23 May 2008

Link of the day: Gin and the cognitive surplus

I got this link from a high school friend. It's a video of a talk by Clay Shirky about cognitive surplus.

Shirky gives two examples of cognitive surplus. Right before the Industrial Revolution, people were in shock because the transformation from rural to urban life was so sudden. So they passed the time by drinking large quantities of gin. The second example is post-World War II American society. People only had to work five days a week so they had to do something with their time. They spent it watching sitcoms like "I Love Lucy." So cognitive surplus is the freed time we have from technological advances. Note this is different than just being rich and hiring people to clean and cook for you. This is free time on a society level.

Shirky claims that we are now at the beginning of an age where people have realized there are more options than just watching TV. That was the era of consumption and that is the model that current media companies have. Now we can also produce and share via the Web 2.0 model. We can share links via del.icio.us, share photos via Flickr, blog, etc.

I think there's a great deal of truth to Shirky's idea of "cognitive surplus." It's true that people have been playing sports together, gathering for farm competitions to show off animals and vegetables, etc for years. But the advent of the web makes these things much easier. If you like theater but don't live near a major city, you aren't completely hamstrung anymore. You don't have to move to New York. You can watch illegal clips of theater on Youtube and participate in forums like musicals.net.

I've been moving my life into Web 2.0 in the past few years. Two of my Flickr photos were selected for the Schmap guides. I make my del.icio.us, Flickr, and LibraryThing accounts public. I blog. I actively contribute to forums like musicals.net and ModSquadHockey. There are a lot of really smart people out there and they are much easier to find on the web. I've learned a lot about how to watch a play and how to select the right hockey equipment from these forums.

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