Gin And The Cognitive Surplus

April 28th, 2008 | researchmaterial

The best fifteen minutes from Clay Shirky I’ve yet seen:


24 Responses to “Gin And The Cognitive Surplus”

  1. Yes, he is so right.

  2. Yes, but he’s describing something that affects, and will always only affect, a minority.

  3. I’m not so sure about that minority thing, Allen. You can go to places like Ghana and find cellphones and such EVERYWHERE. While dissemination may take a while, there’s very little needed to be able contribute like Clay’s suggesting. Besides, this industrial capitalist thing we’ve currently got is unsustainable. I’m betting we’ll see a more even distribution of wealth in the next few centuries. If we don’t kill each other before then.

  4. That was great! The phrase “cognitive surplus” so perfectly describes some vague concepts in my mind–nice to finally have a name for it!

    Seth, I agree, and I so hope you’re right about the even distribution of wealth bit. I’m not convinced, but I’m maintaining hope…

  5. It strikes me as somewhat ironic that I’m watching this in a largely non-interactive format. A good piece of thought, however. I’ve been watching the TED conference videos lately and it’s struck me that they need an interactive sidebar, such that when someone mentions a website or a name that you can immediately cross-reference without having to note it down for later, or stop in the middle of watching the clip to locate your browser window or whatever. It’s still consumption, but it’s more active than just sitting there and letting it wash over you.

  6. @Waider – sounds like someone needs to set up a wiki :)

  7. Isn’t that the point of it though? We’re watching this video from different parts of the world and afterwards we can come here or to a forum or whatever and discuss and argue the points that he has to make. Which, I must say, are brilliant and certainly put into perspective a lot of free floating ideas I’ve had over the years. One thing I’ve definitely gotta say about this guy though is that he sounds and looks a lot like Tom Hanks. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

  8. […] From Warren Ellis, a temendously interesting talk on ‘Web 2.0′, time and social development: […]

  9. […] course, and how they fit into this general idea of a “cognitive surplus”).  It’s a video of Clay Shirky, recent author of Here Comes Everybody, found (obviously) on Warren Ellis’ website (you may […]

  10. Well, at this point I think the interactivity is embedding the video elsewhere for sharing and discussion. (which I’ve done)

    “Media that ships without a mouse is broken…” I like that.

    Re: Minority connected to the web – that is changing and quicker than we think with foundations like One Laptop Per Child and so forth.

  11. Here Comes Everybody…

    As someone who works in a career sitting at the crossroads of Television and the Internet, Clay Shirky’s talk and essay elicit both nods and hand-wringing from me.
    Nodding because a lot of my personal “free time” is spent blogging, pl…

  12. […] Excellent and entertaining presentation from Clay Shirky. […]

  13. […] Undoubtedly, most of you who read my blog have already seen the links to Clay Shirky’s “Gin, Television, and Social Surplus” and here’s the video link. […]

  14. @Waider: Yes, the fact you were able to comment here and raise that point makes it that much better, more active than TV could ever be.

    Not that you couldn’t interact with TV. You’d just have to write a letter to the station, etc. and likely never get a response. Here, everyone who just watched this on this page can scroll down and see your contribution.

    It’s a remarkable way to look at. Makes me want to be even more careful with my commenting.

  15. “It strikes me as somewhat ironic that I’m watching this in a largely non-interactive format.”

    3rd leg of the stool. Production, Sharing, Consumption.

    Without the latter, the first two wouldn’t have anywhere to go.

    As to the relatively interactive/noninteractive nature of it – well, you’re looking at it in a browser. The accompanying dymanic reference, if you’re using the same browser I am, is in the top right corner with a wee blue G next to it.

  16. […] Making Sense of the Web 2.0 Revolution Talk by Clay Shirky: http://www.warrenellis.com/?p=5885 […]

  17. […] anymore. I’m quitting because there is no reason for Facebook to exist, because you suck up a cognitive surplus worse than all the sitcoms and soap operas on […]

  18. […] via Warren […]

  19. […] You can see Clay deliver it here. […]

  20. @Waider Check the twitter back channels for the interaction during the presentation. Personally, I focused on his presentation because I found an expression of some ideas I have been groping around in the dark.

  21. […] http://www.warrenellis.com/?p=5885 […]

  22. From Clay’s references, I’d say he and I are about the same age (40). He seems to forget that people have had free time for a lot longer than just post-WW II. (TV hit the masses in the 50’s–it was a novelty before then.) They had more free time in the 50’s, but not significantly more than the 40’s, 30’s, or 20’s. So how did people fill their free time before TV? They listened to radio shows, went to bars, movies, dance clubs, and other social events. Those board games Clay and I grew up on were preceded by parlor games, card games, dice games, etc. There were/are sporting events, carnivals, gambling,… The list of recreational pursuits is probably endless.

    He contrasts Wikipedia with television by saying Wiki is interactive, and participatory, whereas TV is passive. You can make TV interactive–ever watch Mystery Science Theater 3000? Ever seen a viewing of the Rocky Horror Picture Show? Ever heard of drinking games based on catch phrases? (e.g., when Mr. X says Y, take a swig). Yes, TV is normally passive, and it’s not the only passive thing we do–we watch movies, plays, musicals, or operas, we read books, magazines, or newspapers. (Watching sports can be a passive/active thing, depending on the sport–compare tennis or golf to football or soccer.)

    I would say that Wikipedia is a HOBBY of the creative type, like model building, R/C, or hotrod-ding. It’s the result of a million volunteers writing a report on their favorite subject, but writing at college level, to college-level requirements–“make sure your report is properly referenced and cited, and no plagiarism”. Over 100 million people have graduated from college since the end of WW II, and a small fraction of them liked writing reports, so it’s not surprising that Wikipedia can amass millions of articles.

    As social animals, a participatory and interactive Internet does appeal to us more than vanilla television, but there will always be people who like watching television, because people like listening to stories. Stories have been around as long as campfires, so television will not die. (It may contract, but it won’t die.) True, TV has distilled most of the social aspect out of storytelling (and story listening), so its loss of viewership is not surprising.

    However, people are spread across a passive/active spectrum, so some are more interested in participating and interacting than they are in listening and watching, but others are more comfortable with the solitude that reading or watching TV provides. What I’m talking about is the introvert/extrovert dichotomy, which is one of the most clearly defined axes of personality. With his concentration on social interaction, he is ignoring the introverts in society–probably because introverts tend to be quiet. If he can figure out how introverts fit into his revolution, then I will believe it more. Exclusive revolutions aren’t as successful as inclusive ones.

  23. Wow. That was longer than I expected. I hope I didn’t bloviate. If I could have said it pithily, it would have been something along the lines of “the world isn’t as simple as you think”. Clay has definitely identified some good ideas, but they’re just a few threads in the tapestry of Thoughtspace, and they may not be as critical as he thinks they are. Every time I think I’ve latched onto some linchpin in society, I learn that things are a lot more complicated. If societies were simple, they’d teach Social Engineering in college.

  24. […] Clay Shirky @ Web2.0 – Gin And The Cognitive Surplus […]