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Cognitive Surplus; a feast of ideas

Written By , 2019 days ago

Book Review for The Marketing Society Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age by Clay Shirky.

Clay Shirky looks set to become the Malcolm Gladwell of new media. His first book, the snappily titled ‘Here Comes Everybody’ quickly established itself as the bible for Social Media experts, thinkers and theorists.

His latest book ‘Cognitive Surplus’ starts with a big idea, and follows it through with dazzling and detailed analyses of the meaning and use of media. Shirky has an ability to get to the essentials, which will make anyone with even a slight professional interest in communication sit up and pay attention.

The big idea is this; for the first time since the invention of television, people are watching less of it. In the USA alone, people still watch 200 billion hours of TV a year, so even a small proportion of that – the shift away from TV – is a LOT of hours. Wikipedia in its current state has taken 100 million hours of freely given time…

Shirky is an optimist. He sees the re-deployed Cognitive Surplus (freed from TV’s grip) creating positive change in society.

One of the concepts in the book that I found most powerful is the notion that we need to redefine Media, which he says is; “… like a triathlon, with three different events: people like to consume, but they also like to produce, and to share. We’ve always enjoyed all three of those activities, but until recently, broadcast media rewarded only one of them”. Shirky’s new definition? “Media is the connective tissue of society”.

Does this book matter to Marketers, and those whose job it is to build Brands? Should marketing briefs contain the question; “What can we do to connect our brand to the Cognitive Surplus?”. Yes, some forward-looking ones probably already do, and many more will follow.

For a live example of a Cognitive Surplus-driven campaign – one that uses people’s desire to produce and to share, on a large scale – take a look at the ‘Life in a Day’ project that’s currently live on YouTube, with Ridley Scott as the headline producer, and with a big brand sponsor in LG.

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