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Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age [Hardcover]

Clay Shirky
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)

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Book Description

1 July 2010

For decades, technology encouraged us to squander our time and as passive consumers. Today, tech has finally caught up with human potential. In Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky examines the changes we will all enjoy as our untapped resources of talent and good will are put to use at last.

Since the postwar boom, we've had a surfeit of intellect, energy, and time - a "cognitive surplus." Shirky argues persuasively that this cognitive surplus - rather than being some strange new departure from normal behavior - actually returns our society to forms of collaboration that were natural to us up to and through the early 20th Century. He also charts the vast effects that our cognitive surplus - aided by new technologies - will have on 21st Century society, and how we can best exploit those effects, and how the choices we make are not only economically motivated but driven by the desire for autonomy, competence, and community.

Product details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Allen Lane (1 July 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1846142172
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846142178
  • Product Dimensions: 2.6 x 14.4 x 22.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 283,081 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


Shirky is an original thinker, a compelling stylist ... a sage with a remarkable record of accuracy. Cognitive Surplus is a manifesto for what's next - or what ought to be (Independent )

Lucid and assured ... the most amazing fact about Shirky's incisive manual for building a better world is this: it's just possible that everything he promises may be true (Guardian )

Shirky is the best chronicler we have of the unfolding cultural revolution brought on by the web (New Statesman )

About the Author

Clay Shirky teaches at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at NYU, where he researches the interrelated effects of our social and technological networks. He has consulted with a variety ofgroups working on network design, including Nokia, the BBC, Newscorp,Microsoft, BP, Global Business Network, the Library of Congress, the US Navy, the Libyan government, and Lego. His writings have appearedin the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Times of London, Harvard Business Review, Business 2.0, and Wired.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
By Taylor
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Shirky's theme is that many of the social and even private behaviours which we take for granted as 'human nature' are in fact adaptations to information restrictions or costs. And those restrictions are now gone! His conclusion is that we now have the opportunity to restructure our society, our conception of the state, and actually, our conception of our own potentialities. A rare argument for rational optimism, and a call to action. Bravo!
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good, but could have been shorter 28 Aug 2010
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Was good, but got repetative after about 150 pages - could have stopped there and still learned as much. Worth a read otherwise tho.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Expert analysis of how things are developing 25 Nov 2010
I read Here Comes Everybody, read the Amazon crits and looked forward to Cognitive Surplus which I've just read. This is a review and comment on this second book.
Here Comes Everybody was a bit heavy going, but set up the fact that Prof S has an understanding of how our society is changing, particularly the way in which the internet has enabled Wikipedia footsoldiers (shorthand for the reasonably educated silent majority) to make a more useful contribution to society than merely editing our international free encyclopaedia.

That is what they are doing and that, I believe, is the essential message of Cognitive Surplus: we have brainpower to spare and we want to make our world a better place. Clay Shirky describes in great detail what is happening out there. There are some wonderful (my choice of adjective) developments as vested interests, record companies, cabals, software and hardware moguls, restrictive groups (include any authoritarian church you care to mention) and monopolies are forced to bow to the will of the Majority, the people who throughout history have had to accept the will of the various oligarchies that control them.

Things are still like that, but in Shirky's neck of the woods and mine, the winds of change are running fast. I'd love to tell you about how in Britain right now (November 2010) TV audiences have discovered they have the power to disrupt the voting systems that are supposed to deliver safe and satisfying public participation TV programmes. This is really grist to Clay Shirky's mill and maybe he'll tell us what this is all about in his next book. Keep writing, sir.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Overwhelming but worth it! 15 May 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I decided to read this book as it was recommended by a fellow web professional as a must read for people in our field. He was right on as there are so many books available on the subject, it can get confusing.

It's not a how to guide to social media - more of a philosophy about the digital age. I gained loads of insights and so will you, hence me writing this review so that I am social networking the good word!

It also made me stop and think about my 'free time' and how I choose to use it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A surplus of brilliant insight 27 Mar 2012
Like the equally excellent "Here Comes Everybody" (HCE) by the same author, this is about social media. In HCE he concentrated on how social media is empowering people in ways that are both challenging to corporate and government power, and liberating the forward thinking companies who are ready and able to embrace this.

Cognitive Surplus picks up from where HCE left off, and discusses how we can use the power to "do good" that has been released due to have more leisure time in modern culture. Just like social media has empowered people to challenge centralised authority (HCE) so it has freed us to be more effective in our altruism. The sub title says it all "creativity and generosity in a connected age".

The book surveys the enabling factors (means, motive and opportunity), showing how social media powerfully adds in each of these areas, and also looks at culture, community and individualism (and the tensions therein). Finally Shirky deals with how this has come to pervade modern life and culture and how it's changing us.

Perhaps one omission is that he doesn't deal very much with the negative side - social media can be an equally pwerful tool in the hands of those less altruistic: cyber-bullying, paedophilia, etc., being at the darker end of the spectrum.

As ever Shirky is always readable, well researched and challenging. This is a "must read" for anyone interested in social media.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Making the big picture easy to understand 18 Jan 2011
Clay Shirky has a unique ability to write with a highly entertaining pen about a rather complex matter. Namely that massive change of how we use and produce media. His anecdotes are surprising but important. His knowledge wast (spanning hundreds of years).
This is one book that will help you get closer to an understanding of the massive changes that are happening right now. Yes technology opened the door, but it is our passive brains that has been put in "activate" mode that is the true massive change.
If possible, I think it was even better than his previous, Here Comes Everybody.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Common knowledge wrapped in a lot of examples 16 July 2010
From the beginning this book presents everyday knowledge about old and new media. And to present in a "fresh" way C. Shirky spices it up with a LOT of real life examples like we know it from "The Tipping Point" etc. but this time more boring than ever. I was enjoying his last book, but don't expect any individual new thoughts in this book. It smells of money and I guess that's why it was printed.
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