Cognitive Surplus?

April 30, 2008

Well, this is just unfair.  When you watch a video about the increase of participative activities involving media at 1am, a strong part of me wants to just go to bed.  However, the very topic is almost arm-barring me and forcing me to blog bout it.

Can you force someone to be introspective?  Can you guilt someone into action?  It’s as if the video itself is a predictor on the validity of its stance.  Stick with me: the reaction to this video itself helps determine its own merit.  If I watched this video, shrugged and went to bed, that action in and of itself would have been a sort of counter-argument to the point of the speech.  But the page currently has 150 comments, so maybe the speaker is onto something?

What the hell am I talking about?  Watch the video or read the transcript here (for those that don’t dig Flash) and think about what the guy is saying.  If you can get past the horrible intro and intro music (I really thought this was going to be an Amway clip), the premise of the short speech is that Web 2.0 (social and online participation) is not just a whim or fad, but a more significant shift in people’s interactions that shouldn’t be surprising.  Not sure I fully agree with this speaker, as he tends to talk as if humanity is a cloud of PS3s, just waiting to do a Folding@Home project if given the chance.  As if our time after work every day is being wasted and is only measured by some productive, quantifiable unit like we’re a human power source in the Matrix.

Nonetheless, as gentle readers may recall, I like to pontificate and speculate as to the various motives behind open source/free software participation.  Both to understand myself more and to improve my understanding on how to grow our community.  Sure, I’d love it everyone in the U.S. turned off the TV every night and instead of watching 4 hours of Everyone Loves Raymond (the cognitive equivalent of being kicked by a horse), they did 4 hours worth of documentation, translation, coding and discussion on KDE before bed.  After a long day of work, am I mentally too exhausted to participate online and contribute to KDE, or is my mind still racing (his heatsink statement) and doing some KDE work helps me slowly unwind and can it be therapeutic?

Can this behavior be predicted and generalized?  If given the means (computers), motive (humans are social and not isolated/passive) and opportunity (broadband uptake) will people be naturally driven to opportunities like FLOSS? How do economic/productivity indicators impact philanthropy?  Ug.  I’ve contributed enough – time for bed.  Your turn.  Does the guy have a point, or is he just trying to sell a book?

UPDATE: Ok, it’s 2am and I haven’t gone to bed yet.  Think about how television started with captive audience (Push technology) due to technical constraints and probably got collaborative and interactive at first as a way for producers to better gauge audience reaction and in turn improve ratings.  As TV/internet convergence continues, we move towards the “Would you like to know more?” catch phrase from Starship Troopers.   I also urge everyone to think about applicability toward KDE.  The Pillars of KDE are the first steps ourselves of standardized bidirectional communication channels for KDE.  We’re going through the same transformation.  How far and at what pace do we go?  What will be the benefits (increased activity, person power, expertise) and detriments (trolls, low quality work, turbulence of short-lived participants) every step of the way?  How do our Pillars facilitate not only technical excellence, but tapping into the Cognitive Surplus ™?


One Response to “Cognitive Surplus?”

  1. jim dorey Says:

    you’ve got me thinking, if someone can come up with a semi-popular, simple, time waster game that got its random data from a computing project, there could be some interesting applications. fer instance, netwalk(it’s a game), if each point was a data packet, a dozen people could get the dataset, the results could be sent back to the server, and the best would be taken as the solution. no idea if it would be useful or not, but we could be put to work, processing as virtual neurons, or something like that, and possibly have no clue we’re doing something useful.

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