Review: Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected World


After watching his TED Talk on SOPA, I fell in love with Clay Shirky.  After reading the first 20 pages of his book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, I am now his biggest fan.

Cognitive Surplus is not a quick read and, in places, I had to put the book down and come back to it when I could really focus on the material.  Shirky explains that the change from a former world of consumption to a new world of connectivity has already happened; now, we have to think about the benefits and ramifications of this cultural change.  I approached the text a bit skeptically at first, as I felt that most Americans were still consuming as opposed to creating.  However, Shirky did a masterful job of persuading me through examples and studies that we live in a world where sitting back and mindlessly consuming television is taking a backseat to sharing, collaborating, and creating.  While I do feel that we’ve taken the first step into that world of creativity and generosity and connectivity, how far we’ve come from consuming is still unclear to me.

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Shirky defines “creating,” and this helped me understand his conclusions a bit more.  He explains that even the stupidest creative act is still a creative act (Source).  With this definition in mind, I start to believe that yes, we do have more creators than consumers in our world today.  But my definition of “creativity” is based more on quality of the thing created, I suppose, so I had a difficult time accepting some of Shirky’s conclusions at first.  Then, I started to think about the examples in my own life.  My husband isn’t consuming during the hours he spends playing his war video games; he’s collaborating with his friends to achieve a collective goal.  Mark P. McDonald writes, “This book gives you a way to thinking about how people contribute their time, attention and knowledge and therefore how you can think about social media. In my opinion, this is THE BOOK to read if you are new to the subject of mass collaboration, social media, Web 2.0 etc.” (Source).  Read McDonald’s full book review here.

Now that I’ve read about the new, connected world I live in, I’m excited to re-read Daniel Pink’s A Whole New Mind: Why Right-Brainers Will Rule the Future.  What are you reading this weekend?


3 thoughts on “Review: Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected World

  1. Brent

    Thanks for posting on Cognitive Surplus. I like Shirky’s idea how we have gone from one to many (ex: TV to audience) to many to many (ex: web users to web users). This gives us the ability to collaborate on everything from war games to the Grobanites (

    If you want to be Clay Shirky’s biggest fan you might want to use Google Alerts ( That’s how I found your blog twice now.

    Thanks for being a part of the creative revolution!

    • Hey Brent, Thanks so much for coming back! I love your idea of using Google Alerts in this way; my volunteer organization uses Google Alerts to track the results of our marketing and PR, but I never thought to use them for my own personal interests… Amazing suggestion! And thank you for the Jay Goulart link. I plan to watch now. Alex

  2. Brent

    This is the collaboration at it’s best. You throw out gifts in the form of your blog, and readers stop by and give them back. Thanks for creating the digital space.
    20 yrs ago we could have been watching TV and wondering if Gilligan was going to get off the island…I like the revolution!

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