Clay Shirky has just become a bit of a UK Blog Buzz after an article about him was published in the Guardian last Monday, one in the usual round of interviews when an author's latest book is published. He has been using the phrase 'Cognitive Surplus' for a while in his talks including drawing the analogy to the recovery from drowning sorrows in gin when trying to cope with the trauma of transformation from rural to urban life early in the last century.
In a 2008 talk he makes this point:
If I had to pick the critical technology for the 20th century, the bit of social lubricant without which the wheels would've come off the whole enterprise, I'd say it was the sitcom. Starting with the Second World War a whole series of things happened--rising GDP per capita, rising educational attainment, rising life expectancy and, critically, a rising number of people who were working five-day work weeks. For the first time, society forced onto an enormous number of its citizens the requirement to manage something they had never had to manage before - free time.We have a positive way of making a difference, by not wasting more of the precious resource of time. It is clear how this applies to charities as well as businesses and particularly to the church. It is interesting to see that Mr Shirky is not so active online himself and along with David Keen's 'final' blog entry today issues a further challenge to be considered...
And what did we do with that free time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV.
And it's only now, as we're waking up from that collective bender, that we're starting to see the cognitive surplus as an asset rather than as a crisis. We're seeing things being designed to take advantage of that surplus, to deploy it in ways more engaging than just having a TV in everybody's basement.