Book Review – Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus

Clay Shirky has a new book out called “Cognitive Surplus” in which he examines how the internet is changing us as a society from consumers and how we are using our newly found surplus of time, energy, and brain power to create, share, and connect with each other.

… Although so much of what kids are doing online may look trivial and frivolous, what they are doing is building the capacity to connect, to communicate, and ultimately to mobilize …

Clay Shirkey

 In the spirit of full disclosure, I want to say that I was given a complimentary review copy of the book, but this in no way influenced my opinion of the book. I’ve been a fan of Clay Shirky’s work for quite some time. I’ve also read his book Here Comes Everybody and enjoyed the keynote he gave at SES San Jose in 2009. The main thrust of the book with how we as a society are moving away from being a group of sedentary consumers content to consume TV, movies, videos, and print media to a more active society that not only consumes but also shares and produces content.

In the past only large businesses and corporations could afford to produce and distribute video and print content. Thanks to the Internet, sites like YouTube, and blogs, anyone can be a producer. Thanks to the rise of social media ,we have the ability to connect with other like-minded individuals and share these creations. Many people–and not just established media providers–wonder where people find the time to engage in these new activities.  As the book discusses, once people understand how to tap these resources in a motivating way, and they give up being sedentary consumers, people discover they have a wealth of time and choose to use it in a way that enriches and makes their lives more satisfying, often without the goal of making a profit.

Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky

If you work for an old world media company like TV or print, are an electronic publisher or creator, or are involved in any aspect of social media, I recommend reading this book. It offers insight and things to think about, plan for, and use to succeed in a world where more people are creating and competing for attention. With the rise in the amount of published material, especially from amateurs and prosumers, it’s important to understand that more people are producing and sharing than ever before. Make no mistake–there is a lot more competition for eyeballs, and it’s only going to increase.

While the book has a lot of theory and explanations for how and why things are happening, it concludes with some advice about how to put this into action for yourself.  The understanding it provides will benefit everyone living in the digital world we are now creating.

photo credit: Joi

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