One of the themes of this weeks material was cognitive surplus, or how given the communication platform, we can all influence each other by contributing our time to projects. These can be for fun, for profit, or to help people out.
One example of a civic project that benefits from collective effort is Wikipedia. Wikipedia is the online encyclopedia that is created in people spare time through various edits. People from all walks of life can create or edit pages on any (and almost all) topics that exist. The result is a comprehensive, easy to use, easy to navigate, free encyclopedia that is accessible to anyone with an internet connection. What started as a project where only specific users could edit it was transformed into the world’s largest encyclopedia when they decided to let the whole world at it.
If you’re interested in contributing your time and effort to cognitive surplus projects, a good place to look for them might be Reddit. The so called ‘front page of the internet’ can be used as a stepping stone for collaborative projects. I once found a subreddit of musicians who were trying to create a battle of the bands environment. They formed smaller groups, and each recording their tracks and sent them to another group member for editing and mixing. The result was, over the course of a few weeks, some pretty entertaining music from people who had never even met. Reddit does also have an overzealous tendency when it comes to surplus projects. After the Boston Marathon bombings, redditors took it upon themselves to try and track down the culprits. A subreddit called /r/findbostonbombers was formed (it has since been deleted), and these internet super sleuths took to analyzing the pictures that were released on Flickr, looking at people standing near the finish line around the time of the explosions. They discovered a missing Brown University student named Sunil Tripathi, and incorrectly thought he was the bomber. To cut a long story short, it wasn’t him, and Reddit had spent countless man-hours tracking down the wrong man. I think it is important to note that even thought they had good intentions in trying to help capture a terrorist, sometimes this many people trying to help can be a bad thing.
That being said, if the goal of the project was something I either believed in or felt was worth the effort, I would gladly participate and contribute my talents to a group effort of these magnitudes. I feel it’s a way to really affect the world, even it’s a small amount. So if I see breaking news somewhere, I will tweet it, I will Instagram it, and I will post it on my blog. I will do my part in collaborating on a global scale, hopefully to the benefit of society. Because honestly, how could you pass up doing something on such an enormous scale?