Wednesday, 8 September 2010

My Cognitive Surplus: It's Time To Shout & The Story Of Elana Waldman

The last six months has been probably one of the most life changing periods of my life.

I’ll try the abbreviated version. I saw a video on Facebook of a friend of mine’s wife, Elana Waldman. Elana was talking about the fact that she had Ovarian Cancer and the reason that no one really knew about OC is because they’re were so few survivors.

For some reason, I couldn’t get the video out of my head. It actually bothered me. So one day I woke up and had an idea. If the awareness was low because there were so few advocates, then what we should do is get all the people who are alive right now affected by OC to put their stories up in one place – a living collective and memorial to speak for all women who have and might have ovarian cancer.

Elana and Mark loved the idea and was born.

But the story doesn’t end there. At the time I had suggested this concept, Cancer hadn’t really touched my life in a fundamental way. But two months into the development of the project (with a whole lotta help from all my amazing friends), my own father got a diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer. Five months later, and about two weeks before our site actually launched my father died.

Bruce Mau has a quote, “Let Events Change You” and that is exactly what happened to me. It was a life changing, stop you in your tracks kinda life moment. A 32 year old woman who has a husband and a two year old daughter gets Ovarian Cancer and is fighting for her life. A seventy seven year old Doctor who happens to be my dad gets Pancreatic Cancer and five months later I am next to his lifeless body and saying a final good-bye.

Life my friends, is very short and can change in an instant.

My friend Lianne asked me if this got me thinking more about death and in fact, it hasn’t. What it’s gotten me thinking more about is - LIFE.

What do I want to spend the next forty years (Gd willing) doing with my time?

And that brings me to Clay Shirky’s new book Cognitive Surplus that I recently finished reading. Ok that’s certainly more weird timing. It’s a book all about our free time, what we choose to do with it and how we connect that to what we share of our lives. Not only as individuals but as a society and culture as a whole.

As he puts it,

“The cognitive surplus, newly forged from previously disconnected islands of time and talent, is just raw material. To get any value out of it, we heave to make it mean and do things. We aren’t just the source of the surplus; we are also the people designing its use, by our participation and by the things we expect of one another as we wrestle together with our new connectedness.”

I love the fact that Shirky doesn’t just skim the surfaces but makes the work readable all the same. And while I think he probably meant this as a business book, I think that anyone who is looking to use social technologies to further social change should really take a look.

As for me, I’ll take a number of lessons as we do our next phase of outreach for It’s Time To Shout. Twitter has been an incredible platform for us and it’s not just about the number of “followers” we’ve managed to connect with having only launched a few weeks ago (over 150) or our Radian 6 reach (over 550,000).

It’s about the conversations and connections between Elana and the community of people who are touched by Ovarian Cancer and what our movement can mean to all of them.

For more on our project please go to visit our site to see Elana’s Story at:

Follow us on Twitter at

Check out her video blog on

And for Clay Shirky’s new book check it out on Amazon

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