I do admire that he can take an idea and turn it into a book. In this latest one, he takes on an old nemesis of education - television.
By his calculations, Americans spend 200 billion hours each year of their potential cognitive time watching television. He also calculates (check his math) that to create Wikipedia took about 100 million hours of cognitive time.
If we stopped watching TV, imagine all the creative projects we could create with that cognitive surplus.
Now, Shirky is a person who lives on the Web. In The Atlantic, he said he starts his day checking Twitter, on to an RSS reader to check news and tech updates, then to books, magazines, newspapers, NPR... I could joke that if he spent less time online, imagine the cognitive surplus he would build up to write more books. But there would be no books for him without that online time.
He believes that both companies and we consumers need to dump the old models and embrace all the new Web technologies.
He calls that approach "As Much Chaos as We Can Stand." If you're designing these new technologies, dump the old ideas about it. This is his approach with students and some of them have been entrepreneurial and brought ideas to market.
One of those students created Foursquare, a location-based technology where users tag locations where they go via their phone, iPad or other device. It's a very hot property right now. I use it occasionally, but friends tell me they just don't see the point - and are freaked out about letting other people know where they are. The word "stalker" comes up in Foursquare conversations a lot.
But, back to that surplus. I hear a lot of people talk about trying to take back the time they are losing, not to television, but to the Internet. "I'll be off the grid this weekend," they say in an attempt to stop reading email, checking Facebook and Twitter posts etc.
We know that people are already watching less TV (as in traditional broadcast television). That's especially true for the younger demographic. But they're not building any cognitive surplus from that TV turnoff because it is being moved online to consuming rather than producing content time.
Web 2.0 was supposed to be all about being a content producer rather than a one-way consumer of media. Yes, Foursquare is "interactive" but what does it produce other than a possible business model for its owners. (Actually, THE business model these days seems to be to create a service, get a lots of users signed on and then hope you get bought out by Google, Yahoo, Facebook or someone. Then retire.)
How much surplus do you have in your cognitive bank account? How will you be spending it?