My assigned text was Cognitive Surplus, How Technology Makes Consumers into Collaborators by Clay Shirky. Below is a summary of the text, key points of each chapter, questions to consider/discuss, and my reflection. Enjoy!
Clay Shirky educates the reader about cognitive surplus, an excess of knowledge that consumers now choose to freely share with others. The reader gets a brief lesson on the effects of the Industrialization period and how past inventions have had a significant impact on society. Then we are introduced to several modern day accounts of collaboration that have had a major impact on how we live. More importantly, we see how technology has changed the lives of individuals from being content with isolation, to freely working in groups for no financial gain, but for the good of the product. This takes place because of intrinsic motivation. Shirky gives several examples of how small units of individuals have initialized change in social arenas. For example, the explosion of Facebook and Wikipedia; in politics, we have the “candle light girls” of South Korea and the establishment of the website Dong Bang Shin Ki; and in education we have members of the “Invisible College”, a collaborative group of scientists formed in Britain. Throughout the text, Shirky emphasizes the fact that surplus creates the opportunity for individuals to create opportunities for others, hence, a world of collaborators.
KEY POINTS OF TEXT
Gin, Television, and Cognitive Surplus
- Industrialization created enormous increases in population, which led to new ways of living and working, as well as a rise in unhealthy living conditions.
- Gin was a reaction to this problem (anesthetizing oneself from the change in urban life), similar to how excessive television watching was a reaction to a problem (too much free time and reduction in social capital)
- A major shift has occurred, particularly in young people, from watching excessive amounts of television, to becoming users of fast interactive media, i.e., videos, games, Facebook, etc. Individuals are choosing to work collaboratively instead of individually.
- Shirky contends that we want to be connected to one another and that is why social media is widely used.
- Surplus exists because people find time for what they are interested in. Also, if individuals are given the opportunity to participate, they will do so, i.e., we are living in a participatory culture.
Questions: Shirky points out examples of cause and effect that have shaped our society. What problem might the high volume of internet activity (Facebook, Twitter, Wikipedia) be the result of? How might the excessive use of the internet have negative implications five years from now?
- A young group of girls in Korea start a website entitled, “Dong Bang Shin Ki” (DBSK), with the idea of having a platform to voice their anti-sentiments regarding President Lee Myung-bak’s decision about the Mad Cow scandal. The site resulted in the numbers of protestors growing from a few hundred to thousands who voiced their protests in a collaborative manner.
- “Our social media tools aren’t an alternative to real life, they are part of it.”
- Pick-up Pal and the idea of cognitive surplus – Pick-up Pal is a carpooling site designed to help reduce commuter problems. Commuters are able to communicate with others with the intention of coordinating travel. They are provided with enough information to make an informed decision.
- John Gutenberg creates movable parts for the printing press. The amount of printed text soared as did the risk involved in producing mass amounts of text. This led to “Gutenberg Economics” – the need to have a staff to manage the production of one’s product.
- “Media is the connective tissue of society?
Question: What incentives can we provide to motivate the reluctant individual (couch potato) to participate in the 21st Centuries increased social mediums?
- Josh Groban, a classically trained American baritone, has a following called the Grobanites (2002) They set up a charitable corporation in his name (JoshGrobanites.com) where individuals can donate money that is solely used to help the less fortunate.
- Individuals forming the Grobanites are not on salary; they give freely of their time to support their cause, i.e., Josh Groban. They do it because of their love for him. (intrinsic motivation)
- Edward Deci defines two types of intrinsic motivation that can be referred to as personal. One is the desire to be autonomous, and the other is the desire to be competent.
- “Amateurs are sometimes separated from professionals by skill, but always by motivation…”
Question/Discussion Point – Intrinsic motivation is the key to academic success for our students. How do we motivate the reluctant student, or the reluctant individual, to participate in a cause we are passionate about?
- In order for our surplus time to be useful, we need the right opportunities.
- Example – Elderly people were perceived as not interested or unable to use technology, but once given the opportunity to communicate more effectively with friends and family, they began to use it.
- The idea of “surprise” is addressed. If we try to determine why people began uploading videos, or editing Wikipedia pages, we will realize it was not for expected compensation, but because they were intrinsically motivated to do so.
- “Our ability to simultaneously pursue our own goals while being mindful and supportive of other people’s goals is fundamental to human life…”
- Various forms of communication now rely on “open sharing”, and as such, participation levels have grown exponentially, e.g., Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter.
- Apache is the world’s most widely used webserver started by a small group of programmers and Brian Behlendorf. Its code has been modified, shared, and improved over the years for free (on a global level).
Question: Now that many modes of communication rely on open sharing by participants, what type of economic impact might this have on the technology industry?
- If a negative consequence is imposed because of a negative behavior, the assumption is that behavior will decrease. In the example of the parent arriving late to pick up their child from daycare and paying a fine, the percentage of late arrivals actually increased.
- Parents saw daycare providers as “participants in a market transaction”. Because of this, they didn’t feel bad if they were late because the care givers were being compensated.
- Culture is not based on individual behaviors, but on a group of accepted norms and behaviors within a group.
- Invisible College vs. Alchemists – With the invisible college, participants: worked together, shared results and assumptions, as well as methods. This is why they were successful. The alchemists kept their information to themselves.
- Sharing knowledge and information is powerful, but it is contingent upon: “the size of the community, the cost of sharing the knowledge, the clarity of what gets shared, and the cultural norms of the recipients.”
Questions: As a participant in social media, how do we enforce limits of its use by others? For example, Wikipedia has a board/panel that monitor updates in order to ensure that nothing extreme is posted. Who should monitor and how do we monitor participants on Facebook, for example, to ensure we don’t get invited to some extra special sites? (porn, etc.)
Personal, Communal, Public, Civic
- “Humans are fundamentally individual, but we are also fundamentally social.” The social aspect translates into individuals being involved with groups and having opportunities to be effective. Groups have the challenge of meeting the needs of the group, while simultaneously meeting the need of the individual.
- Communal resources – e.g., CouchSurfing, com, and the Association of Pub-going, Loose and Forward Women.
- Communal sharing – takes place inside of a collaborative group; public sharing – when a group of collaborators creates a public resource, and civic sharing – when a group actively tries to change society.
Question: Shirky stated that the biggest problem with group action comes from within the group and therefore, groups need to be monitored so that we can defend ourselves from ourselves. Will the idea of policing ourselves ever come to a halt? Is this the end to privacy?
Looking for the Mouse
- Free time can turn into cognitive surplus when we have opportunities to share and when intrinsic motivation is present.
- When means, motive, and opportunity are present, we have the ability to create opportunities for others.
- As changes in technology and evolution occur, it is difficult to foresee its long term effects on society (e.g., printed indulgences).
- PLATO – This was the earliest platform designed for individuals to have conversations via text.
- From PLATO to Facebook, two things remain the same: users always perform in a way not exactly intended, and observers/participants want to be part of a successful community.
- “Behavior is motivation that has been filtered through opportunity.”
- For cognitive surplus to be positive, we have to learn from mistakes, adapt to changes, and learn again.
Questions: How much information revealed is too much information? We have already seen cases where individuals have lost their jobs because of others ability to view their life on line. Will this negative backlash continue in light of the fact that Facebook and other sites will most likely continue to grow?
We live in a time when collaboration is saturating the field of technology. It is changing the way individuals interact among family, peers, and colleagues because we are using our free time to collaborate with others on like interests. Shirky references Yochai Benkler who calls this “commons-based peer production”. What’s more interesting is that most of this collaboration is being done without any compensation. We do it for the pleasure it brings to us and for the satisfaction of helping others. Shirky states that this change in behavior comes from our awareness of surplus and having opportunities to help others. What does this mean for the future? Will the look of America forever be changed where there is no need for a CEO, President, Vice President, a firmly structured hierarchy? The impact of our media environment, i.e., our “connective tissue”, makes me think that the traditional structure will not be fully eliminated; however, the need will be minimal because of our growing culture of collaboration.