Clay Shirky at the LSE

Cognitive SurplusI had an enjoyable couple of hours yesterday evening at the LSE, attending Clay Shirky‘s lecture on cognitive surplus, which was launching his book of the same name.

It was an enjoyable hour, and a real pleasure to hear stories and arguments for the use of social technology for social good.

I must admit, however, that having read Shirky’s previous book, Here Comes Everybody, and watched other lectures of his online, that perhaps his thinking hasn’t really developed that far. Cognitive Surplus seems to be a continuation of the themes examined in Here Comes Everybody rather than anything radically new.

Having said that, I haven’t read the book, but will report back when I have (it isn’t available on Kindle in the UK yet for some reason, which is annoying).

Here are the notes I took during the talk, which may or may not be useful.

  • Time we have available (free time) which is growing
  • Platform for making use of that time effectively (Internet)
  • Use of the network: consume, produce, share
  • Wikipedia = 100 million hours of time in 10ish years
  • Tv = 200 billion hours watched every year in US
  • The time spent watching adverts in the US over one weekend is roughly equivalent to one wikipedia
  • Very small numbers of change can have huge effects
  • Ushahidi – Kenyan tracks updates from various media. Been open sourced and used around the world.
  • Generosity + digital tech
  • Successful digital projects are those that appeal to our human instincts
  • Transition from alchemy to chemistry – same tech but different approach/culture. Supported by printing press and the new scientific journals.
  • Patientslikeme – huge documentation project of sufferers. Large amounts of aggregate data: shared value. Commercial project. “digital sharecropping”. Why do people contribute for free? They like it!
  • Social pressure often more effective than contractual (example of picking kids up from school on time) once broken also not self healing.
  • Openness and sharing is a good thing. Patientslikeme want to effect a culture change in the medical profession. Therefore tech is secondary to the project. Makes it possible but the objective is cultural.
  • Levels o participation and collaboration: lolcats are communal. Wikipedia has public value. Patientslikeme creates civic value. Gets more difficult and complicated as you go along. Also the civic is the most important.
  • Role of government – to help to create the space for social capital and cognitive surplus to emerge. Digital divide: participation rates much higher in better educated households
  • Things to think about: scarcity, loose joins, cheapness of distributing information, Internet routes itself around faults

7 thoughts on “Clay Shirky at the LSE”

  1. Thanks for these notes Dave. Especially like the thought behind the penultimate one – both angles – govt needing to help make the space, but also support those who dont have access. And recognise that the 2 are not mutually exclusive, eg those who are technology fans are often very willing to help those who aren’t, but its the practical infrastructure for matching people up that isn’t in place. Neil and I would love to volunteer somewhere, but haven’t found an opportunity yet.

  2. Thanks Dave, I went to the LSE event too and agree with you that the examples he gave were new but his thinking hadn’t moved on. Maybe there’s more people “doing” rather than just “talking” about what he recommended in Here Comes Everybody, so that maybe the proof of the pudding.

    I recognised the study on how introducing fines to parents arriving late to pick up their kids doesn’t actually mean they’ll be any more likely to turn up on their time. In fact, it almost “lets them off the hook” that they don’t have to show any respect or responsibility towards the childcare centre as they’ve paid them off.

    Wonder how this research plays out in local government, where financial constraints (taking people off benefits) or even incentives (council tax debates) are flavour of the day? If, as the evidence shows, it’s social rather than financial constraints that are more effective, is there a role for digital technology?

  3. Thanks for a useful post. I’m a big Clay Shirky fan and recently watched a TED talk of his where he spoke about Ushahidi. I’d already heard about it but found his insight and description of it fascinating.
    I haven’t read Cognitive Surplus either but I definitely will. His thoughts on social pressure are interesting, and as someone who runs a social media agency, I can see this shift in change firsthand. People are just becoming more and more important and the power of online communities is immense.

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