Book of the week: Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky

Shirky argues that the time once spent being “passively entertained” by television or magazines is now put to better use online.

(Penguin, $25.95)

Given all the time that many people waste trolling Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, it’s hard to imagine that the Internet is actually making us smarter and more productive, said Caitlin Roper in the Los Angeles Times. Yet in his new book, Clay Shirky argues that all that time once spent being “passively entertained” by television or magazines is now put to better use online.

New media, unlike the old-fashioned kind, he says, isn’t “just something we consume, it’s something we use.” Shirky employs memorable parables to illustrate how digital media is “well-suited to serving social causes,” said Paul Barrett in Bloomberg BusinessWeek. The world would be a better place, he says, if we all spent even more of our cognitive surplus more efficiently. Unfortunately, this book would have you believe that everyone online is “inoffensive and vaguely progressive.” In reality, the Web is just as useful to “al Qaida and child-porn merchants.”

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