Clay Shirky – Cognitive Surplus

Clay Shirky has just published his new book Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in the Connected Age and he’s been doing the rounds of interviews. It’s his follow-up to the much cited Here Comes Everybody.
The new book deals with peoples ‘free time’ which Shirky describes as ‘cognitive surplus’. TV used to soak large amounts of everyones free time. But now many people, especially the young, are turning from passive TV consumption towards active web participation. I’ve just ordered my copy from Amazon.

His book is reviewed here in The Guardian

Determining or determined? In my literature review I’ve been looking at how technology is perceived as affecting society through technological determinism, social construction of technology or social shaping. There’s also an interview with Shirky in today’s Guardian in which he remarks that there are “techno-deterministic” discussions currently occurring on the web. Both internet utopians and sceptics have reached a point of agreement. They both believe that the web has fundamentally changed human behaviour. On this issue Shirky disagrees arguing that:

“Techies were making the syllogism, if you put new technology into an existing situation, and new behaviour happens, then that technology caused the behaviour. But I’m saying if the new technology creates a new behaviour, it’s because it was allowing motivations that were previously locked out. These tools we now have allow for new behaviours – but they don’t cause them.”

Shirky frames the “determined or determining” debate firmly from the perspective of the web arguing that new technologies are enablers that unlock suppressed (new) behaviour and appears to concur with the theory of  “social shaping”.

Ted talks – Clay Shirky: How cognitive surplus will change the world

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