Sunday, March 15, 2009

Clay Shirky's cognitive surplus

Clay Shirky's Gin, Television, and Social Surplus was written back in the dark ages of the Internet (early 2008), but I still get a kick out of it. Like me, Shirky is fascinated by online collaboration, and how it's remaking society from the ground up. Unlike me, people listen to him.

Highlights: Wikipedia was built with fewer man-hours than America collectively squanders on watching commercials on a given weekend. As infrastructure develops for capturing societal knowledge in useful ways, this sort of useful, consciously creative activity will supplant much of our TV watching time, and the results will make for a much more intricate and interesting society.

Right now, Shirky says most of the examples we're seeing are special cases: a Wikipedia here, a Facebook there. But we'll develop more general-purpose systems that can capture more of our thinking in useful forms.

Also, four year olds demand that their TVs have mice, and even Warcraft is more fulfilling than trying to decide whether Ginger or Maryann is cuter.

Afterword: Writing this, I've just realized that I'm in phase three of the road to personal technological obsolescence*. I believe the road was first described by Scott Adams (the Dilbert guy). It goes, roughly:

1) Age 0-15: this is just the way the world works. It would be unnatural for it to be any other way.
2) Age 16-22: This thing I'm doing is nifty.
3) Age 23-35: This thing other people are doing is nifty, and I think we can make use of it.
4) Age 36-100000: Bah! Why can't kids these days just do it the old way?

* Note: This is a very hard word to spell.

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