Category Archive 'Clay Shirky'

22 Jun 2010

Cognitive Surplus

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Clay Shirky, in a new book titled Cognitive Surplus, maintains that the post-WWII age of suburbanization was one of those eras of abrupt, dislocating social change which left Americans morose and seeking for self-medication just like 18th century Englishmen driven by economic change from the countryside to the city.

They used gin, a new, potent yet inexpensive distilled spirit, whose method of production had arrived from Holland as part of the the fashionable baggage accompanying William and Mary. Americans used television.

Shirky contends that the Internet is bringing about the end of the age of self-narcotization via sitcoms and game shows. Leisure time sucked down the television time sink, the cognitive surplus simply wasted previously, will instead be transferred to more useful and communitarian activities (like writing Wikipedia entries and blogging) and a wonderful new era of transparency, creativity, and productivity will bloom.

Hmm. I wonder if he has ever heard of World of Warcraft.

Barnes & Noble review.


Jonah Leher brings formidable Friedrich Nietzsche to television’s defense.

I would disagree. In some peculiar way, if I hadn’t watched and re-watched The Sopranos then this sentence wouldn’t exist. (And I would have missed out on many interesting, intelligent conversations…) The larger point, I guess, is that before we can produce anything meaningful, we need to consume and absorb, and think about what we’ve consumed and absorbed. That’s why Nietzsche, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, said we must become a camel (drinking up everything) before we can become a lion, and properly rebel against the strictures of society.

William Hogarth, Gin Lane, Engraving, 1751

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