Wednesday, April 30, 2008

There is time enough to create 10,000 new web sites that engage and empower us

NYU professor Clay Shirky points out the the Internet population watches 5 trillion hours of TV, roughly equivalent to 10,000 Wikipedia projects worth of time. His point is that what he calls our "cognitive surplus" is huge, and there is room for a whole lot of new and engaging stuff on the web. His talk at the at Web 2.0 Expo SF 2008 is loaded with useful insights. (Transcript and video below.)

I wish he'd talked more about self-actualization. Self-actualization is sometimes described as an instinctual need (in humans) to make the most of our abilities; to strive to fulfill our potential and be all that we are capable of. It includes creativity and problem solving. And self-actualization opportunities sometimes need to be made more visible before people will take them up.

Whether you agree with Maslow's heirarchy of needs from "A Theory of Human Motivation," it seems common sense that self-actualization is a higher kind of human striving.

Here Comes Everybody, The Power of Organizing Without OrganizationsShirky points out, explaining social sites, that if you offer people the opportunity to produce and share media (beyond just consuming it) people take it up, but it didn't feel like he delved into the real reasons why, IMHO. I predict sites that seek to provide a high level of self-actualization opportunities become more the norm, but they need to signal that they offer a higher level of opportunity.

But it's nonetheless a great talk! Some very useful insights. You can read this lightly edited transcript of his talk, or watch it below. Shirky also has a great book about net-enabled social tools are transforming us, Here Comes Everybody, The Power of Organizing Without Organizations.


His talk begins:
"I was recently reminded of some reading I did in college, way back in the last century, by a British historian arguing that the critical technology, for the early phase of the industrial revolution, was gin.

"The transformation from rural to urban life was so sudden, and so wrenching, that the only thing society could do to manage was to drink itself into a stupor for a generation. The stories from that era are amazing-- there were gin pushcarts working their way through the streets of London.

"And it wasn't until society woke up from that collective bender that we actually started to get the institutional structures that we associate with the industrial revolution today.

Read the whole transcript here.

1 comment:

  1. The more I think about it, the more I think this was an important oversight on Shirky's part. It's too simplistic to assume that cognitive surplus by itself will lead to wikipedia - mindless entertainment will always have its place.

    I do think there is something buried in Clay's analysis that has something to do with making smaller "grains" of self-actualization more valuable.

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