How the Search Began

Thursday 14th August 2008


I’m haunted on a regular basis by an Ashleigh Brilliant quote: “Inside every older person is a younger person wondering what happened.” However inevitable that may be, I feel a deep urge to prevent it.

Perhaps this is one of the reasons that Clay Shirky’s talk on Cognitive Surplus really spoke to me. After being pointed to it a couple weeks ago, it’s really stayed with me – to the point of driving me to find a way of applying it to my own life. If you haven’t watched (or read) it yet, I thoroughly recommend it. Thoroughly.

As I thought about the scenario Shirky describes, I began to realise I’d been in a limbo situation within it. The smug knowledge that I’m already over television soon gave way to concern over where the heck my Cognitive Surplus had been going instead. Eventually it struck me: I spend most of my free time “faffing around” online. Not participating, not learning, not even having much fun really. I was faffing. As a result, my potential & time was being frittered away…

Truth be told, I wanted to put my Surplus to use, but that vague generalised desire wasn’t enough. The essence of what I was lacking was twofold – a pull from the outside, and a push from the inside. A good parallel is my copy of Final Cut Pro and high-speed external hard drive. They sat virtually unused for over a year, for two reasons – noone provided me with any video material to edit, and I simply hadn’t been inspired enough produce my own from scratch.

The first thing to really draw me out of cognitive dormancy was actually the discovery of Alternative Reality Gaming, perhaps an increasingly common story. When The Lost Ring began around five and a half months ago, I was suddenly provided with that pull and push – the invitation to participate was coupled by a real desire to become part of the epic story unfolding before me. This combination drew from me a high level of participation – something that sites such as had never quite been able to achieve. Oh yes, and I finally found a use for my editing software. =)

What my involvement in The Lost Ring emphasised, however, was my lack of other avenues of participation. When waiting for the next advance in the story, I found myself suddenly at a total loose end – right back into just faffing about. And it was while experiencing this all or nothing scenario that I saw Shirky’s presentation – perfect timing for it really. In the couple of weeks since, I’ve begun working on seeking out new ways in which to engage my brain – options which are inviting, and that I care enough about to engage with.

My first venture is a personal challenge to write the start of one short story a day. As I’m only writing the start, there is no pressure to create an overall structure, or worry about how it will continue – I just write until I’m satisfied (so far usually 2-3 pages in my small journal). The second avenue is deciding to finally attempt to keep a personal blog – this one. I always figured that the last thing the world needs is another blog, but I guess as Shirky says: at least I’m doing something.

Happily, for a six week period I soon will find myself with plenty to do in my spare time. I’m very excited to have been offered a part on the team managing the world’s first massively multiplayer forecasting game: Superstruct. I’m hoping that for many this invitation to participate will be combined with their desire to do so, because it’s got the potential to be something really extrordinary. I reccomend checking out the site, and even having a go at the first pre-game challenge.

Aside from that, I will continue to pursue ways in which to engage my mind fruitfully. I wonder too – am I alone in my tendency to fritter time away online with little to show for it? What ways have others found to direct their energy and attention to good use? In future posts, I intend to follow up on how I’ve been going – as well as devoting some time to considering the parts of The Lost Ring which I’ve found the most interesting. It’s now not much more than a week until the Multiverse Olympics – but perhaps I’ll get onto that next time…

And so this blog begins. Here’s to the pursuit of Cognitive Purpose!

Published on 14 August 2008 at 4:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

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