I’m with Carr; I call bull. Here’s why:
Have you ever been driving down the road, doing your usual five or ten miles per hour over the limit, and then noticed that there’s some dipshit tailgating you, and he’s so close that you can’t even see his hood ornament. And then that guy, who is very clearly in a hurry, finds a spot to pass you and charges off into the distance at a thoroughly unsafe speed? And have you then caught up to that guy at the next stoplight and been mired in the same traffic he is, all the way to the next destination?
I won’t bother embarrassing anyone by asking if they’ve ever been that dipshit. Almost every driver has.
Which is the real issue. Creating user content on the Web is, by and large, much like that tailgating and passing and speeding. It makes the person committing the actions feel like they are doing more to accomplish their goals, and they tell their friends that they accomplish more because they “don’t follow the rules like those sheep”. These people do not, however, get to their destinations any faster or create anything more memorable than dime store bumper sticker slogans.
I agree with Shirky’s premise about “cognitive surplus”, but I think you could class the vast majority of Wikipedia content on the “dissipation” side, instead of the “harnessed”.