Cognitive Surplus – The Epic Conclusion

Overall, I’d have to give this book a 5. While it had a lot of material and ideas to present, it did so in a very thought provoking manner. I learned something new with every chapter.
Three things I learned are:
1. World of Warcraft isn’t the horrible evil my mother would like me to believe it is
2. That good can come of social networking, we just have to dig to find it
3. Never, ever hitchhike in Turkey.

Okay that last one was a given. I would never hitchhike. Too dangerous. Ironically, of all the places I’ve lived, I felt safer in Europe than in the US. Which just means to me that I will never ever ever ever hitchhike in the states either.

I would definitely recommend this book to others interested in technology and culture. It was a very interesting read, and I think I’ll be picking up Shirky’s other book “Here Comes Everybody” when I get my next paycheck.

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Cognitive Surplus – Chapter 7

Looking for the Mouse

Looking for the mouse is looking for a way to make an existing thing better. Taking an old technology and saying “If we apply cognitive surplus to this, can we make it better?”

I used to think that interactive TV was a “why?”, and still do to some extent. I don’t get the dancing show where people call in and vote. I just don’t. But of course, part of that probably stems from the fact that I don’t like watching TV in general, and I detest reality programming specifically. I think that reality TV is going to become the downfall of our entertainment industry. Now, programming that uses an app that let’s you connect socially to other fans while watching the program? That’s kind of fun. You’ve got the show, created professionally, but you still get that social aspect where you get to connect to other people that love your show. That, I think, is a constructive use of a community. It makes the show have more of a pull, and strengthens the feelings of the people who get to interact with other fans as it happens. It’s a heady feeling.

I don’t know if I’ve ever been guilty of “looking for the mouse”. I tend to consume either just to consume, (reading a book, watching a movie, watching one of my DVRed shows) or I consume while creating (playing an online game with friends and guildies in the pursuit of a common goal). I don’t usually try to create an opportunity where it didn’t already exist.

As for the future? I think that smart-phones are going to become capable of doing more, and the computer industry will begin to decline. More people can do everything they want on their phone, that except for an office or professional environment, or hardcore gamers, we are increasingly going to start relying on gaming platforms and smart phones to do what we want. Computers will become more and more like tablets, with decreased functionality, and phones will do the same thing: become more and more like tablets with increased functionality. Have you see the Galaxy? I rest my case. It’s like holding a tv on the side of your head.

I’ve heard of interactive television, but that’s just ridiculous.

Cognitive Surplus – Chapter 6

Personal, Communal, Public, Civic

For my own part, I’ve learned that trust is something that must be earned, on and offline. Back in the start-up days of eBay, I gave trust easily. People were eager to keep a good rating. So much so that within hours of ordering something, you’d start getting strongly worded emails to comment on their service. Personally, I want to get the item first. See how their response time is. If I really get the right item. I want to know for myself they are reputable before I give a blanket statement to that effect. I actually had a couple negative reviews written about me as a buyer because I wouldn’t give a positive review right after I purchased something. I lived in Germany. I wanted to actually get the item first. While that culture is still in existence, it doesn’t seem to be quite as bad these days. I ordered perfume from eBay a few weeks ago, haven’t done the seller review yet, and haven’t been hounded about it. Either that mentality isn’t out there anymore, or I found a seller without a giant pickle up their ass. Or both.

Not every transaction on eBay ends favorably tho. I’ve been burned too. I bought an in-game-use item and when I received it it had already been redeemed. Nothing I can do about it. The seller denies it, and says I used it. It’s a digital item. Basically, I have to write that money off. Needless to say that seller didn’t get a favorable review. Sometimes you have a good experience, sometimes not. I’ve learned to treat each new seller with caution, and trust after I see that they’re trustworthy. Never before.

The online world is a large, more volatile place than the real world. I don’t like placing myself in a public spectrum. I’m a very private person, for many reasons. My FaceBook is locked down so only my friends can see my information. That information is sparse. And everyone who is a friend, I know them. No stranger-friends allowed. Online networks can burn you just as easily as an eBay seller. For this class in particular, we had to sign up for LinkedIn, a professional FaceBook, if you will. I tried to keep the information at a minimum, but I haven’t found a way to lock it down. And honestly, why would you, it’s a site for linking up in a professional manner. But because I signed up on that site and I was searchable, someone with less than honest intentions managed to track me down. Where I hadn’t been answering my home phone or cell phone when they called, they found out from LinkedIn where I worked, used Google, found the work number, and started calling there. One of my coworkers, thinking he was being helpful, confirmed that I worked there, even going so far as to give them my nickname and tell them when they could reach me, so they could ask to speak to me in a way that wouldn’t alarm me. I’ve since gone on LinkedIn and changed that job to a past job, I.e.: that I no longer work there. The situation isn’t the fault of the network, it’s a flaw in the design and a demonstration of how an unscrupulous individual can abuse the system. After this class is over, I’ll be deleting that profile entirely. I trusted too much to an unfamiliar online community and I got burned for it.

I’ll be more careful in the future, and so should you.

Cognitive Surplus – Chapter 5

Culture

The Haifa day-care experiment was an experiment that sought to change the behaviors of the parents picking up their children. They had an average of about seven or eight late pickups per day care center per week. At six of ten of the centers, they instituted a 10 shekel fine to parents that were late picking up their child. Instead of reducing the number of late pickups, they grew almost exponentially. The average increased to 10, then 14, then 17, then 20. The study ran for 3 months and the average never dropped below 14. Then, three months later, they stopped charging the fine. Instead of reverting back to the pre-fine average, it stayed where it was. The reason Shirky states, is that the parents saw that 10 shekels not as a fine, but as an acceptable charge for the workers time. They stopped seeing the workers with a sense of community, I.e., “I’ll hurry and pick up my children so that you can get home to your family” to a sense of the workers time as a commodity. They could be late, they paid their shekels. And that abuse of the workers continued after the fine was lifted. Their view of the workers had changed and wouldn’t change back.

This behavior is not an isolated incident however. A couple of years ago, Blockbuster instituted a new policy. Fail to return a movie in 5 days and you just bought it. Rather than instill in people a desire to get their videos back on time, people got more lazy. More than once I heard someone say, “oh well, guess I bought it” and not take the DVD back. What they didn’t realize is that they didn’t just have to pay the cost of that DVD, but every day they didn’t take that delinquent video back, they were still accumulating late charges. I have one acquaintance that has a $120 charge on their credit, being pursued by a collection agency, simply because they wouldn’t take back a movie that they just decided to keep after that 5 days. Probably not what Blockbuster intended with that policy. Netflix had a similar problem. They send you a movie, you watch it and send it back and then they send you another one. Same acquaintance just decided to keep a movie they sent her. Didn’t worry about the fact they wouldn’t send her another, just would stream online instead. Rather than use the system as it was intended, she turned the system against itself because she had what she wanted.

On the other hand, a culture of sharing, with no fees instituted, can sometimes be even better than something you have to pay for. I’m part of two such communities on the web, and I think if they’d charged, they wouldn’t be even 1/4 as good as they are. One is the forums at newbeetle.org, a community of VW Beetle owners that shares tips and experiences with other Beetle owners so that they can learn from it. The other is a forum called D.I.C. Or Dream.In.Code. It’s a set of forums for programming in every language you could possibly think of. Both are intensely useful, both are free. Both are run by a community of volunteers sharing their knowledge.

But free isn’t always a good thing. Take Shirky’s brain surgeon analogy. Would you want a brain surgeon that learned everything from Wikipedia? Or the Encyclopedia Brittanica? Hell no. You’d want a professional that went to school and is the best at what he does. But by the same token if I’m looking for a new restaurant to try, I don’t necessarily need a professional food critic to tell me the hot dogs at the local gas station are awesome. Professional vs Amateur is going to have to remain a question based on content. You’re not always going to want a professional’s opinion or skill. But sometimes, you do. It just depends on the situation.

Cognitive Surplus – Chapter 4

Opportunity

It has never occurred to me to wonder why people spend so much time contributing to all these online communities. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, LOLcats, Wikipedia. I don’t know, they just seem like things that people get interested in or have a passion for, and so they do them. The concept of used time didn’t really enter into it for me.

Honestly, how much time does it take to post a Facebook update. Or a Twitter update. Or share a picture on Tumblr. Or make a picture on LOLcats? Not very long. Okay, Wikipedia updating probably takes more time, but if you’ve ever seen one of their fund-raising banners, you know that most of them do it because they love it. And I think at the root of all of these social communities is love of it. They LOVE the inter-connectedness. They love sharing funny things with their friends. They love keeping people informed.

In that respect, “free” doesn’t even enter into it. Cost has no meaning when you have the means and the opportunity to do something that you love for free. In fact, I’d wager to say that if its something you really love, you wouldn’t be above paying to do it. Like someone paying for a lane at a bowling alley. Or when I pay a range fee at my local archery range. In that respect I agree with Shirky. There is no disbelief that someone would do something so far-reaching for *gasp* FREE!!! I’m right in line with his theories of opportunity. The motive is there, the means are there, grab that opportunity with both hands and run with it!

The difference between “why do they do all that on YouTube?” And “why do they do all that on YouTube for free?” for me means that someone has placed value on something someone has put together and posted for free rather than try to market their time and abilities. Take for instance Mystery Guitar Man, one of my favorite YouTube personalities. He makes music with anything. And I mean anything. Bags of m&m’s. Random paint cans laying around. His body. Whatever he finds really. He started out making videos for absolutely nothing and a small following. Now he has millions of followers and he makes shirts and stickers and sells them. But the videos? Still completely free. There’s even an app for your phone you can get that lets you watch his videos in HD. And it notifies you every Tuesday when he posts a new video. Now compared to some of the crap you can find out there, his videos are pure gold. And he makes them, spends a week on them, and posts them for free. Why? He loves making music. He loves the interaction with his fans. So much so that he asks his fans for suggestions of what songs to make into videos. He’s the very definition of this chapter. He has the motive (he loves to make music), he has the means (musical and editing ability, a good Internet connection and creativity for days), and the opportunity. I can’t imagine a world where he charged for his videos.

He is a quintessential Gen-Xer. He saw a niche, and he filled it. But honestly, if the same means were available back when the Beatles were starting up, or Elvis, who’s to say they wouldn’t have done something similar. Our actions aren’t necessarily just because of what generation we were born in, but by the tools that are available to us in our time. Here’s a question for you. Do you think if Elvis or the Beatles had had YouTube, could they have gotten more views than that awful Rebecca Black song?

Cognitive Surplus – Chapter 3

Motive

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was a part of some online communities for Nine Inch Nails and the Lords of Acid. So long ago in fact, that my username is no longer in the system. It’s ironic that it’s been so long I don’t exist in their little sphere of existence anymore, as I used to be on those sites incessantly a few years back.

My motives were purely to talk to other fans of my favorite bands. To get information about when I could see them perform. To find out about fan appreciation fundraisers before anyone else. I still to this day have a limited edition CD from LoA, signed by all the members of the group, that has the distinction of being a different color from the mass release. Oh, and my signatures are real, not a copy. But I happily paid $50 at a time when I didn’t have a lot of money purely to have music from my favorite group before anyone else.

There was a time in my life where my life revolved around music. I worked as a DJ at 2 separate times in my life. Once for our local college station KSUA, and once for our local rock station (now it’s alternative) KKED 104.7 the Edge. Both for between 3 1/2 to 4 years. If I was awake, I had music on. Driving, reading, on the computer, at work, whatever. There was always music. Now, I find that I consume music differently, but almost as intensely.

My motives were to surround myself with music I enjoyed. Immerse myself in it. Be connected to my favorite artists, and the fans that were just as rabid as myself. I followed LoA for a month across the US attending multiple concerts, meeting up with fellow fans. For the music. For the shared experience. I think that what I was seeking, and participating in is similar to what Shirky was talking about, with intrinsic motivation. No one was paying me to do anything. I wasn’t being paid to follow the band. I wasn’t paid to be online all the time, talking about their music, planning trips, exploring art and future releases. It was all because I was intensely interested in them, and wanted to be there. Wanted to be part of the experience.

Part of me still wants to be part of the experience. And part of me just wants to get the music before anyone else, go to a quiet place, and just lose myself in it. Just for a little while.

Cognitive Surplus – Chapter 2

Means

 

FaceBook is taking over our lives.

No really. Everyone has it. I haven’t met anyone in ages where the question “Do you have a FaceBook?” was met with a negative response. We log on and read it multiple times a day. We’re more involved in other people’s business than our own. Shirky puts forth the idea that the separation between “cyberspace” and the “real world” is becoming increasingly irrelevant. And you know what? He’s right. I know more about people from high school I haven’t seen in 19 years than I do about my brother. They’re right there. Every day. Telling me how their day went. About their new cat. About the car wreck they were in, and a reason for every day in November that they’re thankful to be alive, and what they’re thankful for. I’m pretty sure my brother still works at Trademark, but I can’t be 100% sure. I’m sure I’ll find out at Christmas.

According to Shirky, we are in the midst of another printing revolution. Where the first printing revolution came about with movable type, enabling quick and easy printing on a massive scale, this new printing revolution is more about “the shock of the inclusion of amateurs as producers”. In other words, the explosion of self publishing that has come about in the past few years. Media has become not just something we consume, but something we contribute to, we help produce it. Shirky says we live in a culture of “abundance” rather than “scarcity”. Growing up we had 4 channels. 2, 4, 9, and 11. And for our intents and purposes, channel 4 didn’t exist. Most of the time, we watched channel 9. PBS. Now you can get basic cable, and instantly have 100+ channels. Never mind getting something beyond basic. I personally have 600+ channels, and a DVR. And I don’t watch TV except for the occasional movie or DVR’ed show. 4 channels vs 600+. It’s staggering to think about. Books are much the same way. Musical CDs are released at an exponential rate. I remember walking to Peaches with my dad to look at vinyl, and them having 3 rows of albums. 3 rows. Now you can walk into a large music store like Virgin, and see thousands upon thousands of different CDs. On one level. Then go upstairs. There is so much more out there now that it’s almost impossible to see or hear it all.

Today has become a culture of more, more, more, now, now, now. Citizen reporters  and journalists have help feed that need for more, right now. The London subway bombings are one example. The riots in Egypt are another. While I appreciate news from a fresh perspective, when I want to find out the news, I will still typically check something like CNN.com. While they have iReport, and citizen reporting, I find that those reports tend to have a definite slant to their point of view rather than just reporting the news. Sometimes they’re a good thing, especially when they have footage that hasn’t hit the wire yet, but I still tend to prefer a professionally written story that has done their fact checking. But if I hear through the grapevine about something, I’m going to start peeking at that iReport section. Or even just use Google and see who’s blogged about it.