How will you change the world with your "cognitive surplus?"
I just finished Clay Shirky’s new book, Cognitive Surplus, which discusses how the web has shifted us from media consumers to producers and freed up time for our brains to create new and wonderful things (like say, Wikipedia).
It’s in the later part of the book though, where things really get cooking and Shirky discusses what impact a cognitive surplus could have on society down the road.
Skirky draws parallels between today and the late 1400’s when the Gutenberg printing press was invented, which led to a democratization of publishing (similar to today’s), spawned a new wave of education, (which was, in turn, also publicized through print) and eventually spurred some significant social change.
For example, Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, which outlined his disagreements with practices of the Catholic Church, were tacked onto the doors of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany and then widely circulated.
This small act of “publishing content” led to the Protestant Reformation and a schism in Christianity that endures to this day.
So my question is this…where are the 95 Theses of our modern age?
The rise of the personal manifesto.
Today, a new wave of democratized publishing has created 95 billions church doors, each of which has dozens of sets of Theses tacked to them.
While each of these manifestos are no less passionate than Luther’s, most of them make little impact because they are diluted and dulled by the web’s expanse of space and noise.
For example, this past weekend, I stumbled upon a tweet from a person in my network pleading for people to visit his Groubal, a online petition, and support him in his efforts to call out the retailer, Party City.
Party City had apparently provided bad customer service revolving around a Halloween wig that this man had purchased for this daughter and the whole episode made his daughter cry (the particulars of how and when the crying happened were a bit hazy).
This particular Groubal was this man’s 95 Theses, which he had tacked up on his virtual door for us all to review and support.
So, like Luther’s followers, did I read the document and take action to create social change?
- I saw the man’s tweet promoting the Groubal.
- I clicked on the Groubal link and skimmed the man’s complaint.
- I clicked around on the Groubal site, because I had never heard of it before.
- I clicked a link to follow Groubal on Twitter.
- I noted that Groubal sent me an auto DM in response that was very well written.
- The Groubal thing reminded me of the Shirky book, which I had just finished.
- I jotted down a note that said “Blog post idea: 95 Theses + Groubal.”
- I went outside to play with my kid.
Somewhere in all that clicking and reading and processing, the one thing that didn’t happen, was me acting on this man’s request.
It wasn’t that I thought his complaint was petty or ridiculous.
It’s just that his words – even attached to a handy complaint management and distribution system – just didn’t connect with me. They didn’t stand out in a field of a hundred other people in my social network asking me to do things for them too, like…
- “Read my blog post!”
- “LOL. Funniest video EVER. Must watch!”
- “New whitepaper available. Please download.”
- “Please retweet”
- “This article on ____ is a must read.”
What’s more, his words didn’t stand out in my head, since my mind was already occupied with the development of my own set of Theses (which I have posted here for you, in turn, to ignore too…and if that’s the case, you probably haven’t even read this far to know that I know you’re ignoring me. Sigh…)
Moving from manifesto to mission.
We spend a lot of time in social media talking about the importance of not only talking, but listening too.
I’d go one step further and agree with Shirky that the real trick here is not balancing talking and listening, but getting people to move beyond talking and listening and start ACTING.
In Shirky’s words, this means moving beyond basic community engagement and management to begin “mastering the art of creating groups that commit themselves to working together outside existing market and managerial structures, in order to create opportunities for planet-scale sharing.”
We know how to make people read stuff…
- We use the power of search to make it pop up in Google.
- We use the power of writing to make our content shine brighter than the rest of the pack.
- We use the power of marketing to make what we’ve produced inherently more sharable.
But how do we create content that changes behaviors, incites change and moves people to action?
That’s the potential and power of the next generation of social interaction. That’s the goldmine at the core of our collective cognitive surplus.
How do you intend to tap into it?
Been thinking a lot about similar issues lately, Jennifer.
Recently took part in the Funding Social Change workshop at the College of Visual Arts, produced by Worldstudio, who are trying to activate a legion of people to move passion/manifestos to tangible .
Also saw this provocative post earlier this week: The Devolving Meaning of Social Media http://bit.ly/cbHTud RT @HarvardBiz
Enough reading/thinking? Time for doing?
What do you think the affects the CVA workshop will have on those who attended? I wonder sometimes if it’s face-to-face encounters like that (and cause-based “road trips”) which are the ultimate impetus for people to take action.
Ultimately, the growth of our online networks are the source of great potential. The question is, do we wait for actions for the greater good to just bubble to the service or do we tap that potential more overtly and guide people toward action? Some people are self motivated to take on change, but the reality is there are an awful lot of people who are still comfortable waiting for someone else to step in and lead so they can then follow.
Ah, Jen. You’re brilliant. I love this post. I mean, the whole point of us being here in social media (especially as marketers) is to connect and create action, right? Okay, maybe some of us are hear just because we want to share our puppies ridiculous antics with the world, but even in that, there’s some sort of underlying mission. To share cuteness that makes people happy?
Maybe part of the issue is that we don’t see our missions as actual missions?
There’s so much to this conversation that doesn’t fit into a blog comment (because it’d be long enough to turn into a book), but I think the main way to tap into that cognitive surplus is to actually spend the time identifying why you want to connect with folks. What is that underlying foundational core that gets *you* motivated to even try and create a mission? We get lost in the day-to-day and the “I have to do this” aspects of our work that we rarely actually think about what the heck it is we’re really trying to accomplish. What makes *you* act? Then talk to your audience/market/friends/whoever you’re trying to talk to about what makes *them* act.
We have to move past the apathy that’s developed out of the massive amounts of noise on the ‘net. What’ll it take? More work, stronger focus, and a deep understanding on the most basic and human levels of our own mission.
Good stuff here.
Thanks Teresa. I never thought of cute puppies that way, but you’re right. It ultimately does achieve some sort of affect, whether intended or not.
I love your point about missions as missions. I agree. I think that, especially as our networks get larger, people forget that they have an immense platform for communication and the opportunity to make some great things happen. If you were standing in front of a crowd of 4,000 people, you’d have a sense of that potential. Watching a feed pass by with 4,000 people in it? Not so much.
I agree, noise breeds apathy. Maybe that’s the place to start. Reduce the noise and increase the quality of the engagement. (Of course, easier said than done).
Thanks so much for reading the post, tweeting about it and leaving a comment.
Dear Kane Consulting:
Just a short note to personally thank you for mentioning GROUBAL in your post. It is simply because of individuals like yourself who actually want to help spread a good word when they ‘stumble-upon’ one, that makes all the difference in this world. Please keep an eye out for our November 2010 launch of the GroubalCSI (Customer Satisfaction Index) based on the actual opinions and sentiment of social media users worldwide and the Groubal Game on Facebook that enables gamers to influence the satisfaction rating of the largest brands on the planet.
Again, I thank you.
Founder & CEO
Well thank you for being so on top of your online brand that you found my post to comment on. Not only does your company do a good job on monitoring the social space for conversations, your twitter presence is very nicely done as well. Didn’t spend much time with the site beyond that, though. Thanks for checking in. Best of luck on your future endeavors with Groubal.
So the real conversation here is this: How did you find time to read a book?
Was it on a vacation? Where you ill? Was it one of those paper things my parents used to use to keep the door open? Did you read the WHOLE book?
It is so exciting to have found somebody who has actually read one of those things. It is one of my New Year’s Resolutions. Honestly so many of the social-related books have one idea and then drone for 300 pages. I’m glad you found one that was worthwhile.
Yep. I read the whole thing. 🙂
Not only did I read that book, I read 9 others as well. I’ve got a business book club going here in Minneapolis and Shirky’s book was our pick for October: https://www.kaneconsulting.biz/events/25-kaneco-book-club.html
I found that I was having a hard time carving out space to read business books, so I invented the book club last year about this time so I’d have an “assignment” with a deadline attached to it. The discussion salons have been awesome. Always new people coming through and interesting conversations. Maybe we can Skype you in next year and you can join us 🙂
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Thanks for visiting the blog. Glad you liked the post.