“Does the Internet Make You Smarter?” Clay Shirky Answers

By now, you should know I’m a huge Clay Shirky (@cshirky) fanboi.

He’s published in weird places sometimes, like earlier this week in the WSJ Online edition. Check out his essay called “Does the Internet Make You Smarter?” before Murdoch (not the one with a k from the A-Team, the other one) slaps a paywall in front of it.

As usual, he does a fantastic job of explaining something complex, adding historical anecdotes to strengthen his argument and making you feel like you already knew all this.

Great stuff.

AboutJake

a.k.a.:jkuramot

13 comments

  1. “…we are no more evolved to read books than we are to use computers.”

    That's missing the point. Books and computers evolve for us to use them. Bad fonts and overly convoluted layouts notwithstanding.

    Revolutions always hurt great numbers of people, and not always for the best end result.

    Now that we have technology that can block social networking, it is being blocked. It is difficult and expensive to have levels of constraints to add value (like the peer review example). So you wind up having people who could formerly do things no longer be able to do them. For example, say someone finds it valuable in their work to go to blogspot or wordpress and see the few valuable sites. But work then blocks both as “social networking.” So they go to forums.oracle.com, and discover they can't get to wiki to see the faq.

    Information may want to be free, but people want to control it even more. And they want to control other people even more.

    I've been saying it a long time: limiting access to information creates value.

    DIY is way more expensive than people admit.

    Once again, they didn't deliver my paper before I left for the train this morning, and the paper I bought at the station was yesterdays, grrrrr….. stupid internet! Sucking the life out of good media!

  2. Interesting. Kind of a chicken/egg argument. Do we evolve around media, or do they evolve around us?

    I'm betting on both, although I really hate treading the median.

    Your point about revolutions is a bit melodramatic. The printing press didn't hurt people, did it? The interwebs doesn't hurt people, does it? Not like armed conflict anyway.

    One thing to note about the intertubes, it's participation-based. The way to block social networking has existed for hundreds of years; just ignore it.

    I suspect you're talking about IT though, which makes the point murky to me.

    I have to say I agree with the assertions that a) limiting access to information creates value and b) that DIY is more expensive than people admit.

    I also agree with the counter arguments to each, namely that information wants to be free and will be so, and that DIY will always have a market, regardless of the cost.

    Both sides play nicely to human nature. Damn, there I go sitting on the fence again.

  3. In the short term, we revolve around them. Their evolution is driven by the profit motive, which screws up feedback which would point the evolution in the proper technical direction. So you wind up with things like thin ethernet and copper telephone wire holding back broadband adoption, Windows as de facto standard, superior technology left in cul-de-sacs to be laughed at in year-end “remember…?” articles. Remember 3-D movies?


    Your point about revolutions is a bit melodramatic. The printing press didn't hurt people, did it?”

    “… leading to claims that the printing press, if not controlled, would lead to chaos and the dismemberment of European intellectual life.
    Journal Community

    These claims were, of course, correct. Print fueled the Protestant Reformation, which did indeed destroy the Church's pan-European hold on intellectual life…”

    And they sure didn't expect the Spanish Inquisition!

    “The interwebs doesn't hurt people, does it? Not like armed conflict anyway.”

    Man, you need to read some sort of news media. China, Tibet, Iran, Iraq, people with the same name as child molesters, blacks, http://www.ktla.com/news/landing/ktla-beat-a-je… obviously I could go on. Things that have happened for millennia, sure, but at social networking speed. Interestingly, in the countries that are having issues with social media blocking, one workaround is direct bluetooth networking between devices.

    You can't ignore something that is mainstream. Even Amish buggies need orange triangles.

    I'm rapidly changing focus from the very small to the very large, sorry, that would be an effect of this medium.

    Watch out for those sharp pointy fences 🙂

  4. The causality is shady. Yes, the printing press aided the Protestant Reformation, but I'm betting Luther and company would eventually have found a way to get those theses on that church door without it.

    Similarly, marine technology caused the American Revolution. TV caused the civil rights movement. True revolutions use whatever is available to advance their causes. It's not the fault of the technology that's available, e.g. shit happens, don't blame the toilet.

    You're right. We've crossed into a much larger discussion, but I've enjoyed this. I do like the shot at 3D movies. The email requirement prevents rampant anonymous commentary 🙂

  5. Ironically, I started to lose interest on the first page 🙂 Need to budget some time to pay attention to a five-page article. I'm not sure we have a choice anymore, at least those of us in this business. Not multitasking makes you seem unproductive, which is ironically counterproductive for the business. I use several techniques to hide from distractions, but it's not easy. Actually, this is another reason I'm not in love with notifications on Android.

  6. Jake, I have freshly arrived here at your “cyberesidence” having learned yesterday what Clay Shirky means by the word “default” [see podcast here: http://surprisinglyfree.com/2010/06/14/clay-shi

    From listening to this podcast and resulting follow up, I understood that defaults are not simply ways of making choice easier in software but defaults exist in the product called “society” also. This idea that too much choice can have paralyzing effects was explored by Barry Schwarz in the following TED Talk

    Barry Schwartz on the Paradox of Choice
    http://www.ted.com/talks/barry_schwartz_on_the_

    In investigating/exploring the Clay Shirky interview, I also found a way of describing my own behaviour without resorting to the superficial and redundant phrase “rebel”. I now know that I am not a rebel but someone who naturally gravitates to changing the default (in my own life).

    DIY is a default behaviour but what I find most interesting about DIY is why it has become a default as a behavior in society. When I look at the underlying impulse of DIY I arrive at a more profound explanation and that explanation is ingenuity.

    Reframing is a great concept and I like to take opportunities to put into practice in my own life and the reframe DIY is changing the view we have of this expression “the dumbing down of society”. When I look at life as ingenuity being expressed through DIY, then we are not as much “dumbed down” as a society, as much as we are flattened by “defaults” set by decision makers (I guess), where ingenuity is compressed to the point where it oozes out in other places. DIY is one of those places.

    Whenever we see people expending energy and creating personal value where it does not fit the default picture of value creation, I can put a sure dollar that it is ingenuity that we are witnessing.

    The default that universities teach us is “your argument, my argument”, the default that marketers set is “your position, my positioning”. I naturally question such defaults, I will explore my view here but I see no reason to “dumb myself down” by contesting this view with someone who lives an entirely different way of life and comes from entirely different set of circumstances and experiences.

    The “default” then can dumb us down (as I see it) because we are not exploring what we need to learn when the best teacher we have is our own life (if we don't know who we are, how does anyone else help us know that). If this default impulse is that we want to change opinion, we can default into trying to change other people without changing ourselves.

    What I like about viewing DIY as an expression of ingenuity (that has been wasted through the default channels of societal value creation) is that it also means that DIY'er is less likely to be a narcissistic. Not everyone in our default societal state has the means to express their “inner calling” and if DIY is an outlet for that to flow, then I applaud people like Shirky and Cass Sunstein/Richard Thaler and Kevin Kelly exploring or bringing attention to this idea of what a default is and how that relates to cognitive surplus.

    There is also an a default about celebrity whose settings I prefer to adjust (at a personal level) because when we assume that there is one or a few great thinker or stars, we miss the greater cognitive surplus of “ingenuity” which we find in any DIY store. Instead of doing research on this or argue this intellectually, stop by a local DIY store and take an interest in human beings (when they are not in the default state of “shopping”).

    The stories that emanate from why a person spends much money on DIY rather than buy the default setting will probably be the best single source of evidence that ingenuity is wasted in our default set society. So I conclude that I am not a rebel but a citizen who shares a cerebral space on this planet with six billion other people, but who has tweaked a setting called “living one's own life” and making the invisible aspects of “freedom” visible again. The default setting in society is personal brand – my setting is rediscovering the joy of a individually private and socially ordinary life.

    [Em]

  7. I'll have to qualify my reply bc I haven't had time to review either of the links you added. See above for the overload disclaimer.

    Is DIY as common in other countries I wonder? Americans gravitate toward DIY, probably for cultural reasons, but also through ego, i.e. our society places weight on self-reliance. Yeah, it's mostly a myth, but we do it anyway.

    Therefore, I actually think DIY cultivates narcissism, which isn't as bad as it sounds.

    The problem is that DIY isn't always done for the pure reasons you cite. Sometimes it's driven by money, others by ego, etc. I'd speculate that DIY for the sake of intellectual growth is somewhere in the top 3-5 though, so not too bad.

  8. I like to think I look at the world a bit like Clay Shirky looks at it, which is that (as he rightly says) it isn't overload that is the issue but “filter failure”. When I write I am more inclined to learn from my own words, especially if I assume not to know who anyone is. Of course we all assume who people are because we utilize stereotypes and we make value judgments about what we think others “are about”.

    If I view narcissism as the default state of social media, then I am here to change my own settings or at least learn how to do that. What I do resonate with is the idea that it is the environment and system which principally drives behavior. I don't know to what extent narcissism is good or bad, but I do know that it is a systematic driver in our modern culture.

    We are so driven in a systemic fashion to prove ourselves right or the other person wrong that we can fail to see the beauty of discovering when we are wrong and follow up on discovering what is right (for our own given selves).

    As I write this, I am in a constant state of thinking and adjusting (that is why I am personally attracted to the question “Does the Internet Make You Smarter?” Of course it does – if one utilizes it smartly.

    If I uncover an emotion in me which drives my thinking to make a point to Jake, then I have discovered narcissism within me which is unproductive, rather useless and that serves only a superficial, transient purpose. Right now I am thinking how does what I am thinking as I type this have to do with the scientific method, so I do my Google, to elicit more diversity that represents a pool for my my information (at all times still utilizing Clay Shirky's great advice about avoiding “filture failure”). As I write this, I also search and find this:

    The Myth of Magical Scientific Method
    http://dharma-haven.org/science/myth-of-scienti

    That isn't multitasking at work but I am engaging parallel thinking, the capacity to hold two different thoughts in the pursuit of exploration. The question above isn't “Does the Internet make society smarter?”, it is “Does the Internet make YOU smarter?”.

    By thinking this through as I write it, I am dipping into this specific question. So now do I go to the most egotistical snob headed DIY'er and try to see what I can learn from them, or do I look at the DIY'er who minds her or his own business and gets on with their life, and buys material which she or he turns into creative stuff.

    I am not the thought police, I don't want to tell DIY'ers my theory of their behavioral pattern, I want to learn from the “best of them” not the general egg head that exists in all manner or walks of life. Nor do I have any idea whether I am anymore smarter for writing this, but if I am doing this for the right reason, I am pursuing what I think is a new setting for personal exploration, then the odds are stacked in my favor that I am going to learn something, that has personal relevance to my own education and well being.

    Jake, I am going to be smarter if I ask the most pertinent question, which isn't whether DIY cultivates narcissism but what does narcissism cultivate within me. I can see that you are a smart guy, and I welcome you offering this space for me to think through my own thoughts, even with the overload disclaimer 🙂

    It is time for me to move on to my next destination because Disqus provides me an opportunity to meet a diverse group of people. I am not engaging here in textbook form, I explore so I am no Svengali of righteousness or nor do I want to be a thought leader who gives people something to think about. After I finish writing this I sit down and place myself in the shoes of DIY'ers, and maybe in the shoes of whoever it is that “Jake” is, but I don't know who anyone is, other than who I am.

    If the Internet can make me personally smarter then I just got to go about doing things my way, or at least in ways that don't resonate with other people's ways. This makes me think about Billy Joel's line in his song Vienna

    “Though you can see when you're wrong, you know
    You can't always see when you're right. you're right



    There are plenty of people in life to trade talking points and to argue with, but there is only one journey of life. I pass my best regards to you Jake, and far from wasting my time being here, I got enough out of this to know that I am somewhat smarter for having undertaken this drive through. All the best Jake, it was neat being here.

    [Em]

  9. My bottom line is this: even if the Internet's distractions make us prone to lose concentration, the Internet as a whole does edify us, which in turn can (but doesn't always) make us smarter. As with any resource, it's up to the individual to decide how to use it.

    Thanks for dropping by and adding your thoughts.

  10. I like to think I look at the world a bit like Clay Shirky looks at it, which is that (as he rightly says) it isn't overload that is the issue but “filter failure”. When I write I am more inclined to learn from my own words, especially if I assume not to know who anyone is. Of course we all assume who people are because we utilize stereotypes and we make value judgments about what we think others “are about”.

    If I view narcissism as the default state of social media, then I am here to change my own settings or at least learn how to do that. What I do resonate with is the idea that it is the environment and system which principally drives behavior. I don't know to what extent narcissism is good or bad, but I do know that it is a systematic driver in our modern culture.

    We are so driven in a systemic fashion to prove ourselves right or the other person wrong that we can fail to see the beauty of discovering when we are wrong and follow up on discovering what is right (for our own given selves).

    As I write this, I am in a constant state of thinking and adjusting (that is why I am personally attracted to the question “Does the Internet Make You Smarter?” Of course it does – if one utilizes it smartly.

    If I uncover an emotion in me which drives my thinking to make a point to Jake, then I have discovered narcissism within me which is unproductive, rather useless and that serves only a superficial, transient purpose. Right now I am thinking how does what I am thinking as I type this have to do with the scientific method, so I do my Google, to elicit more diversity that represents a pool for my my information (at all times still utilizing Clay Shirky's great advice about avoiding “filture failure”). As I write this, I also search and find this:

    The Myth of Magical Scientific Method
    http://dharma-haven.org/science/myth-of-scienti

    That isn't multitasking at work but I am engaging parallel thinking, the capacity to hold two different thoughts in the pursuit of exploration. The question above isn't “Does the Internet make society smarter?”, it is “Does the Internet make YOU smarter?”.

    By thinking this through as I write it, I am dipping into this specific question. So now do I go to the most egotistical snob headed DIY'er and try to see what I can learn from them, or do I look at the DIY'er who minds her or his own business and gets on with their life, and buys material which she or he turns into creative stuff.

    I am not the thought police, I don't want to tell DIY'ers my theory of their behavioral pattern, I want to learn from the “best of them” not the general egg head that exists in all manner or walks of life. Nor do I have any idea whether I am anymore smarter for writing this, but if I am doing this for the right reason, I am pursuing what I think is a new setting for personal exploration, then the odds are stacked in my favor that I am going to learn something, that has personal relevance to my own education and well being.

    Jake, I am going to be smarter if I ask the most pertinent question, which isn't whether DIY cultivates narcissism but what does narcissism cultivate within me. I can see that you are a smart guy, and I welcome you offering this space for me to think through my own thoughts, even with the overload disclaimer 🙂

    It is time for me to move on to my next destination because Disqus provides me an opportunity to meet a diverse group of people. I am not engaging here in textbook form, I explore so I am no Svengali of righteousness or nor do I want to be a thought leader who gives people something to think about. After I finish writing this I sit down and place myself in the shoes of DIY'ers, and maybe in the shoes of whoever it is that “Jake” is, but I don't know who anyone is, other than who I am.

    If the Internet can make me personally smarter then I just got to go about doing things my way, or at least in ways that don't resonate with other people's ways. This makes me think about Billy Joel's line in his song Vienna

    “Though you can see when you're wrong, you know
    You can't always see when you're right. you're right



    There are plenty of people in life to trade talking points and to argue with, but there is only one journey of life. I pass my best regards to you Jake, and far from wasting my time being here, I got enough out of this to know that I am somewhat smarter for having undertaken this drive through. All the best Jake, it was neat being here.

    [Em]

  11. My bottom line is this: even if the Internet's distractions make us prone to lose concentration, the Internet as a whole does edify us, which in turn can (but doesn't always) make us smarter. As with any resource, it's up to the individual to decide how to use it.

    Thanks for dropping by and adding your thoughts.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *