A Reading Note

Shirky schools a TV producer on the meaning of Wikipedia:

I assumed that the producer and I would jump into a conversation about social construction of knowledge, the nature of authority, or any of the other topics that Wikipedia often generates. She didn’t ask any of these questions, though. Instead, she sighed and said, “Where do people find the time?” Hearing this, I snapped, and said, “No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time comes from.” She knew, because she worked in the industry that had been burning off the lion’s share of our free time for the last fifty years.

Shirky, Cognitive Surplus, page 9

This is the core of Shirky’s argument (and perhaps my favorite passage in the book): whereas we used to spend hours a day passively watching the tube, now we spend our time editing Wikipedia articles and creating lolcats for every occasion. In a vacuum those acts may seem trivial; but the collective consequences can be vast (witness the open-source software movement). Moreover, even a silly act like crafting the perfect title to place above the photo of an obese cat is more creative—and more productive, more satisfying—than merely watching Seinfeld. The lolcat is more evolved than the sitcom.

Related books

Cognitive Surplus

Clay Shirky

In this follow-up to Here Comes Everybody, Shirky argues that we’re evolving from passive consumers of Seinfeld to creative makers of everything from lolcats to open source software to real-time news reporting.