Is the cognitive surplus real?
I re-read some of Clay Shirky’s writing about the idea of cognitive surplus recently. While the ideas are powerful and well researched, I still have some misgivings about the value of the supposed cognitive surplus that was soaked up by television over the years and is increasingly channeled now online.
While television is widely derided as a intellectually vapid activity and the Internet is somehow clear of such a stigma (for now), my experiences online point to the idea that online pursuits vary widely in their general worth to society. Take Wikipedia as one extreme end of the spectrum and something like Perez Hilton as the other. At its worst, the Internet can offer just the same cheap thrills and mindless entertainment that television did.
Now that we’ve established the variance in online activities, what do you think the distribution is going to look like among television defectors? I’m willing to bet that it isn’t going to be skewed toward high-value activities. The cognitive surplus is only going to be real if people are motivated to share their productive gifts with society via the Internet rather than use it as a passive sink just like television.