing about. These represents potential goals, goals that serve to raise the bar on my life rather than one more way of passing time and watching life go by.

    The first half of this presentation gave the scoring opportunities, the second half is mine to create and here I can see myself scoring at least THREE GOALS.

    Goal # 1 : Find out who Lin Olstrom is.

    Goal # 2 : Read what Kevin Kelly said in Triumph of the Default

    Goal # 3 : Learn more about Cass Sunstein and Richard Thaler

    I guess I now know why the words GOOGLE and GOAL do sound so much alike. The probably sound the same when we figure out that “cognitive surplus” is a verb.

    Here are a few plays I have lined up for the second half, which will probably take no more than 15 minutes a piece – or the equivalent of a second half game of soccer.

    Common Pool Resources
    http://blogs.oregonstate.edu/h2onc/tag/common-p

    Triumph of the Default
    http://www.kk.org/thetechnium/archives/2009/06/

    Nudge Blog
    http://nudges.org/

    I may not be the Maradona of the Mind or the Messi of Mental Acumen, but even these superstars have a need to train. For me this is what cognitive surplus means to me, to have the facility and ability to go and create my own game of life. It is not as if I am going to miss out watching Italy vs Paraguay – today there is very little cost to watching whatever bits of it are worth watching, as much and when I please. Doing or thinking of this any other way makes it feel like work :-)

    What this particular World Cup has shown me isn't that it does not make sense to do the same kind of things over and over again, but we as individuals have a choice how we line up and play with our media. I can wish all I want but I can't make my favorite team score three goals, but if I know what my three goals are, have I not just created cognitive surplus, where previously there was none?

    [Em]

  • http://twitter.com/Ovurmind Viktor Ovurmind

    [“Ovurmind” is shortform alternative to Emeri Gent] Found link @ http://www.slate.com/id/2191156 useful to understand “Nudge”. I will look more into common pool resources later @ http://bit.ly/a3uWy7 and Kevin Kelly article proved useful and a nice takeaway was a link to Rush http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OnxkfLe4G74 in the comments section. BTW this was also a really great second half for me :-)

    [v.o.M.]

  • Peter Twieg

    In the behavioral economics section, Jerry should've asked Clay whether he was familiar with the classic dictator game results (with no option for rejection, proposers still give ~%20 of an endowment), and if so whether Clay had recently given 20% of his income to a random stranger. Point being is that one has to be very careful about extrapolating the results of simple laboratory games, especially if one wants to make broad criticisms of the welfare results of neoclassical theory. There are many, many social and institutional factors which affect our pro-social preferences. The dictator game example here is used as a reductio – clearly people do not go around splitting 20% of their wealth with every stranger they meet, even if a lazy extrapolation from a laboratory result would imply that this sort of social preference exists.

    Furthermore, Jerry is right about Lin Ostrom and Clay is wrong. Ostrom incorporates social preferences in exactly the way which Jerry described and nick pooh-poohs – she preserves a methodologically individualistic framework of utility-maximizing agents, but simply posits parameters in their maximization problems which represent the utility derived from obeying a norm or the utility deducted from breaking one. There's no handwaving about culture making people irrational (in the economic sense.)

  • http://twitter.com/Ovurmind Viktor Ovurmind

    I listened to this podcast again but the social preference piece at 29:51 did not resonate with me. What did resonate was at 37:23 when Jerry chose the spectrum view over the “third way”. What resonated even more was reading Peter Boettke @ http://austrianeconomists.typepad.com/weblog/20… so what I am missing is a feel for economics, and this link helped me.

    [v.o.M.]

  • http://twitter.com/Ovurmind Viktor Ovurmind

    I listened to this podcast again but the social preference piece at 29:51 did not resonate with me. What did resonate was at 37:23 when Jerry chose the spectrum view over the “third way”. What resonated even more was reading Peter Boettke @ http://austrianeconomists.typepad.com/weblog/20… so what I am missing is a feel for economics, and this link helped me.

    [v.o.M.]