2011/06/11 Andreas Jungherr

Page-Turners of May 2011

Paul J. Silvia (2007) How to Write a Lot: A Practical Guide to Productive Academic Writing. American Psychological Association: Washington, DC.

This is a very good natured book on how to approach academic writing. The simplest, while probably also the hardest, advice Silvia offers is to stick to a regular writing schedule instead of trusting the spur of the moment or the occasional inspiration to provide writing impulses. To this recovering binge writer this seems to be very sound advice, indeed. The upbeat prose and some practical tips for the journal submission process makes this a very agreeable and helpful read.

Clay Shirky (2010) Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Aged. The Penguin Press: New York.

There seems to be a pattern with me and books by Clay Shirky. I see the talk, like the basic idea and leave it at that, only to return a few months later to actually read the book and find much of value there. This was true for “Here Comes Everybody” and it’s also true this time around for “Cognitive Surplus”. Let’s see if the pattern holds in the future.

In “Cognitive Surplus” Shirky argues that during the second half of last century the majority of people in the West suddenly found themselves with a lot of spare time on their hands. Shirky calls this the Cognitive Surplus. To Shirky social media would enable users to do better things with that surplus than watch TV. Shirky starts by describing the new media environment and the ermergent possibilities to use social media for social good. Still, he does not argue in favor of a simplistic technological determinism the likes of: “We have the tools now they will be used for good”. Instead, he discusses preconditions for the successful use of social media, the strongest being: intrinsic motivation of the contributors and a supportive culture among groups of users. He closes with some rules of thumb of elements that, in his experience, contribute to the success of social media ventures. Usually I am not a big fan of those list, but his remarks seem sensible enough and might actually help in the development of social media services.

As usual with Shirky, “Cognitive Surplus” is a very readable book. Shirky uses well chosen stories to illustrate the possibilities of social media use. He combines these stories with accounts of research relevant to his argument. For me “Cognitive Surplus” works as a very useful addition to his prior book “Here Comes Everybody”. While in his prior book he argued very convincingly in favor of the transformative potential of widespread social media use, in “Cognitive Surplus” he adds some useful conjectures on the reasons why people might be motivated to invest significant time and effort into producing content through social media.

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