The Cognitive Sinks

A few days ago a crime mapping article I wrote for the People Design blog went live. It pulls together thoughts I have had about this whole mapping thing, and some input from some other people who are involved in this sort of thing.

On Monday I came across a link to a presentation Clay Shirky gave at the Web 2.0 conference last week (transcript of the speech) (video of the speech). In it he talks about the idea of a “cognitive surplus”, and what that could mean for the world in the upcoming years. The idea, brutally simplified, is that as we cease indulging in passive entertainment and begin involving ourselves more and more in interactive pursuits, the amount of available brain-power in the world will increase dramatically. Not that the brains haven’t always been there; they have been turned down to a flicker by being pure consumers of ideas rather than producers.

Shirky brought up the common comment about people who do things like create the Wikipedia: “Where do they find the time?” Simple. They are actively exercising their imaginations, rather than passively absorbing someone else’s output.

The comments and compliments my co-workers offered me about the crime map, combined with the Shirky talk, got me to thinking. The crime map was a simple project. Other than gathering the crime data, it really represented about five hours of work. An afternoon. The length of two of the Matrix movies. If everyone who sat through the Matrix movies more than once, decided instead to exercise their imaginations for that time instead, how many more wonderful things would there be in the world?

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