Being an expert on the outlasting effects of the Internet on society, Clay Shirky believes that the world can be changed through online collaboration of different cultures and ideas. His TED Talk addresses the idea of “cognitive surplus,” or the ability of the world’s population to volunteer and communicate on a large scale to work together on both local and global projects.
Shirky begins his speech by giving an example of advantageous cognitive surplus, a website called Ushahidi. While telling the story of a woman from Kenya who wanted to share as much information as possible about the local outbreak of violence, Clay Shirky grabs the audience’s attention by outlining the main idea with an interesting, real-world situation. He states his belief that as humans, it is our instinct to yearn to share our abilities with other people in whatever way we can, even LOLcats. These are comical pictures of cats with amusing subtitles that Shirky believes are yet another, more useless, form of cognitive surplus. He then challenges the difference between communal vs. civic value. Communal value is a form of shared public data that benefits only the participants of the activity, like LOLcats. Civic value creates the feeling of making life better for society as a whole, like Ushahidi. Shirky gave other examples such as an Israeli day care program that placed a fine for parents who picked their children up late. This experiment showed that charging for late pick-up not only was effective, but was negatively effective. The results illustrated that parents felt that, with a fine, they no longer needed to feel guilt towards the teachers, causing them to be late even more than before. This example baffled me because I have always thought that an extra charge would motivate me to do something earlier or on time.
Clay Shirky’s use of realistic examples helped the audience to personally connect with his presentation. Along with his statistical evidence, this alone could have been enough to persuade the listeners to agree with him. But, he went even further and gave them a purpose to believe him. He challenged the audience to analyze their own use of their free time and question how they could use it to help each other. He encouraged everyone to apply their creativity to cognitive surplus online so that they could benefit society on a global scale.
I felt an emotional connection to Shirky’s message because I believe that if we all collaborate, we can create a chain reaction that will ultimately change the world. It made me feel comfortable sharing my ideas through the Internet, like our recently finished wikified research paper, and not be afraid of judgement. I could confidently experiment online and find other people’s opinions just as impactful on myself as my own. If we, as one, can contribute to each other our abilities and ideas, we can create a world like the one envisioned by Clay Shirky. Our overall sense of duty will be applied to make the world a better place.
The link to this video is listed below: