Tuesday, January 04, 2011

My take-aways from cognitive surplus and some questions

I was very impressed by Here come's everybody by Clay Shirky and happy to read his second book Cognitive Surplus during the Christmas holidays. I definitely enjoyed reading it, because Shirky is very good in understanding social change as a result of technological changes and explaining it with brilliant examples. On the other hand, I missed some answers that I had unconsciously hoped to find. Let me use my blog to summarize my take-aways and try and formulate what questions I have that are unanswered...

First some highlights from the book (some already hightlighted in his first book):
  • People enjoy making and sharing and social media makes that possible on a global scale- an enormous cognitive surplus we have collectively. Shirky gives an historical analysis of gin as lubrication for the industrializing society- chaotic and urbanized. It helped people in London to cope with life. Not laws, but a restructuring of society with mutual aid societies amongst others reduced gin consumption. The gin our time has been the television with people watching thousands of hours. This is our cognitive surplus imagine how many hours we watch collectively! Social media taps that surplus and uses that free time differently. We like making and sharing things, being creative. This can be lead to fun things (sharing a video of your cat) or serious things (like wikipedia- an online encyclopedia).
  • With the ease of publishing through social media average quality of writing drops, but experimentation and diversity increases and the best works becomes better than before. The other example is the introduction of movable type letters by Gutenberg in the fifteenth century. This lead to an abundance of book, which before then had to be carved out. The first thing that happened was that more Bibles were printed. It took some time before also new books were published, and later novels, newspapers, scientific journals. Edgar Allan Poe commented that the multiplication of books is an evil because it lead to a pile of books with lots of useless ones. True that the freedom to publish lowered the average quality. But it increases experimentation and dissemination. A striking similarity with social media which make it easy for anyone to publish online. With lower average quality too! Yet it can be disorienting for people who've grown up with the previous situation of scarcity.
  • People's intrinsic motivations gravitate towards experiences that reward them in feeling autonomous, competent or connected and publishing, Collaborating through social media gives them that experience. Every successful example of social media harnesses this intrinsic motivation. People working together on causes, examples like the open source software or wikipedia has been a surprise to many asking: "why are people doing this?" because our theories were based on the idea that people work for personal and financial motives, not for free.
  • The things people do with social media have different types of value; personal, communal, public or civic value can be created. Personal value drives the hobbyists, communal value is created by a group of collaborators working on some common interest or goal. Communal value becomes public when it is open to non-members (eg. the apache software is quoted as an example). Finally, civic value is created by groups trying to transform society. Pink chaddis is mentioned, or the two examples of my previous blogpost about digital natives with a cause come to mind.
Now let me think about my questions that are not answered by this book:
  1. How does this link to our evolution as human mankind? Are people developing higher IQs and EQs? Becoming more imaginative, more creative? Are we better able to think globally and to connect because we can empathize and link to a wider range of lives and emotions? How will the brains of future generations be wired differently?
  2. How are these developments linked to global issues like poverty, crises, climate change? Will it improve our collective ability to deal with them or will the people with access to social media be at an advantage to appropriate resources? In other words, how will it affect issues of equity?
  3. How does social media connectivity affect science and multi-disciplinarity?
  4. What is our intrinsic motivation, how is it shaped? So what direction will the value created by the cognitive surplus take? What is the role of leadership in this?
  5. What does civic sharing through social media mean as a power to transformation of society? And to the speed of transformation?
If you have the answer to these questions, please leave a comment :).

No comments: