Chapter One Review



The first chapter proved to be an excellent read and I strongly agree with the points that Clay Shirky presents in his book “Cognitive Surplus”.   What are we supposed to do with our cognitive surplus?  Are idle hands the devils playground?  Which is the cause and which is the effect in regards to our surplus of free time?

As Shirky discussed, citizens had a difficult time in early industrialized England.  For the first time in recorded history masses of people were coming together and congregating in cities with too much free time on their hands.  The solution to the problem back then was drinking lots of gin to numb themselves to the boredom and stresses associated with the new society.

The post-war America experienced a similar situation as seen in England and television became the “gin” for Americans.  Specifically, sitcoms were consuming the bulk of our free-time and we saw it as our job or duty to faithfully watch these programs.  According the Shirky, our average day was consumed in the order of work, sleep, and watching TV.  TV has replaced our normal requirement for socialization and we saw the actors in the sitcoms as our friends. In fact, wasn’t that the name of a very popular sitcom, Friends?  Maybe some type of hidden meaning in the title.  I agree that TV is not the problem, it’s how were using it too much in very large doses and this has ultimately made us unhappy compared to people who watch less TV.

The free-time we have is a global resource.  It needs to be harnessed and used more productively and luckily the trend seems to be that we are watching less TV.  TV only allows consumption and does not allow for producing and sharing.  So what are we doing with the time we used to spend on TV?  We are now wasting it on the internet and other similar digital media.  According to Shirky, this new form of time wasting is not so bad since we can produce and share.  I somewhat disagree with this point because I feel most of our free time is just wasted on things that don’t produce a tangible product. 

I am not a TV watcher and personally feel it is a major waste of time, as are most of the things on the internet.  Sure there are some good sites out there and having the information at your finger tips is very convenient.  Take for example the site, this was an excellent use of the internet and resulted in a lot of positive information that may have saved lives and prevented tragedy regarding ethnic violence in Kenya.  But this is only one good example among thousands that are a complete and utter waste of time.  LOLCATS is one of the poorer examples discussed in the reading and I agree 100%.  This site is dedicated to adding text to cute pictures of cats in an attempt to elicit a positive, “laugh out loud” response from its viewers.  I think this type if site is a complete waste of the cognitive surplus.  Is LOLCATS better than traditional TV?  I don’t think it is.  Sure we can interact to some degree by placing comments, producing, or sharing, but it is mostly the result of amateurs who are doing amateur work.

I agree with the idea that more is different.  The characteristics of a large crowd or populated area are much different than in more rural areas.  The idea of more is different is mostly based on the chances of probability.  The bigger the target, the better of a chance you have of hitting it.  Shirky’s analogy of the pizza by the slice clearly portrays that the larger an audience, the greater the chance the service or product you offer will have a customer.  If the internet was restricted to use by only the rich and elite, it would have never become the sensation it is today.  More is different really translates into a target rich environment results in more likelihood of a hit or connection

I don’t participate in any sites outside of the context of the requirements of this class.  I use the computer for work, research, and procuring items I can’t find locally.  I chose to spend my cognitive surplus hunting, fishing, attending school, and on projects.  I love projects and this consumes the bulk of my surplus time.  Maybe I’m old school, but if I don’t see a result from my actions, then I feel like I have accomplished little.  Projects consist of house remodeling, keeping up on rental units, maintaining a boat, and anything else that requires physical labor.  Give me some tools and a task, and I’m content. 

I strongly believe that idle hands are the devil’s playground.  I’m not very religious, but I do believe in the protestant work ethic.  Hard work will result in a positive result and it does pay in the end to work diligently.  Humans are not meant to be passive consumers.  We need to be busy and TV and the internet are only easy ways to absorb our cognitive surplus.  Getting ahead of the crowd entails rolling up one’s sleeves and getting dirty.  I believe as a society we have lost this drive.  Only time will divulge the consequences of our post-war complacency.  

A few outstanding quotes from Clay Shirky in chapter 1:

“What’s hard to explain is how, in the space of a generation, watching television became a part-time job for every citizen in the developed world.”

“Americans watch roughly two hundred billion hours of TV every year. That represents about two thousand Wikipedias’ projects’ worth of free time annually.”

“But the use of a social technology is much less determined by the tool itself; when we use a network, the most important asset we get is access to one another.”    

Sites of additional information supporting TV’s downside:

Video link of Clay Shirky discussing Cognitive Surplus:

References: Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky, Chapter# 1.


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