What Happens When People Migrate To The Internet? The penetration of the Internet into our lives has sparked fears about privacy, and the perils of having so much information freely available. Others believe the Internet is a force that harnesses individual altruism and creates broader social good. Clay Shirky, author of Cognitive Surplus, talks to Deborah Amos about what happens when people migrate to the Internet.
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What Happens When People Migrate To The Internet?

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What Happens When People Migrate To The Internet?

What Happens When People Migrate To The Internet?

What Happens When People Migrate To The Internet?

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The penetration of the Internet into our lives has sparked fears about privacy, and the perils of having so much information freely available. Others believe the Internet is a force that harnesses individual altruism and creates broader social good. Clay Shirky, author of Cognitive Surplus, talks to Deborah Amos about what happens when people migrate to the Internet.

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

The writer Clay Shirky has been monitoring the free time we have in our lives. And over the past several decades, he says we've spent a lot of that time doing just one thing.

CLAY SHIRKY: Television became essentially and unpaid halftime job for every man, woman and child in the developed world, right, 25 hours a week or so, times a couple billion people.

INSKEEP: New research shows the Internet is eating up more and more of our TV watching time.

DEBORAH AMOS, Host:

Clay Shirky writes about this sea change in his new book, "Cognitive Surplus."

SHIRKY: The amount of time and talent we have to swing to shared problems and civic action is incredibly vast.

AMOS: But there's also a lot of cute kitty sites on the Web.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHIRKY: It is fueled by cute cats, yes.

AMOS: And, in fact, I can waste just as much time looking at cute kitty sites as I ever could watching sitcoms. So what's the balance?

SHIRKY: There is a giant gulf between doing something and doing nothing. And someone who makes a lolcat and uploads it - even if only to crack their friends up - has already crossed that chasm to doing something. That's the sea change, and you can see it even with the cute cats.

AMOS: And I see it in a very nice anecdote that you have in your book about a little girl who's watching a video, and she gets up off the couch and she goes to back of the TV. And her father thinks, oh, she wants to see the characters and see where they are. But what she's looking for is the mouse. It's inconceivable to this 4-year-old that you can have television that you can't interact with.

SHIRKY: I mean, you see this with kids. I see this with my kids all the time. They'll see a screen out in public and they go up and they touch it, because they assume that it's going to respond to them. People who are used to those opportunities will both look for them when they're young, but I'm also imagining, will design around them when they're older. When they come to start making media, they're going to start assuming that other people will have some kind of input, as well.

AMOS: There's always a list of losses...

SHIRKY: Yes.

AMOS: ...that accompanies any new technology. And there is a cottage industry of hand-wringers...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

SHIRKY: More than a cottage industry. Let me tell you.

AMOS: And let me give them their voice - one is vanishing attention span, deep reading is gone, social polarization.

SHIRKY: The Tea Party is one of the few protest movements in the U.S. not driven by teenagers and people in their early 20's.

AMOS: But I am told that they wouldn't exist without an Internet way...

SHIRKY: Oh, no. of course, everybody...

AMOS: ...to meet up.

SHIRKY: Everybody uses the Internet all the time, even the hand-wringers use the Internet. The interesting thing to me about the echo chamber argument is that it actually seems to have been a description not of the Internet, but rather of the world of three television stations and one local newspaper - which is to say the media landscape of the 20th century, with its incredible paucity of sources, created more of an echo chamber than what we're seeing today.

AMOS: When you look on balance at this evolving landscape, do you see more PatientsLikeMe than lolcats, in a way that you can tell which way it's going?

SHIRKY: Well, I don't believe there's a which-way question - we don't actually have to choose. We can have both lolcats, or the cute cats, and we can have PatientsLikeMe.

INSKEEP: So the thing we need to be concentrating is finding the people who are going after creating civic value and helping them, regardless of the entertainment value of the cute cats.

AMOS: Thank you very much.

SHIRKY: Thank you.

AMOS: Clay Shirky teaches at the Interactive Telecommunications Program at New York University. His new book is called "Cognitive Surplus."

INSKEEP: Well, of course, we reached out to Facebook and Twitter to find out what you had to say about your cognitive surplus.

AMOS: When I write anything or take pictures or make movies, it's almost with the intent of posting it on the Internet.

INSKEEP: Cathy Swink(ph) writes that the Internet has inspired her to get more creative in the kitchen.

AMOS: She says TV cooking shows are too slow for her taste and they don't offer tips and tweaks from others.

INSKEEP: Pete Mortonson(ph) says the Internet has made him more, quote, "fake productive."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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