Book Notes: Cognitive Surplus

July 26, 2010

Apparently we’ve got a lot of time on our hands.  That’s according to Clay Shirky in his new book, Cognitive Surplus – Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age.

It goes something like this:  Things have changed since the mid-twentieth century.  The postwar trend of urban growth and rising education lead to an abundance of folks paid to think or talk rather than produce.  This postindustrial transition created an abundance of free time for us.  Clay Shirky refers to this aggregate potential of time and energy with the newfound capacity to create as the cognitive surplus.  It’s effectively the potential to do together what was never before possible.  Free time is a social asset to be harnessed for the greater good, Shirky tells us.

Cognitive Surplus starts with this basic assertion and drills down to how the availability of this resource has set us up for where we are today.  Because free time alone, of course, isn’t enough to cause the changes happening around us.  If that were the case the revolution that we’re experiencing would have occurred half a century ago.  It’s the availability of new tools and opportunity that are allowing us to leverage the cognitive surplus.  Cognitive Surplus explores our intrinsic motivations to participate and finishes with the challenge of figuring out how we might use this resource to produce real civic value.  Big picture stuff.

All of this is weaved together in a well-referenced, 200 page argument that’s relatively brief given the size of its message.  Cognitive Surplus is an easy read and I highly recommend it to anyone trying to grasp what’s happening around us.

As someone who thinks a lot about this stuff, Clay Shirky helps me understand the redefinition of media in the broader context.  And while there’s no shortage of people talking about the forces behind the social media revolution, there’s nothing of the depth and insight seen in Cognitive Surplus.

Read Cognitive Surplus.  Let me know what you think.


Christian Sinclair July 27, 2010 at 1:05 am

Your post has me thinking about this book all day. Gonna get it on the Kindle tonight and let you know soon what I think!

GARY LEVIN July 31, 2010 at 9:32 pm

There are many examples of social networking besides twitter. Many well established MDs write blogs, some quite creative, some aggregate medical news from many sources, and some are very selective.
You might bring some ‘for examples’ to the interview if the question comes up, and if you are going to mention ‘social networking’, include the term Health 2.0 which includes many worthwhile professionally developed software solutions that are web based .
At your interview your interviewer usually looks for something that sets you apart from the rest, and perhaps that is why you are concerned. Nevertheless if you have a good explanation and are firmly positive about what this has offered you, and for further development with you as a physician.. Don’t overemphasize the amount of time you spend doing it.

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