Cognitive Surplus

From Amazon: “For decades, technology encouraged people to squander their time and intellect as passive consumers. Today, tech has finally caught up with human potential. In Cognitive Surplus, Internet guru Clay Shirky forecasts the thrilling changes we will all enjoy as new digital technology puts our untapped resources of talent and goodwill to use at last.”

A few of my highlighted excerpts from Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky (more after the jump).

“The postwar trends of emptying rural populations, urban growth, and increased suburban density, accompanied by rising educational attainment across almost all demographic groups, have marked a huge increase in the number of people paid to think or talk, rather than to produce or transport objects.” – page 4

“Someone born in 1960 has watched something like fifty thousand hours of TV already, and many watch another thirty thousand hours before she dies.” – page 6

“…in the whole of the developed world, the three most common activities are now work, sleep, and watching TV.” – page 6

“Americans watch roughly two hundred billion hours of TV every year. … We spend roughly a hundred million hours every weekend just watching commercials.” – page 10

“As long as the assumed purpose of media is to allow ordinary people to consume professionally created material, the proliferation of amateur-created stuff will seem incomprehensible.” – page 19

“Imagine that everything says 99 percent the same, that people continue to consume 99 percent of the television they used to, but 1 percent of that time gets carved out for producing and sharing. The connected population still watches well over a trillion hours of TV a year; 1 percent of that time is mor than one hundred Wikipedias’ worth of participation per year.” – page 23

“In 2010 the global internet-connected population will cross two billion people, and mobile hone accounts already number over three billion. Since there are something like 4.5 billion adults worldwide (roughly 30 percent of the global population is under fifteen), we live, for the first time in history, in a world where being part of a globally interconnected group is the normal case for most citizens.” – page 23

“The chance that someone with a camera will come across an event of global significance is rapidly becoming the chance that such an event has any witnesses at all.” – page 26

“…media refers to a collection of businesses, from newspapers and magazines to radio and television, that have particular ways of producing material and particular ways of making money. And as long as we use media to refer just to those businesses, and to that material, the word will be an anachronism, a bad fit for what’s happening today.” – page 26

“…the wiring of humanity lets us treat free time as a shred global resource, and lets us design new kinds of participation and sharing that take advantage of that resource.” – page 27

“Democracies both produce and rely upon complacency in their citizens. A democracy is working when its citizens are content enough not to turn out in the streets; when they do, it’s a sign that something isn’t right.” – page 32

“The average Seoul resident has access to better, faster, and more widely available communications networks, both on their computers and on their mobile phones, than the average citizen of London, Paris, or New York.” – page 34

“Consider the cluster of ideas contained in this list: publicity, publicize, publish, publication, publicist, publisher. They are all centered on the act of making something public, which has historically been difficult, complex, and expensive. And now it is none of those things.” – page 46

“The great tension in media has always been that freedom and quality are conflicting goals.” – page 47

“If a change in society were immediately easy to understand, it wouldn’t be a revolution.” – page 52

“Television encodes moving images and sounds for transmission through the air and, latterly, through a cable, for subsequent conversion back to images and sound, using a special decoding device. What is the name of the content so transmitted? Television. and the device the displays the images? It is a television. And the people who make the content and sent out the resulting signal — what industry to they work in? Television, of course. The people who work in television make television for your television.” – page 52

“The bundle of concepts tied to the word media is unraveling. We need a new conception for the word, one that dispenses with the connotations of “something produced by professionals for consumption by amateurs.

Here’s mine: media is the connective tissue of society.

Media is how you know when and where your friend’s birthday party is. Media is how you know what’s happening in Tehran, who’s in charge in Tegucigalpa, or the price of tea in China. Media is how you know what your colleague named her baby. Media is how you know why Kierkegaard disagreed with Hegel. Media is how you know where your next meeting is. Media is how you know about anything more than ten yards away. – page 54

“Theory-induced blindness — adherence to a belief about how the world works that prevents you from seeing how the world really works.” – page 99

“Habits and traits spread through social networks through up to three degrees of separation, and though these traits are not contagious like a virus, they are contagious in that they spred through social contact.” – page 128

“Increasing the number of things you have can be useful, but increasing the amount of knowledge you have can be transformative.” – page 140

“Knowledge, unlike information, is a human characteristic; there can be information no one knows, bu there can’t be knowledge no know knows.” – page 140

“Shared, unmanaged effort might be fine for picnics and bowling leagues, but serious work is done for money, by people who work in proper organizations, with managers directing their work.” – page 162

“This is the paradox of revolution. The bigger the opportunity offered by the new tools, the less completely anyone can extrapolate the future from the previous shape of society. So it is today. The communications tools we now have, which a mere decade ago seemed to offer an improvement to the twentieth-century media landscape, are now seen to be rapidly eroding it instead.” – page 189

“Most of the world’s adults now use digital networks, whether via computer or phone, and most of those began doing so only in the last decade.” – page 190

Every service that wants to harness the cognitive surplus at large scale faces these trade-offs. You can have a large group of users. You can have an active group of users. You can have a group of users all paying attention to the same thing. Pick two, because you can’t have all three at the same time.” – page 202

“As a general rule, it is more important to try something new, and work on the problems as they arise, than to figure out a way to do something new without having any problems.” – page 205

“We’ve had the internet for forty years now, but Twitter and YouTube are less than five years old, not because the technology wasn’t in place earlier but because society wasn’t yet ready to take advantage of those opportunities.” – page 210