Shirky’s surplus

Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky

The Internet has brought about a sea change in the way societies organize and operate. Few scholars anticipated the trend sooner, or articulated it with greater force and optimism, than Clay Shirky. In his 2008 book, Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing without Organizations, Shirky described how new social structures were being created spontaneously as a result of the Web’s astounding ability to enable people to coordinate—instantly and across distances—not only with other individuals, but with the masses. Shirky’s new book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, develops his ideas further. He sees a revolution in the way people are beginning to pool their free time. “Cognitive Surplus,” he says, “is essentially answering the question, What is Wikipedia made of? What is Linux made of? What is YouTube made of? It is made of the coordinated contributions of the world’s connected citizenry.”(
open culture)

With the help of IBM researcher Martin Wattenberg, Shirky calculates that the cumulative effort invested in Wikipedia since its inception—“every edit made to every article, and every argument to those edits, for every language that Wikipedia exists in”—totals about 100 million hours of intellectual labor. Compare that to the 200 billion hours Americans spend every year watching television, writes Shirky. That’s about 2,000 Wikipedias’ worth of time expended every year, in one country.


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