Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky - Book Notes, Summary, Review

Book-Notes
Written: March 26, 2021
Reading Time: 8 mins

Cognitive Surplus was a thought-provoking but enjoyable book to read. It raised a lot of great points about the world we currently live in. A world where people are actively consuming media and have lots of “free time” when compared with previous generations.

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Who Should Read This Book?

It’s difficult to recommend this book to a specific type of person as it provides a lot of value no matter who you are.

I would say that if you are like me and enjoy reading about technology, online communities, and how people behave, this is a great book to read.

Also, if you enjoy stories and anecdotes that demonstrate meaning, then this book will be an enjoyable read.


How This Book Changed Me

Of the many great stories in this book, the one I enjoyed and learned from the most was about Milkshake mistakes. The key message of this story is about looking beyond our initial assumptions about something and how we believe things or people should behave.

I believe this story has a lot of practical applications to the world of UI Design and Usability. I look forward to seeing how I can apply this knowledge when I’m doing my design work.

I also liked the idea of cognitive surplus as a whole. It filled me with a positive motivation that the things I can do in my free time can be of benefit to myself and to others.

Being part of a community online, learning in public, and talking to others all have benefits to how we learn and communicate with others.


My Top 3 Quotes That Resonated With Me

“Scarcity is easier to deal with than abundance, because when something becomes rare, we simply think it more valuable than it was before, a conceptually easy change. Abundance is different: its advent means we can start treating previously valuable things as if they were cheap enough to waste, which is to say cheap enough to experiment with.” p52

“The raw material of this change is the free time available to us, time we can commit to projects that range from the amusing to the culturally transformative.” p65

“The Faster You Learn, the Sooner You’ll Be Able to Adapt” p185


Book Notes

Chapter 1 - Gin, Television, and Cognitive Surplus

“When you aggregate a lot of something, it behaves in new ways, and our new communications tools are aggregating our individual ability to create and share, at unprecedented levels of more.” p30

“Understanding what our cognitive surplus is making possible means understanding the means by which we are aggregating our free time; our motivations in taking advantage of this new resource; and the nature of the opportunities that are being created, and that we are creating for each other” p33

Chapter 2 - Means

“Scarcity is easier to deal with than abundance, because when something becomes rare, we simply think it more valuable than it was before, a conceptually easy change. Abundance is different: its advent means we can start treating previously valuable things as if they were cheap enough to waste, which is to say cheap enough to experiment with.” p52

“The raw material of this change is the free time available to us, time we can commit to projects that range from the amusing to the culturally transformative.” p65

Chapter 3 - Motive

Chapter 4 - Opportunity

Chapter 5 - Culture

“Culture … is a collectively held set of norms and behaviors within a group” p126

Chapter 6 - Personal, Communal, Public, Civic

“Personal value is the kind of value we receive from being active instead of passive, creative instead of consumptive. If you take a photo, or weave a basket, or build a model train set, you get something out of the experience. This energy drives the world’s hobbyists.” p159

Chapter 7 - Looking For The Mouse

“The Faster You Learn, the Sooner You’ll Be Able to Adapt” p185

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