The Value of Our Online Participation

Question: How do we measure the value of cognitive surplus?
Clay Shirky:  The most immediate value from the \r\ncognitive surplus comes from satisfying the intrinsic desires.  Right?  \r\nThe kind of things that we’re motivated to do that are different from, \r\n“My boss told me so,” or “This is what I’m paid to do.”  And they’re \r\nboth personal and social motivations.  Intrinsic motivations have both \r\npersonal and social components.  Personal motivations tend to be \r\nautonomy and competence.  Right?   The idea that I am the author of my \r\nown actions, or that I’m good at something.  Social motivations tend to \r\nbe membership and generosity.  I am part of a like-minded group that \r\nrecognizes me and accepts me as a member, or my activities are creating \r\nbenefits for other people who are grateful for the work that I’ve done. \r\n
So, the primary value driving all of this stuff is really \r\nsome positive sense of self that comes from participation and public \r\naction, whether it’s personal or social. As long as enough people want \r\nto get some of that value out of uploading photos to Flicker, you know, \r\nuploading videos to YouTube, uploading pictures of cats to \r\nICanHasCheezburger, those aggregations... those aggregations will do \r\nwell.  Downstream from that, there’s a whole range of questions about \r\nvalue.  Right? 
So, the value of was \r\nthe purveyor of LOLCats, of the pictures of cute cats with cute \r\ncaptions, completely slight, right?  Not world-changing, not really \r\ndoing much other than giving people something to laugh at a coffee \r\nbreak. 
The value of Wikipedia?  You know, in less than 10 \r\nyears has become the most important reference work in the English \r\nlanguage.  So, on that range—the range of kind of socio-utility \r\ndownstream of the participants—you’ve got everything from really nothing\r\n more than a bit of fun on a work day to reshaped people’s sense of \r\nwhat’s possible.

Recorded on May 26, 2010
Interviewed by Victoria Brown

The primary value of participation is the positive sense of self that comes from personal and public action.

Car culture and suburban sprawl create rifts in society, claims study

New research links urban planning and political polarization.

Politics & Current Affairs
  • Canadian researchers find that excessive reliance on cars changes political views.
  • Decades of car-centric urban planning normalized unsustainable lifestyles.
  • People who prefer personal comfort elect politicians who represent such views.
Keep reading Show less

Scientists reverse hair loss by making scalp "smell" sandalwood

It turns out the human scalp has an olfactory receptor that seems to play a crucial role in regulating hair follicle growth and death.

Photo: malehmann via Flickr
Surprising Science
  • Scientists treated scalp tissue with a chemical that mimics the odor of sandalwood.
  • This chemical bound to an olfactory receptor in the scalp and stimulated hair growth.
  • The treatment could soon be available to the public.
Keep reading Show less

NASA astronomer Michelle Thaller on ​the multiple dimensions of space and human sexuality

Science and the squishiness of the human mind. The joys of wearing whatever the hell you want, and so much more.

Flickr / 13winds
Think Again Podcasts
  • Why can't we have a human-sized cat tree?
  • What would happen if you got a spoonful of a neutron star?
  • Why do we insist on dividing our wonderfully complex selves into boring little boxes
Keep reading Show less