Gin and Television: Using Our Social Surplus


Clay Shirky has posted a transcript of his Web 2.0 talk "Gin, Television, and Social Surplus." In it Shirky argues that television was the safety valve that society used to sponge up all the excess cognitive capacity that we developed after World War II. In effect, the mindless activity of watching television kept people from going crazy with all the spare cycles that they had.

Shirky says that with the Internet and Web, we're starting to re-use that capacity for social good, finding ways to create value from what was previously wasted.

So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project--every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in--that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it's a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it's the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that's 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, "Where do they find the time?" when they're looking at things like Wikipedia don't understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that's finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation.

From Gin, Television, and Social Surplus - Here Comes Everybody
Referenced Tue Apr 29 2008 09:36:02 GMT-0600 (MDT)

Pretty interesting stuff. Go read the whole article.