Mega FFT on cognitive surplus, gin & Gillian's island

Wow! THIS is worth the full read. Just take 10 minutes, read and ponder. Makes me 1) wish that I could weave thoughts magically and sensibly together like this 2) can't wait to read Clay Shirkey's new book, Here Comes Everybody, even more.

"I was having dinner with a group of friends about a month ago, and one of them was talking about sitting with his four-year-old daughter watching a DVD. And in the middle of the movie, apropos nothing, she jumps up off the couch and runs around behind the screen. That seems like a cute moment. Maybe she's going back there to see if Dora is really back there or whatever. But that wasn't what she was doing. She started rooting around in the cables. And her dad said, "What you doing?" And she stuck her head out from behind the screen and said, "Looking for the mouse."

Here's something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here's something four-year-olds know: Media that's targeted at you but doesn't include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. Because four year olds, the people who are soaking most deeply in the current environment, who won't have to go through the trauma that I have to go through of trying to unlearn a childhood spent watching Gilligan's Island, they just assume that media includes consuming, producing and sharing.

It's also become my motto, when people ask me what we're doing--and when I say "we" I mean the larger society trying to figure out how to deploy this cognitive surplus, but I also mean we, especially, the people in this room, the people who are working hammer and tongs at figuring out the next good idea. From now on, that's what I'm going to tell them: We're looking for the mouse. We're going to look at every place that a reader or a listener or a viewer or a user has been locked out, has been served up passive or a fixed or a canned experience, and ask ourselves, "If we carve out a little bit of the cognitive surplus and deploy it here, could we make a good thing happen?" And I'm betting the answer is yes."

PS: The snippet, albeit long, above is just the condensed version. Read the full post, Gin, Television & Social Surplus. This in itself IMHO offers enough FFT (food for thought) for a whole series of book talks.

PS: Thanks Sam for pointing me to some of the best reading I've had all week.


Anonymous said...

Watch it here!

Jason said...


Thanks for posting the Shirky article. I highly recommend his "Here Comes Everybody" It's a brilliant read.

Jason LeDuc
Urban Libraries Council

Cat Herself said...

It's the ultimate in pro-active customer service - it's all about really allowing the customer to control his/her experience as well as influencing that of others, and serving them all in a way that facilitates success.

Rock on, Helene!

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that Shirky is making the age old argument that "TV rots your brain," and dressing up his value judgment with the pseudoscientific term "cognitive surplus." Would it still be called a "surplus" if the time needed for online content creation was taken from reading, going out with friends, or exercise etc? I doubt it. Since per capita hours of TV viewing has slowly, but steadily, increased over the last ten years, it seems much more likely that the time used for content creation is taken from a variety of other activities. When you strip away the rhetoric all you're left with is "TV is Bad, content generation is Good." Now, in a lot of cases I would agree with this. Lolcats beats Gilligan's Island any day of the week. The Office? Not so much. It all boils down to value judgments.

I feel bad for the TV Producer on the receiving end of Shirky's outburst. He makes it sound as if television is something that corporations have inflicted upon an unwilling populace. How dare media companies create content that people want to consume?!! It's an outrage! He states that he “was forced into the channel of media the way it was because it was the only option.” This is a false dilemma—TV or nothing. Was he shackled to his armchair, and unable to avoid the umpteenth re-run of Gilligan's Island? Or could he have chosen to simply turn it off, and reclaim his “cognitive surplus” by engaging in some other activity?

I’m sure we’ve all seen the occasional newspaper editorial bemoaning the shelf space given to popular bestsellers at the (alleged) expense of classics. The bestsellers are destroying our minds and culture, while the classics enrich our lives etc, etc. As librarians we point out, and rightly so, that this argument is elitist. Who are we to judge a person’s reading habits? Shirky is essentially making the same elitist argument.