Clay Shirky on Cognitive Surplus

Imagine a world where everyone hates living in cities. Cities are crowded, noisy, smelly, and dangerous. People in that world don’t like it, but they have no choice.

So they get drunk all the time, until they realize one day that living in big groups could have some advantages: museums, entertainment, art, culture… But even then, many people don’t see the benefits that could come from not drinking every once in a while, and working on art, building a museum, volunteering at a library, practicing a song to sing for audiences, and so on.

Now, imagine living in that world that came just before people realized they didn’t have to get drunk every day to handle living so close to everyone else. Imagine being one of the first people who had a chance to participate in making cities a cool, interesting place to live.

Actually, it sounds a lot like London in the early 1800s, when people drank a hard alcohol called “gin”… they drank it like crazy, actually, and it caused a panic like the modern-day Drug War in America. But if you think about it, what’s the difference between getting drunk, and watching TV sitcoms for hours and hours every week?

That’s the question Clay Shirky wants you to think about, and the answer he offers is pretty interesting.

Here’s the video you should watch. There’s also a transcript of the video here, which you can read after watching the video and before watching it a second time. It should give you a better idea what Shirky is talking about.

We’ll be discussing it on Thursday, May 29th, so make sure you don’t just understand it: make sure you can explain it, and that you have an opinion about Shirky’s ideas. Love them or hate them — you should have an opinion of your own! (Just like the people in the comment section to this video have their own opinion! In fact, I’ll even give you a couple of bonus points on your final grade for posting an interesting opinion/response to the video, if you do it before our class discussion on the 29th!)

(Note#1: Clay Shirky is giving speeches like this to promote his new book, Here Comes Everybody. It’s just another example of creative people giving things away [for free!] to promote themselves. )

(Note #2: Remember, we’ll be discussing the first three chapters of Free Culture on Tuesday, May 27th; we probably won’t have much time then, so we’ll finish up with that Thursday before discussing Shirky. I’ll join in on the discussion of Shirky’s ideas, but I’m going to mostly keep out of the Lessig discussion. It’s a good idea toprepare some notes and outline the major points in those chapters before our class!)

Comments are closed.