Cognitive Surplus

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Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age
Cognitive Surplus-cover.jpg
First edition hardcover
Author Clay Shirky
Language English
Genre Non-fiction
Publisher Penguin Group
Media type Print (Hardback)
Pages 242
ISBN 978-1-59420-253-7

Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age is a 2010 non-fiction book by Clay Shirky. The book is an indirect sequel to Shirky's Here Comes Everybody, which covered the impact of social media.


Shirky argues that since the 1940s, people are learning how to use free time more constructively for creative acts rather than consumptive ones, particularly with the advent of online tools that allow new forms of collaboration.[1] The author catalogs the means and motives behind these new forms of cultural production and provides key examples.

While Shirky acknowledges that the activities that we use our cognitive surplus for may be frivolous (such as creating LOLcats),[2] the trend as a whole is leading to valuable and influential new forms of human expression. He also asserts that even the most inane forms of creation and sharing are preferable to the hundreds of billions of hours spent consuming television shows in countries such as the United States.[2] He sees compulsive television viewing as the modern equivalent of the Gin Craze, presenting both as maladaptive and self-anesthetizing responses to epochal social disruptions. The mass bingeing, stoked by nightmarish urbanization during the Industrial Revolution, ended when, according to Shirky, English society evolved "new urban realities created by London's incredible social density" changing London into one of the first modern cities.[3]

Shirky notes that Wikipedia represents the investment of 100 million hours (up to 2009), compared to 200 billion hours people spend watching TV every year.[4]

Chapter list[edit]

  1. Gin, Television, and Cognitive Surplus - comparison of the Gin Craze to contemporary television viewing habits, and speculation on what people would do if not watching television
  2. Means - discussion of protests on United States beef imports in South Korea as organized by fans of boyband DBSK, and more generally the ability of anyone to publish online
  3. Motive - gives case of Josh Groban's fans spontaneously organizing an online charity project in his name; discussion of fan fiction
  4. Opportunity - gives case of the Z-boys skateboarding in abandoned California swimming pools; discusses ultimatum game in context of internet resources; describes history of Apache HTTP Server and Napster software
  5. Culture - discusses the difference between a fee and a fine in marketing; gives a history of the Invisible College; talks about online coursework collaboration at universities; reviews the PatientsLikeMe website
  6. Personal, Communal, Public, Civic - discussion of why CouchSurfing and eBay websites work
  7. Looking for the Mouse - a history of publishing and some advice for modern business practices

Critical reception[edit]

Upon its release, Cognitive Surplus was praised by some writers who discuss the Internet and its effect on society.[5][6] However, his approach has been criticized by Farhad Manjoo in The New York Times for being too academic and for cheerleading positive examples of the online use of cognitive surplus.[1] Author Jonah Lehrer criticized what he saw as Shirky's premise that forms of consumption, cultural consumption in particular, are inherently less worthy than producing and sharing.[7]


Couch surfing: network that provides hospitality for users looking for places to sleep and hosts willing to allow users to use their home.[8]

InnoCentive: network that seeks users that attempt to solve problems in a collaborative effort; network that motivates innovation that is open and highly collaborative.[9]

Yelp: online “guide” that reviews local businesses in which users can use and access to browse services, products, etc.[10]

The Earthquake Hazard Program[edit]

The Earthquake Hazards Program is an open source and social platform that applies the idea of cognitive surplus, launched by the United States Geological Survey (USGS, formerly simply Geological Survey). The program allows people from all over the globe who experience an earthquake to report it online immediately. By sharing live time information and the effects of the earthquake, this information helps to create a map of shaking intensities and damage. It also contributes greatly toward the quick assessment of the earthquake activities and provides valuable data for earthquake research.

The USGS has the lead federal responsibility to monitor and provide notification of earthquakes in the United States and worldwide, and it is a real-time earthquake information system operated by the USGS together with state and university partners. [11]

A section called "Did You Feel It?" (DYFI) is intended to create an abundant online information resource about earthquake. This section contains earthquake's magnitude, location, and event time. [12] For each earthquake, the website will automatically generate an event ID and allow public to respond to the event. By collecting all of the earthquake's events from the field, this data generates archives and allows the public to search different earthquake events. When the public contributes their experience of the earthquake, either immediately or afterward, it reflects a civic value of cognitive surplus. [13] Its value is created by individual participants but shared with the society as a whole. DYFI is a public contribution to earthquake science. The USGS is working to improve in monitoring earthquake activities and reporting capabilities through DYFI. Besides public contribution, it also provides a function called volunteer monitoring; it is an opportunity for individual to host a seismometer in a private home, business, public building or school. With cooperating from individual to public contribution to gather information, the information will ensure the scientists at USGS are getting the latest and most accurate data in order to evaluate and develop different researches according to earthquake activities from all over the world. DYFI is not only beneficial for scientists, but it is also helping individual to learn more about how other communities fared and develop a deeper understanding of the effects and consequences of earthquakes.

Besides the social communicate platform for the public to share live time earthquake information, the Earthquake Hazards Program also has serves as education purpose, including teaching and doing research. The dataset can be used to teach different topics, such as natural hazards, solid earth, plate tectonics, etc. in geophysics and structural geology. [14] Stanford University has done a research based on the Earthquake Hazards Program, which is using tweets to add more accurate real time information to ShakeMaps, a map that is created by the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program to track earthquakes. [15]

Although the Earthquake Hazards Program is being used for sharing live time earthquake information and supposed to provide accurate information, Bloomberg Businessweek points out that the data may not be reliable. According to a news article, USGS has added an alert on the website in October 15, 2013. "Due to a lapse in Federal funding, the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program has suspended most of its operations, the accuracy or timeliness of some earthquake information products, as well as the availability or functionality of some web pages, could be affected by our reduced level of operation." [16]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Manjoo, Farhad (August 8, 2010). "When the Screen Goes Blank". The New York Times Book Review. 
  2. ^ a b Walker, Tim (July 16, 2010). "Cognitive Surplus, By Clay Shirky". The Independent. 
  3. ^ Shirky, Clay (2010). Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. Penguin. pp. 1–3. ISBN 978-1-59420-253-7. 
  4. ^ Cognitive Surplus, p. 49
  5. ^ Chatfield, Tom (June 27, 2010). "Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky". The Guardian. 
  6. ^ Harkin, James (July 5, 2010). "Cognitive Surplus". The Financial Times. 
  7. ^ Lehrer, Jonah (June 9, 2010). "Cognitive Surplus". 
  8. ^ "Couchsurfing". 
  9. ^ "Innocentive". 
  10. ^ "Yelp". 
  11. ^ National Research Council of the National Academies. "Earthquakes and Volcanoes." International Science in the National Interest at the U.S. Geological Survey. Washington, D.C.: National Academies, 2012. 66-67. Print.
  12. ^ DYFI Background - The Science Behind the Maps
  13. ^ Clay Shirky: How cognitive surplus will change the world | Talk Video |
  14. ^ Exploring Seismology in the Classroom Using the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program Data
  15. ^ Stanford researchers use Twitter data to create more accurate earthquake maps - National |
  16. ^ Shutdown Prompts ‘Accuracy’ Warning on USGS Earthquake Site (1) - Businessweek
  • National Research Council of the National Academies. "Earthquakes and Volcanoes." International Science in the National Interest at the U.S. Geological Survey. Washington, D.C.: National Academies, 2012. 66-67. Print.
  • "DYFI Background - The Science Behind the Maps." DYFI Background - The Science Behind the Maps. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 June 2014.
  • Shirky, Clay. "How Cognitive Surplus Will Change the World." Clay Shirky:. TED, June 2010. Web. 11 June 2014.
  • "Exploring Seismology in the Classroom Using the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program Data." Exploring Seismology in the Classroom Using the USGS Earthquake Hazards Program Data. DLESE, n.d. Web. 11 June 2014.
  • Bogart, Nicole. "Stanford Researchers Use Twitter Data to Create More Accurate Earthquake Maps." Global News. Global News, 5 May 2014. Web. 11 June 2014.
  • Humber, Yuriy. "Shutdown Prompts 'Accuracy' Warning on USGS Earthquake Site (1)." Bloomberg Business Week. Bloomberg, 15 Oct. 2013. Web. 04 June 2014.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]