Clay Shriky begins his treatise on the promise of the rise of participatory culture on the Internet, Cognitive Surplus, with the news that young people, for the first time, are watching less television than their elders. The jaded response is “So what? They are still watching screens–computer screens or video games on a flat screen.”
But Shirky argues there is a qualitative difference. Young people are engaging in more interactive pastimes, posting comments and photos on a social media site, or playing on-line multi-player games. This new interactivity comes at a time when traditional sources of interaction, or “social capital” such as participation in fraternal organizations or even bowling leagues is shrinking. Shirky argues this new communal interaction is no less than a revolution.
Not only are young people engaging in the new media, but a recent Pew report cited by the New York Times finds impressive gains in use of social networks among the elderly as well. According to Wayne, “(a)dults 74 and older who are online quadrupled their social networking presence”
Why Spend Time Creating New Media?
A major reason people now spend time creating new media is because they can. The opportunity now exists which did not exist in the past. With the help of buying Instagram Likes from this website, you can certainly ensure that it is now easier and the opportunity is there. You no longer have to look for followers for your social media account when you can buy them. This is ideal for business owners who have social media network presence. This will help them grow their audience and as a result, more buyers will come. The world is more and more interconnected by computers; not, as Shirky notes, that older generations would not have created using social media, it is that they simply could not. Now the opportunity exists. Shriky notes four elements: community, cost, clarity and culture involved in sharing knowledge. The Internet provides all four.
We all do things for rewards, such as working to earn a paycheck; or to avoid pain, such as taking time to get our car maintained, but our “third drive” according to David Pink, is to do something just because it is interesting. This internal drive or “intrinsic motivation” is behind much participation in the new media. Why take time to share a funny video, or to create one? The motivation is pure enjoyment, stoking feelings of competence and autonomy.
A good example of this intrinsic motivation is found in one person’s response to Shirky’s observations about the amount of time spent watching television versus the amount of time spent constructing Wikipedia. The person created a visual representation of the great disparity. The visual is posted on-line. This participatory spirit excites Shirky who prophesies wondrous political and cultural outcomes from the new media.
The Personal is Political
The ability of people to come together over the Internet to support, research, and champion an infinite number of interests lends itself to political action. Shirky retells the story of the protests against American beef imports in South Korea as a prime example.
Fueled in part by the concern and participation of girls too young to vote who had an interest in a boy band’s website, the public rallies resulted in not only a reworking of rules regarding the import of beef, but also triggered the replacement of the entire South Korean cabinet. A few young women posting concerns about Mad Cow on a public website grew into an effective ad hoc movement.
The seeming purity of such web-based political actions underlies their appeal. The lack of paid organizers, profit motives, and slick campaigning seems to touch many people who would otherwise remain inactive. A feeling of belonging intrinsically rewards those who participate. It turns out people like to feel generous, and contributing to on-line efforts puts that opportunity at their fingertips.
One of the features of new social media is how easy it is to build upon the work of another, to make a work a truly communal effort. Humans, research shows, assume that interactions have a social component. That is why the experiment called “The Ultimate Game” fails to find purely economically rational behavior when faced with an economic exchange. As social beings, we unconsciously expect feedback. The new media, however, gives us the opportunity to exchange ideas with others all over the planet in real time. .
An excellent example of a small scale feedback loop can be found on a website where Shriky’s comparison of television hours verses hours spent editing Wikipedia is illustrated by an amateur graphic artist. The artist’s original illustration is followed by multiple comments on both the topic in general and the illustration itself. Suggestions about how the graphic might be more accurate are generously posted. Multiply that interaction over and over again and it is easy to see how something truly unique and communal is generated through the use of social media. Large scale projects like the development of free software like Apache are cited by Shirk.
Criticism of Cognitive Surplus
Not everyone sees the rise in voluntary activity primarily for intrinsic rewards, like feelings of competence, autonomy, generosity and belonging as a positive thing. As one writer on the Information is Beautiful website complains, “Is the point you are encouraging here that people should be spending 100% of their time working and none of it consuming? Isn’t that simply capitalism without the benefit?”
As Shriky himself notes, much of what has been discovered about social media defies our traditional cost-benefit mindset, which is why it is exciting, and surprising. Like the Ultimate Game experiment, we find we are not purely rational beings, but ones primed for social interaction. After years of passive television consumption, the Internet gives us the ability to work communally, for our own intrinsic enjoyment.