Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Cognitive surplus

This months WIRED magazine has a short but enlightening discussion between Daniel Pink (WIRED contributing editor and author of “Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us”) and Clay Shirky (author of the upcoming book “Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a connected Age”). They discuss the concept of “Cognitive Surplus” that occurs when people stop being passive media consumer and start creating things that benefit the community and/or their personal lives. Both believe that the ever rising TV consumption hinders people on expressing themselves in any kind of creative form that would beneficial for their communities and themselves. While their arguments and thinking is not necessarily new, their framing of the opportunity is fascinating.

Shirky builds the connection between the positively used free time (when people stop watching as much TV) as a vast reservoir of life changing power and people’s intrinsic motivation of creating things. He claims that most people are not motivated by external factors (e.g. money) but by internal factors that drive their own personal satisfaction. People like putting puzzles together in their free time but if you start paying them, they quickly loose interest.

The cognitive surplus exists if one connects the creatively usable free time of lots of people and put them to use for either something valuable or just enjoyable. Pink and Shirky like to use Wikipedia or Linux as one of the best examples that used cognitive surplus in a positive manner. All of Wikipedia’s work represents over 100 million hours of human labor which seems at first glance a lot but not if you consider that someone born in 1960 will have watched already 50,000 hours of TV alone.

I am not as optimistic as Pink and Shirky in regards to a perceived trends of people moving from passively absorbing to actively engaging but the opportunities to not just create more cognitive surplus but using it, too, is a demanding and challenging one. Every for profit organization has latent “cognitive surplus” that could be utilized, not only for the company’s benefit but for the employees benefit, too. Successful companies in the future will rely strongly on allowing for “cognitive surplus” by providing space and connecting people’s individual “cognitive surplus”. This is not a zero sum game, it’s a one plus game.

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Blogger 天媛 said...

Interesting read. the way to turn the trashy way of spending time into cognitive surplus is kinda simple: find fun in what you are doing. As I grow older, I hear people use "boring" and "bored" more often, if not too often. That is why many turn to TV--a distraction of boredom, though not a remedy to it.

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Anonymous Buford Merkinski said...

Both the blogger and the poster need English lessons.
And both could use a lesson in humility as well.

The comment poster refers to him or herself pretentiously with Chinese characters meaning "Yuan Days," trumpeting no doubt the manufacturing prowess of the Chinese built on the backs of feudal labor. This is supposed to give him (or her) some sort of international cache with which to pontificate.

And the blogger, of course, BLOVIATES (sorry, my caps lock suddenly got stuck) endlessly (and ungrammatically) about how bad TV is and how people like to work for free. “Cognitive surplus”?
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