Learnings from the book Cognitive Surplus
Reading Cognitive Surplus was a great use of my time. I have not seen the television in a long time now (unless you count Ninja Hattori) and have been a fan of the internet since the early days of blogging – nearly 10 odd years now.
So, while there is some level of confirmation bias in this argument, it is beyond argument that 10 years of participation is far better than 10 years of being a rather passive audience.
There are some interesting titbits in the book. This is especially useful for arguing with some of our industrial age journalist dinosaurs who keep whining about the quality of debate on the social media.
The first part is about how the ‘movable type’ printing press invented by Gutenberg made printing accessible to many people who in turn went ahead and published their own books. And how, people thought it was such an evil idea (sounds familiar?) that everybody wants to become an author.
As people found the freedom to publish, quality went down, apparently. As Clay says, ‘the easier it is for the average person to publish, the more average what is published becomes’. And of course, in the internet age, everybody has a ‘publish’ button. And this is what bugs those who sit behind comfortably behind the entry barriers of television channels and the connections with the powers that be.
In the context of publishing, people used to the old system argue that the publishing was an inherently serious activity – it never was.
“In the world of the media, we were like children, sitting quietly at the edge of a circle and consuming whatever the grownups in the centre of the circle produced”
(Does that not ring a bell? – news channels tell us that news is serious, and tweeters like us are frivolous, right? Now you know how to argue against such lines of thought.)
About people like us: People who share their writings/tweets/videos online don’t do it for money while the media journalists actually share their writings/news/videos for money. The former does it because of other motivations – while for the latter it is also a means to make money.
This distinction is very important – which is why they need to run after ads, support an organization structure, while you and I blogging away in our shorts need not (and do not) – because our motivations are different.
“Intrinsic motivations are those in which the activity itself is the reward”
What can the motive behind those motivations be?
“Broadcast media, like television clearly, filled some human needs but those needs that they couldn’t fill well became harder to see and ultimately harder to imagine”
In our context, it is that in India there has been very little right wing thought that finds its way into main stream media apart from a few path breaking journalists (yes, we all know them) . Some of the pioneers used the freedom of internet to bring a new line of thought into our minds. Since then, the internet, has freed up thoughts of many, like us, who would otherwise find it difficult to get a say, because unless you toed the line, you won’t be allowed to express yourself in the old order.
“Back when entering the public arena was hard – like taking a separate job – most of us simply did not bother. Loose collections of amateurs may have been willing to try to accomplish things in public but the organizational hurdles were too high. Now the barriers are low enough that any of us can publicly seek and join with likeminded souls.”
And this is the state of social media today in India especially for right wing thought – CRI being an example.
What does all this mean for us? One, that the opportunity cost for expressing our thoughts is low.
Having said that, it is important to convert these into real life events in order to enable real change. As we saw in the recent elections, some of those are not easy at all. But, it has to be done.
Any revolution happens outside with the internet, at best, as an aggregating mechanism. Beyond that, work has to happen on the ground for any revolution to succeed.
Or else we run the danger of being an ultra niche group with no possibility of translating it into real life success – at the far end of the long tail.