Cognitive surplus

Humans on earth have enormous amounts of ‘free time’.

I know you’re busy; you barely have time to scratch yourself. It’s hard to find time to get your hair done, spend quality time with partner and kids, prepare nutritious meals, stay an extra hour in the meeting, attend all birthdays, weddings and footy barbeques…..

You probably watch TV however, becoming a passive consumer to some degree, of media that does little more than kill time and numb reality.  But all that time passively consuming TV (Australian adults spend an average of 13 hours a week watching TV) can be turned into creating and potentially sharing projects with real civic or scientific value. Projects like Ushahidi, tracking crises and connecting communities in emergency situations, and the Zooniverse, a citizen science platform that allows citizens to participate in research from finding planets to identifying African animals in photographs.

The collective cognitive surplus of couch surfing humans could be used wisely to increase the scale of research projects and gain different perspectives to problems across scientific disciplines. And this is exactly what is happening.

Citizen science opportunities are booming, and you can participate. Instead of turning on the TV one night this week, turn to the computer and travel into the Zooniverse; transcribe old biological notes, find planets, hear whales communicate, analyse cancer data. Connect with your own WildLife and swab your belly button or your armpits, track your cat or collect ants!

Have fun, learn, and contribute to meaningful research.  You might even make a special event of your citizen science projects. Science Saturday? School holiday African animal spotting? Get together with family and compare notes. Participate in School of Ants Australia!

Use your cognitive surplus, and read more about it too. The book ‘Cognitive Surplus’ by Clay Shirky (reviewed here by The Guardian) is an important read, in which he argues that technology and media today are mighty forces with the potential to build a better, more connected and knowledgeable world.

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