Cognitive Surplus – Where do I fit in?

This week we looked at collective efforts and cognitive surplus. One of the first ever efforts of a collective cognitive surplus project was the development of Linux, and alternate operating system from the then rapidly growing Microsoft Disc Operating System, commonly known as MS-DOS. From It’s beginning in 1991, the Linux project (named, begrudgingly, after its founder, Linus Torvalds, a Finnish student) was designed as a free operating system that allows its users the opportunity to add, change, and edit the software by submitting suggestions to the various maintainers throughout the world. The fact that these “maintainers” still had ultimate authority on changes made still does not eliminate the fact that the system is still built on free thinking ideas and a collective cognitive surplus effort.

Perhaps the largest, most successful and most popular cognitive surplus project has been Wikipedia. Started by Larry Wales and Jimmy Sanger in 2001, this online encyclopedia has grown to over 4 ½ million articles. Comprised entirely of reader contributions, nearly anyone with internet access can create, add to, or edit articles.

Linux would be helpful if you were looking for an operating system and Wikipedia has posts on nearly every topic imaginable. I am not certain; however, if I am necessarily ready to contribute to these projects or others like them. Perhaps if there was a similar project which I could be comfortable as a “subject matter expert”. An example may be in the Electrical Distribution industry. There are many, many very specific areas which I consider myself far more knowledgeable than many who have a similar number of years of experience as I have. The reason is because in traveling throughout the country, and in fact most of North and Central America, I have seen nearly every imaginable configuration of electrical transmission and distribution scheme (though every time I say that I learn of a new odd voltage or grounded B phase system that I just hadn’t previously considered). I might also consider Power Transformers (Oil Filled) and sub-stations. Outside of that very specific area of expertise, I would probably feel the community would be better served by true experts in the field. However, if I see a contribution that I know to be false, I may feel compelled to correct that item. And therein lies the problem, at least in my eyes, with cognitive surplus projects.

Earlier in the semester we learned of Marshall McLuhan’s Theory of Technological Determinism, and during the “Print Age”, many people began to accept as true anything in print, because if someone went to the trouble and expense to print something, then it must be have been true. At least in the 15th century it seemed to make sense. But today, in the 21st century, many, many people post things online that are blatantly false, and they do so in such a manner as to intentionally mislead millions of people in the hope that their cause, business, idea, or whatever is believed, promoted, adopted and spread further. The “promise” is to add some value to a person’s life, even though so much of it is simply untrue.

I remember growing up there was a saying that “if you hear it from three different sources it must be true”.  Today, a person can create multiple sources under the guise of different identities and repeat the same fallacies so many times that before too long people just accept them as to be true. Here is a great example: If you require a state issued ID in order to vote, it will discriminate against minorities. Now everyone knows that is a ridiculous statement. Every single citizen in this country has some form of ID. That is a simple fact. Yet, many politicians go on and on about how asking for ID is in some way discriminatory. Why would anyone say such a thing? Are minorities not capable of driving? Well, that is a pretty stupid statement. Are minorities incapable of attending school? Again, another very ridiculously stupid statement. The fact is that every person eligible to vote in this country has a valid ID, or if for some reason they have lost it they can acquire one in less than a couple of hours, so anyone making the claim that asking for voters to produce an ID is somehow discriminatory is simply promoting voter fraud under the guise of equal opportunity. Yet this is an example of saying something over and over, and some percentage of our population actually will begin to believe it.

That is the issue with some cognitive surplus projects. Without well adhered to checks and balances, the original goal could easily become foggy and in fact changed, similar to the old alligator and swamp story…



An Older Folks perspective on “Generation Like”

I first need to express my shock and dismay at the new definition of “older Folks online” – (anyone older than, say, 24)? REALLY???


Okay, back to the topic at hand. Generation Like is something I was not familiar with until this week. At least not the term, but in fact I have been aware of the generation and its inability to verbalize and socialize in a manner consistent with what us older folks like to call “life”. Even though the likes and desperate pleas for attention are in the present real world, it still seems to be part of some alternate universe, some fantasy world where reality only approaches the fringes.

Teens and tweens that try to collect likes seem to me to be crying out for attention in the worst way. I saw the other day that a girl accidently sent a nude picture of herself to her Dad. Well, I am not certain if she were sending it to someone in an attempt to get them to “like” her, or if she was looking for a date or something, but I think it was in a movie with a character named Forrest that said something like “Stupid People do Stupid S_ _ _”, or something like that. Why on earth would a girl need to send out nude photos just to get people to like her?



But maybe things really weren’t that much different when I was growing up.  I used to try and get good grades so my mom would “like” me. So maybe it’s the same thing….And yes, that was my real hair before “product”.


In the real world, guys like Tyler Oakley don’t have millions of “friends”. In fact, I think it would be safe to suggest that when I went to Joliet Central in the 1970’s, guys like Tyler Oakley would not have many friends at all. It isn’t because of his clearly effeminate tendencies, but more his very annoying, larger than life self image when he is a small person. When I say small, I make no reference to his physical stature but rather his small minded and distorted perception of reality.


But unfortunately we see it everywhere we turn. It is in part a direct product of the “everyone gets a trophy” mentality. When I grew up, you had to try out for a team. If you didn’t make it, that was it. You practiced all year and tried out next year. You played for a team, and the team came first. Above all, even if you didn’t get to bat, or had to “ride the pine”, if the team won, you won, and if the team lost, you lost. And only the winners got trophies. Losers went home empty handed, but hopefully they went home knowing they gave it their best shot, and the better team won. And just like the year you didn’t make the team, you and your team would practice all year and try again the next year. Don’t believe it; look at the Cubs…. (Maybe it is simply our definition of what is a winner that is all wrong. There was that whole thing with Charlie Sheen pointing at himself in some of the most loser defining moments, saying “Winner!”.)

Marshall MacLuhan certainly would not be surprised by this generation and its inability to communicate with the outside world. I believe this visionary understood the changing forces on human nature, the formation and development of memes, and how evolution really occurred. Not by humans evolving, but by humans reacting to innovation and technology.

Technological Determinism – Is it real?

The notion of outside technology having an impact on our emotions seemed ridiculous to me when I first began reading about it, but as I read further about McLuhan’s theory I started to believe.

Marshall McLuhan’s Theory of Technological Determinism

McLuhan believed that our way of life was driven by our way of processing information.  He theorized that it was not so much the information itself, but more the method of how the information arrived. The medium of the communication seemed to be directly tied with our processing of that information, and the senses required doing that. Throughout history, McLuhan notes, there have been several epoch changes in information delivery.



  1. The Tribal Age: An Acoustic Community

The tribal age, when communication depended on a combination of a person’s physical senses, were in many ways the most primitive, yet I agree with McLuhan that it was by far the most complex. Humans had to take cumulative information and process it to make conclusions. McLuhan believed that tribal members “led richer and more complex lives because the ear, unlike the eye, is unable to select the stimuli it takes in.” The tribal age, when communication depended on a combination of a person’s physical senses, were in many ways the most primitive, yet I agree with McLuhan that it was by far the most complex.


2. The Age of Literacy: A Visual Point of View       

Sometime between 2000-1500 BC a cave dweller named Org began developing a phonetic letter alphabet. (Okay, probably not really Org, could have been his cousin Jondalar, or Ayla, or any number of characters from Jean Auel’s “Earth’s Children” Series) The development of written words and along with it numbers, created a dependence on visual receptors, and no longer relied on other senses at all. This visual medium increased the accuracy and consistency of shared information. This spurred new developments in areas of math, science, and philosophy.

3. The Print Age: Prototype of the Industrial Revolution

Just as the development of the phonetic alphabet increased consistency and accuracy of shared information, the invention of the printing press in 1450 took this development and put it on steroids. This enabled information sharing with the masses, distributing information to many people in a short period of time. This development consolidated regional languages and dialects into national languages. It also created a false sense of “truth”. The feeling was that if it was the printed word, it must be true. McLuhan believed that literate people were “natural suckers” because most believed in the “printed word must be true” theory.

  1. The Electronic Age: The Rise of the Global Village

In 1850, Samuel Morse invented the Telegraph, and more importantly, which, according to McLuhan, was also the development that moved us to the current epoch of information communication, the Electronic Age. If only Mr. McLuhan could see how right he was, and imagine if Mr. Morse could see how his simple controlled electrical pulses were the beginning of the changing of the world.

So the theory is that it is not the information, but the means by which the information is received and processed. Clearly cave men required much greater resources to not only receive process and act on information but also just to survive. Today information is spoon fed to us in tiny bites, (tweets) or large helpings via internet, TV, and Big Screen media (I even read a newspaper last week – you remember those large pieces of paper with letters and pictures on them, generally folded in the middle for easy carrying; a quick tribute to the Print Age). And just as we had “natural suckers” who believed if it was printed it must be true, we also have hundreds of millions of those same “suckers” that live on today believing if it is on the internet, it must be true. (True meaning: look at the past couple of elections here in our country and around the world.)

But can different methods of communication truly impact the way we live?

Absolutely I believe that the method has impacted the world in the way we live, and the very core of our lives. The communication memes of the past twenty years would have been unbelievable fifty years ago. Mobile devices have changed the very way everyone lives their lives. Travel to a new city, get directions to where you are going, suggestions for dinner, traffic and weather alerts, all at the tip of your fingers. Changing the way we live seems so understated.

So if methods of communication can impact the way we live, can they also affect our emotions? The New York Times certainly believes so…



Facebook Tinkers With Users’ Emotions in News Feed Experiment, Stirring Outcry


The Cost of Better Internet?

Ordinarily, the issue of network neutrality seems ephemeral – like two or more titans battling it out on the horizon, but for this week’s focus question, I want you to consider a situation where two Internet companies start charging more for each other’s traffic and it filters down to you having to pay more for your Internet or service access.

You didn’t think these companies were just going to eat the cost and not pass it down to you, did you?

So, would you be willing to pay more – significantly more – for Internet activity you do now for free or for a low cost? What’s your breaking point where you will just unplug? I reached mine years ago. What would it take for you to scale back or sit on the sidelines?

There are several factors to consider here. What defines “better” internet? Is it speed, content, internet neutrality, or some combination of all of the above?




For many years, the cost of internet has risen primarily as a result of demands of increased speed. Not too many years ago, I can remember starting a download on a dial-up connection of a relatively small document (by today’s standards anyway), getting up to get a drink or maybe a snack, checking back to make sure no error messages had occurred, check the score of the game, and finally return as the document was just finished loading. Somehow, miraculously, I survived to tell the story. (Imagine if your teenager had to endure such abuse. I am thinking there might be a 911 call involved…) Today, people demand to be able to download huge documents and streaming videos almost instantly, requiring greater bandwidth and additional investment by local internet providers. Increased speed is something that I can fully understand and appreciate as requiring additional or upgraded hardware. Physical items that you can touch with your finger and see it with your eyes are an easy sell to most people. It is the kind of stuff everyone understands, and so if the increased speed is what you are looking for, then more than likely you don’t have a problem paying for it.

But what about the other elements of “better” internet? Is better traffic control worth something to most people? Are people willing to pay for fair, unguided responses to their search queries? I might venture to suggest that true internet neutrality is something most people have absolutely no concept of, let alone have the capacity to determine a value of it. In full disclosure, prior to reading this week’s material, I will admit that I had only a shaded notion of what internet neutrality was, and I have always felt that I am an “informed” consumer. But after reading the true definition, I still don’t know that I can assign a value to it, if there is any at all.

Just because a company says that they will provide something doesn’t always mean that they will. I recently read a story about a company promoting free range chickens, only to find out that the free range involved over 2,000 chickens per acre. Now I agree that having the freedom to move around an overcrowded subway car is still better than being trapped in a 3’ x 3’ box, but still not exactly my idea of free range. The same might hold true for providers of internet neutrality. You may find yourself limited to only 20 responses, in no particular order, while other search engines provide 100 responses. So maybe 80 of those responses are paying to be shown, but what does that matter? It still provides an educated consumer the ability to choose what they might read, look at, shop, whatever.


It is interesting how companies that have a virtual (or factual) monopoly will use any excuse for a rate increase. Recently, the electrical energy provider in my area decided to install “smart” meters on everyone’s homes so that they could carefully monitor your daily electrical use habits. The excuse they used was to more carefully plan to be prepared for rising and falling energy uses. They first went to the state commerce commission to ask for, and receive, an increase to install the meters. Then, when consumers complained they didn’t want to be so closely scrutinized, and argued successfully in court that it was an invasion of privacy, the utility offered customers to “opt out” for a small fee every month.   This is wrong on so many levels it borders on ridiculous. First and foremost, anyone who knows anything recognizes that an entire neighborhood has less impact on a utilities demand levels than one single manufacturing plant or large hotel/casino. If I “jog” a 4160v 2,000hp chiller motor every minute for about 30 minutes, I will consume more electricity than 1,000 houses over a 24 hour period.  The truth is they want to capture more and more data about individuals to make an attempt to use it against them. The conspiracy part of my brain says they will do this by placing restrictions on times residential customers can do certain activities and ultimately feed the “Global Warming” story. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for conserving our natural resources, and certainly consider myself a steward of the planet, but I hate groups using lies and propaganda to instill fear, while they reap profits from those lies. (Can anyone say Al Gore?)

cost v efficiency

The bottom line is that I have very nearly reached my breaking point. If my internet provider wants another upgrade for better, faster service, I am just going to say no. If I end up going back to dial-up service, then so be it. While I freely admit that I am heavily dependent on internet service, I will also keep in mind that civilizations survived for thousands of years without it, and slower speeds and mixed content are consequences I am willing to pay for lower cost.



US Government spying on its own?

  The Domestic Spy programs initiated after 9/11 are sources of much concern by most Americans, regardless of personal, political, religious, or other individual identifying beliefs that can often cloud people’s judgment. On one hand, many people believe that many of these programs have helped save countless lives, both in interrupting terrorist plots that were initiated and active, but also by being common knowledge it could be argued that many plots were diverted before they even were able to get started because subversive groups had limited means of communication available, limiting their effectiveness. On the other hand, it is an incredibly huge assault on the privacy of regular American Citizens, the expected rights of privacy that are granted to us by the Bill of Rights.

 The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

  So many wonder if the cost of the spy program (loss of privacy, increased power of the Federal Government) was worth the outcome, which is arguable immeasurable. How can you measure something that ideally doesn’t happen? That is the question that may never be answered, and as a result the argument surrounding the spying programs remains strong.

  I personally believe that the spying program is wrong. I am not overly concerned what someone might discover about me by reading my emails or recording my phone calls. I will pretty much give anyone my opinion on many topics, including this spy program. For many reasons which are becoming more and more apparent today, that when a government begins a program that initially sounds as though it is for the benefit of all Americans, most government programs eventually end up hurting far more Americans than it ever could have hoped to help. I am also totally and completely against the increasing power grab of certain branches of our Federal Government. The Bush administration, under the pretense of keeping our nation safe, began a policy of issuing presidential directive and executive orders directing the use of governmental resources for programs that some argue to be illegal. Those policies have been cited as “precedence” for the current administration to target certain groups of Americans to further restrict their Constitutional Rights, and to ignore the Constitution by making its own laws, almost on a daily basis, and Congresses seemingly inability to do anything about it. The president who promised repeatedly to become “transparent”, in fact has turned into the most secretive, and more disturbing completely dishonest and misleading administration in history. The Obama Administrations total and complete disregard for the constitution is beyond appalling, and the president, while ignoring his own personal oath swearing to “Preserve, Protect, and Defend the Constitution of the United States, has led to the decline of the nation on a global level. This administration has used the IRS to target Conservative Groups, blatantly lie to Congress and the rest of the Nation about it, and not think twice about it. They completely ignore Americans being attacked in Benghazi during an organized terrorist event, fail to send help as Americans lay dying, and again blatantly lie to Congress and the rest of the Nation about it, and not think twice about it.This Administration has falsely labeled a terrorist attack  at Ft. Hood as “workplace violence”, denying American Soldier Heroes and their Families benefits equal to others who were injured or died in the same war, and once again blatantly lie to Congress and the rest of the Nation about it, and not think twice. The bottom line is that the abuse of powers by any government is wrong, and leads to further divide and weaken that nation, let alone an incredibly arrogant and corrupt administration such as the current one, and the damage that is has caused, and continues to do.


While I do believe that we can use technology to keep our nation safe, I believe that it must be done by established means, and policies that have been tested repeatedly in our nation’s courts. Those include obtaining warrants when reasonable suspicion is present. If those conditions are not meant, then electronic surveillance should not be used without a person’s knowledge.  If anyone has any doubt about the abuse of power of the Federal Government need only Google  Andrew Breitbart.

Gin, Television, and Cognitive Surplus



In the first chapter of Gin, Television, and Cognitive Surplus, I found myself thinking several thoughts at once. My first thought was that I was glad to say that I don’t spend hours on end watching television. In fact, I prefer to enjoy a classic martini and conversation with my wife over virtually anything on TV. My next thought was that I was totally unaware of just how many hours are wasted each year by people watching the tube of darkness. 200 billion hours each year, just in the United Stated alone!

I feel compelled to define wasted time versus constructive television watching. Obviously watching the Stanley Cup playoffs was not a waste of time; that is until the Blackhawks were eliminated. After that point, it did indeed become a waste of time. And because it is now past the month of May (Cub fans will understand this), it is also a complete waste of time to watch baseball. In fact, until preseason football arrives, I believe it is fair to say that most anything else on TV is a waste of time. Just so that we have an understanding of the definition of wasted versus productive TV time…

Back to my previous thought. 200 billion hours. Talk about a cognitive surplus. Think Big. World Hunger. Peace in the Middle East. Time Travel. Well, perhaps not the all of these things. Some of the worlds challenges have been present for thousands of years, and after that amount of time if there were ever truly peace in some parts of the world, people might not know how to react. I wonder how many hours of real thought went into putting a man on the moon. Certainly less than a Trillion hours, yet in just five years we waste that watching the tube.

"homeless - please help" sign

There is a homeless person that I see regularly on my way to work. For several years, I would give him a dollar or two when I saw him because he would get up to work his corner at 5:30 am nearly everyday. I have always respected a strong work ethic, and felt I was helping this person. So I asked him one day why he didn’t just get a job, and his reply was not overly surprising; he was a drug user and couldn’t pass a drug test.  He was not interested in any program to help him alter the cycle that he found himself in. I stopped giving him money, but I will occasionally bring him a sandwich. My point of this story is that with billions of hours of potentially productive time being wasted, we as a society should, and certainly could, have not only the time but the ability to find a solution for this man and the millions just like him. Yet instead, we watch incredibly socially inept and offensive sitcoms, which are typically comprised of characters reinforcing stereotypes in the worst possible ways.

I certainly do not have the answers to any of our problems that we collectively face. I am typically ill tempered with little patience when discussing a host of social issues but it is not because I don’t care. It is because money is not the solution to every problem, yet so many people (myself included before I really thought about it) believe that is the solution. The true key lies in the time that could be used to collectively address these issues.

FIltering post publish – Really?

This week we had an opportunity to be reminded of a number of bad habits that we are all developing; that is to send via some media (text, email, tweet, blog, etc.) a message before we actually think about what it is we are saying. In the old days, some people would say that the mouth works faster than the brain. And now people want you to believe that their fingers work faster than their brains?  I will admit to being a moderate to slow typist, but even if I quadrupled my speed I don’t think I could come anywhere near electricity.  I am no neurosurgeon, nor do I pretend to be one on TV, but I am fairly certain that the brain (being that it operates on electric pulses) works at or near the speed of light –  something in the neighborhood of 186,000 miles per second. I don’t know about you, but that seems pretty fast to me.


Maybe that is the old school way of thinking. Today, we simply communicate in a different fashion. Everything in the world is getting faster, and communicating is no exception. And it is not just the speed that is changing. It is the entire communication process. And thinking beyond communication, the way we access information has changed as well. If you are watching a sporting event on TV, and you can’t remember who was the last person or team to accomplish something, it is right there at your fingertips. We no longer rack our brains trying to think of some trivial stat, we simply look it up. And when responding to a friends text or message, we often blurt out what ever comes to mind, without much thought about the entire context of the original message.


I am a person who likes to believe that I stay abreast of what is happening in the world. I regularly visit numerous internet sites providing the latest news on world events, sports, community events, and yes, even politics. Unlike some, I look at many different sources to get a wide array of opinions from various perspectives. My favorite part is reading the comments people make. In some of the most clear cut examples of “publish before filtering”, I find it interesting how some people will instantly take a side or position on any given topic before any of the facts are even revealed. Initially I always want to chalk it up to plain ignorance of the writer, but after reading “Publish, then Filter” from Here Comes Everybody, I realize that it is not just the misspelled words and poor grammar, but the message behind the garbled English that is just as distorted. People that comment on many topics are perhaps looking for their “15 minutes”, or are just so intent on publishing anything that they really don’t care or recognize what their message says about them as a person. I don’t comment on the articles myself, but instead read comments made by others. But if I ever begin, I will be certain to put thought into what I publish.