8.5 Cognitive Surplus Chapter 2

Chapter 2 blog prompts: One of Shirky’s points is that the idea of a separation between “cyberspace” and the “real world” is increasingly becoming irrelevant– the real and virtual worlds are becoming one. Do you see this happening in your life or people you know? If so, what are some of the characteristics of this coming together? If not, do you think Shirky is wrong or overstating the case and why? When Shirky talks about the current revolution that is similar to the revolution of the printing press– giving many more the means to make and publish– he notes that it is similar but has significant differences. What are some of those differences? How does the idea of operating in a culture of “abundance” differ from once of “scarcity?” Shirky notes that the idea of citizen reporters and journalists have changed the way we find out about news and events, using the London subway bombings as an example. The web has become a source of news that outpaces traditional media: is this a good thing? Where do you go for news that is happening right now as opposed to a week ago (or even yesterday)?


I do think that the separation between “cyberspace” and the “real world” is becoming less relevant, but I do not believe the worlds are becoming one. I can see the characteristics of the “coming together”-I am a gamer after all!  I can talk to someone in another country that I am supposed to not like while we blow up bad people together online! A less tongue in cheek example would be how we can now track different viruses planet wide because we are connected to hospitals, pharmaceutical companies and researchers everywhere. Therefore, I understand his statements.  Shirky’s example of the Pickup Pal service is just a small example of how people are using the Internet to make things better. In that, way I can see the line between “real” and “cyberspace” fading a bit.

I was intrigued by the idea of cyberspace being the new printing press. I spent a couple of days digesting that section of the chapter trying to find other things in history that also facilitated that type of upheaval. If I remember my history right, the invention of the press was the precursor to all sorts of unrest and innovation. Control was leaving those who held all the information to those who could now access information and make their own decisions on how to react to the knowledge.  I was thinking it was a lot like the early trade routes. I learned in a recent history class that what we know as globalization started a few hundreds of years ago when traders began their exploration of the world and new cultures. Trade routes established access to new cultures that dragged many a country kicking and screaming out of their dark ages. The internet is a lot like that as well. Where we used to be transported to places in books, we can witness things with just a few well-placed clicks. People were brought together by technology (telegraph, telephone, television, autos) and separation by great distance is slowly becoming outdated. I can talk to my aunts in Texas on Skype if I want to see them, I do not have to hop on a plane. The internet is just the latest in a long line of “get together” technology-at least that is my take on it. If I were to name a difference it would be that the risk that printers had to take on new work as opposed to just printing the tried and true (Aristotle, the Bible…) is no longer there. I can put whatever I want in my blog. Of course that means the quality might not be very great, but it is still my form of new expression. Therefore, I guess I would have to consider it creating for the act alone, not thinking to receive anything but a satisfaction that I put something on the screen.

The ideas of abundance and scarcity are still a bit foggy for me. As a consumer I understand the idea that if there is not a lot of something the price goes up. In Shirky’s book, he says that while the quality of what is published goes down the tradeoff of the ability for the public to have a hand in the process of creating is a fair trade off. It has led to experimentation across the board!  My favorite example of this is the month long Nano Wrimo writing challenge that happens every year! I have yet to finish 50000 words but I give it a go every year! For all the schlock that is written, the occasional author is “discovered” (here is a list people who got their Nano Wrimo books published:  http://www.nanowrimo.org/en/publishedwrimos). I also love hearing about people discovered because of YouTube and the like.

Citizen reporters and journalists can pose a problem. I mentioned the tragedy in Connecticut in my last blog. The people feeding information to the professional reporters were all sure they had the correct information and for the most part, they were horribly wrong. That poor guy not only lost his mother and brother, he was vilified for an act he did not commit-all over the internet. I think that while the advent of smart phones and other sorts of mobile picture and video taking devices has been great for information as a whole, we sometimes have too much of a good thing. In certain instances, we need a bit of scarcity.

I do have friends that have escaped into the internet and sort forgot to come back. It is easy to do because you can be anyone online. In general, though I think most people are well informed enough to be able to sort through the obvious pitfalls. (I am an optimist at heart.) I have a close friend who lives for Facebook (and has the car accident reports to prove she is addicted to texting and tweeting while driving….) and Twitter and her online “following.” She would rather sit in front of her keyboard tapping away all night than go to a movie. I believe it can be a double-edged sword, like anything else. On the other hand, there is my mother who hates her cell phone and only uses her computer to play solitaire and enter Publisher’s Clearing House sweepstakes. I think it is all a matter of degree!

I get my news from my local news station mostly. I do surf online for some things like my hometown newspaper. I do look online if I am curious about something, but for the most part, I save my newsgathering for 6 and 10! I will also go to my local stations webpage.


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