Review: Cognitive Surplus

Clay Shirky is one of those authors that I just can’t get enough of. After seeing a talk of his on TED a few years ago I got his first book, Here Comes Everybody, and loved it. When I found out he had another book out, I immediately ordered it on Amazon.

Here Comes Everybody was largely a How book, exploring how people were using new forms of communication to accomplish things we never thought possible before. Cognitive Surplus is a Why book. Why, exactly, do we have Wikipedia? Why do we have Kiva? Why do we have Linux?

His proposition is because of we’ve got a cognitive surplus, which we’ve finally come to realize due to the new connectedness of the internet. The 20th century brought about a substantial amount of leisure time in the western world, but we were still very isolated. If you had a hobby, like model trains, odds were that very few people around you shared in that hobby, so you while you enjoyed it your basement or garage, it was something you often didn’t have kindred spirits to share with. Lacking this kind of reinforcement for hobbies, we filled that time with things that did give us a shared experience: Television.

The internet let us find kindred spirits and help us unlock our desire to create by finding new communities that don’t need to be within driving distance.

The book is a great romp through a set of stories about why certain communities have formed, and with bits of advice in energizing your own community. I highly recommend it to just about anyone, though I’d suggest reading Here Comes Everybody first if you haven’t yet.

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