Writing in the Boston Review, Evgeny Morozov provides a thoughtful review of "internet guru" Clay Shirky's latest offering, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age.
The central argument of the book is that the internet is enabling us to use more constructively the free time we now have in abundance in modern economies. The internet is hugely preferable to traditional media because while television watching is passive and solitary, the Internet pushes us towards creativity, and is instrinsically about sharing.
While he notes Shirky's ability to find and deploy clever anecdotes, Morozov has two kinds of criticisms of the book's argument. The first is about Shirky's use of evidence. Morozov calls into question Shirky's intepretation of the South Korean protests in 2008 over American beef, suggesting that he ignores the key role of traditional media in creating the protest movement. Just as he took issue with Shirky's use of Belarus flash mobs as an example in Here Comes Everybody, here again he argues that Shirky is liberal with facts and dodges complexity in order to suit his case.
Wired.com features an interesting pair of articles today, both looking on the ever popular "social impact of the internet" theme. On the positive side, Clay Shirky, in a discussion with Daniel Pink, argues that the internet is enabling us to put the free time we have had since industrialization to productive use. In this sense, it's an infinitely better technology than television he claims:
"Television was a solitary activity that crowded out other forms of social connection. But the very nature of these new technologies fosters social connection—creating, contributing, sharing. When someone buys a TV, the number of consumers goes up by one, but the number of producers stays the same. When someone buys a computer or mobile phone, the number of consumers and producers both increase by one. This lets ordinary citizens, who’ve previously been locked out, pool their free time for activities they like and care about. So instead of that free time seeping away in front of the television set, the cognitive surplus is going to be poured into everything from goofy enterprises like lolcats, where people stick captions on cat photos, to serious political activities like Ushahidi.com, where people report human rights abuses.These ideas are further explored in Shirky's new book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, due out in a couple of weeks.
In the more negative corner, Nicholas Carr writes about the way that exposure to digital technology is altering the ability of our brains to process information:
"Tech4Africa focuses on the role mobile, emerging and Web technologies have to play in Africa. Speakers will delve into the funding landscape in Africa and what cloud computing, Web 2.0, the mobile Internet, and other emerging technologies mean for businesses and society. The event will bring together internationally respected speakers and practitioners who are building the web and technology as we know it, with leading Africans who are themselves paving the way forward.
The keynote speaker, Clay Shirky, is an experienced speaker on topics related to the Web, social media and the Internet. Shirky has spoken at events such as TED Global, SXSW, the Web 2.0 expo in New York and San Francisco, SES San Jose, the Adobe Learning Summit, New York Tech Meetup and the Aspen Ideas Festival. Other top technologists at the conference include Dustin Diaz, Joe Stump, Matthew Mullenweg, and John Resig, among other top-notch technologists and entrepreneurs. Check out the amazing line up of speakers here; there are more to follow.
As such, the conference promises to be a pioneering and intimate affair, congregating digital elite for the first time in Africa. The focus is on interaction, discussion and sharing with attendees the future of the Web and emerging technology in Africa, and the role Africans can and are playing globally."
Craig Newmark -- founder of Craigslist -- encourages everyone to attend this year's Personal Democracy Forum (PDF) to be held this summer in New York City, June 3-4. They expect a really great group of folks to talk about liberation technologies including Jimmy Wales, Julian Assange, Daniel Ellsberg, Evgeny Morozov, Ory Okolloh, Ethan Zuckerman, Cheryl Contee, John Perry Barlow, Clay Shirky, Howard Rheingold, Tim O'Reilly, Aneesh Chopra, Beth Kanter, Allison Fine, Esther Dyson, Anil Dash, Jen Pahlka, Bryan Sivak, and Susan Crawford.