Cognitive Surplus and its Discontents

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Cognitive Surplus and its Discontents

Postby Jikan » Fri Jun 13, 2014 2:52 pm

I'm referring here to Clay Shirky's idea that people are becoming more and more adept at using their time and mental energy creatively and productively--especially for persons in "creative" (as opposed to productive) lines of work. You might say that we have cognitive surplus to thank for the long and detailed threads we get here at DharmaWheel, with posts not infrequently written by people while at work, and wikipedia, and... all those kitty cat pictures on teh interwebz. And 4chan.

(this isn't exactly a new idea; Rudolph Bahro anticipated Shirky's argument in important ways with his concept of surplus consciousness. but I digress.)

Thinking of all the time spent on nonsense like watching "Gangnam Style" on youtube ten thousand times or making memes about a certain well-groomed shiba inu (wow!), I'm beginning to think that cognitive surplus may be as much of a problem as a blessing. I see this at work, and in some volunteer organizations I am involved with. Meetings are getting longer, more detailed, more personal, more solipsistic, more fussily obsessed with details that are either obviously irrelevant or with relevance showing no signs of recovery, for starters. I notice some changes too in the expectations around emails and other forms of communication. Meanwhile at work, while we're in the second hour of our debate over whether the accent color on the new brochure should be teal or turquoise in color (DIDN'T YOU READ MY EMAIL ABOUT THIS?), the dishes aren't getting done and we waste each others' time and energy on minutiae. Such productive, very help, wow.

My point is that cognitive surplus may be another way of saying it's increasingly likely that people are tying themselves and each other in knots unnecessarily, thinking themselves INTO problems rather than out of them, using all this thoughtwork to escape engaging seriously with the concrete facts of their situations, and projecting absurd expectations and presumptions onto others, with all manner of samsaric consequences. I'm beginning to prefer the too long didn't read (tl;dr) approach. It's more honest, and makes fewer demands of others' time in some ways.

All this makes me want to retire from the internet entirely and head for the mountains. Good things are happening in the mountains, you know.

http://www.dharmawheel.net/viewtopic.ph ... 91&start=0
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Re: Cognitive Surplus and its Discontents

Postby Astus » Fri Jun 13, 2014 3:25 pm

I think the very idea that one wants to spend one's time on useful things is a symptom of uneasiness. Of course I agree that creating problems is pointless, but 90% of what modern people do are mostly a pretension of being useful, maintaining a false image of productivity and/or creativity. The other 10% is related to maintaining one's physical existence. It is only natural that an unruly mind cannot rest. And that is cognitive surplus. No wonder that there are hundreds of volumes of Buddhist scriptures and other works.
"There is no such thing as the real mind. Ridding yourself of delusion: that's the real mind."
(Sheng-yen: Getting the Buddha Mind, p 73)

“Don’t rashly seek the true Buddha;
True Buddha can’t be found.
Does marvelous nature and spirit
Need tempering or refinement?
Mind is this mind carefree;
This face, the face at birth."

(Nanyue Mingzan: Enjoying the Way, tr. Jeff Shore; T51n2076, p461b24-26)
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Re: Cognitive Surplus and its Discontents

Postby Simon E. » Fri Jun 13, 2014 3:40 pm

I think that you are on to something Jikan.

Changing work and welfare patterns have contributed to this process.
We see a leisured class devoting its time to the creation of a phantom being which inhabits a platonic world of pure ideas,
But with no concomitent decrease in the dukkha that they experience..possibly even the reverse.
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Re: Cognitive Surplus and its Discontents

Postby shel » Fri Jun 13, 2014 4:06 pm

Let's face it, ordinary run-of-the-mill folks are lame! :tongue:
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Re: Cognitive Surplus and its Discontents

Postby rachmiel » Fri Jun 13, 2014 5:16 pm

Jikan wrote:My point is that cognitive surplus may be another way of saying it's increasingly likely that people are tying themselves and each other in knots unnecessarily, thinking themselves INTO problems rather than out of them, using all this thoughtwork to escape engaging seriously with the concrete facts of their situations, and projecting absurd expectations and presumptions onto others, with all manner of samsaric consequences.

If you love the thrill of the roller coaster and the high of solving problems -- and who doesn't? ;-) -- then you'll continually find new problems to solve, new issues to sic your intellect/imagination on. And if you can't find any, you'll invent them. "One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

And if you live in a society/culture that encourages you like a frickin' drill sergeant to look outside yourself for meaning/pleasure/etc., there's little chance you'll sic your intellect/imagination on the predicament of your self.
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Re: Cognitive Surplus and its Discontents

Postby Jikan » Fri Jun 13, 2014 5:34 pm

rachmiel wrote:
Jikan wrote:My point is that cognitive surplus may be another way of saying it's increasingly likely that people are tying themselves and each other in knots unnecessarily, thinking themselves INTO problems rather than out of them, using all this thoughtwork to escape engaging seriously with the concrete facts of their situations, and projecting absurd expectations and presumptions onto others, with all manner of samsaric consequences.

If you love the thrill of the roller coaster and the high of solving problems -- and who doesn't? ;-) -- then you'll continually find new problems to solve, new issues to sic your intellect/imagination on. And if you can't find any, you'll invent them. "One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

And if you live in a society/culture that encourages you like a frickin' drill sergeant to look outside yourself for meaning/pleasure/etc., there's little chance you'll sic your intellect/imagination on the predicament of your self.


I agree entirely... I think. Like many personal problems, I think this is a social & historical development that impacts the way people conduct themselves & understand themselves now. I don't think anyone's born this way, nor do I think people necessarily choose to do it.

And I should add that I sometimes see some of this stuff in myself, too.
Thanks to the help of generous sponsors (most of them from DharmaWheel), I'm doing a Vajra Armor (Dorje Kotrab) self-retreat this summer. May the merit be yours!
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Re: Cognitive Surplus and its Discontents

Postby Simon E. » Fri Jun 13, 2014 5:34 pm

rachmiel wrote:
Jikan wrote:My point is that cognitive surplus may be another way of saying it's increasingly likely that people are tying themselves and each other in knots unnecessarily, thinking themselves INTO problems rather than out of them, using all this thoughtwork to escape engaging seriously with the concrete facts of their situations, and projecting absurd expectations and presumptions onto others, with all manner of samsaric consequences.

If you love the thrill of the roller coaster and the high of solving problems -- and who doesn't? ;-) -- then you'll continually find new problems to solve, new issues to sic your intellect/imagination on. And if you can't find any, you'll invent them. "One must imagine Sisyphus happy."

And if you live in a society/culture that encourages you like a frickin' drill sergeant to look outside yourself for meaning/pleasure/etc., there's little chance you'll sic your intellect/imagination on the predicament of your self.



Right.
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Re: Cognitive Surplus and its Discontents

Postby Jikan » Fri Jun 13, 2014 5:43 pm

Jikan wrote:I'm referring here to Clay Shirky's idea that people are becoming more and more adept at using their time and mental energy creatively and productively--especially for persons in "creative" (as opposed to productive) lines of work. You might say that we have cognitive surplus to thank for the long and detailed threads we get here at DharmaWheel, with posts not infrequently written by people while at work, and wikipedia, and... all those kitty cat pictures on teh interwebz. And 4chan.
;


I misspoke just a bit in writing this section ^^^ this morning, for which I apologize. Here's what I'm trying to get at with the distinction between "creative" in scare quotes and productive work.

Lots of creative people produce things. Here at Dharmawheel, we have musicians, filmmakers, writers... These are people the world needs. I think they are productive in the sense they produce something of value, an experience or an object, that can have positive and meaningful impact on us. I'm not trying to undermine or underestimate people who really are creative, and who contribute to Dharmawheel and other positive outlets with their cognitive surplus.

I'm out of patience with the expectations laid at the door of "the creative class," however. I'm thinking about those who are expected, or who are led to volunteer, to spend their energy producing endless internet memes or the next best version of last week's favorite iPhone app (how many times has Tinder been reinvented by now).

Anyway, I think this is something that can be put to good use, but so often isn't, and even has the capacity to turn work situations and other social interactions that are on a good trajectory into the ditch of endless nitpicking, presumption, and constipated he-said-she-said kinds of problems.

stepping away from the soapbox...
:coffee:
Thanks to the help of generous sponsors (most of them from DharmaWheel), I'm doing a Vajra Armor (Dorje Kotrab) self-retreat this summer. May the merit be yours!
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Re: Cognitive Surplus and its Discontents

Postby shel » Fri Jun 13, 2014 6:30 pm

Shirky envisions an era of lower creative quality on average but greater innovation, an increase in transparency in all areas of society, and a dramatic rise in productivity that will transform our civilization.


Oh dear, that sounds awful.

I guess the good old days where people, like my mother for instance, spent the lion share of their cognitive surplus passively watching TV or stifling it with vodka are over?

Wikipedia was built out of roughly 1 percent of the man-hours that Americans spend watching TV every year.


What a waste of productive TV watching time.
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