Posted by: Clive | June 13, 2008

How much TV are YOU watching?


I like Clay Shirky. OK, he’s toward the utopian side of the net revolution debate but his ideas are captivating. His book Here Comes Everybody has some fascinating examples of the ways in which new communications technologies are being harnessed. I’ve just listened to a talk he gave recently. Here’s a synthesis to stimulate some thought:

The industrial revolution rationalised production processes and created, for the first time, ‘free time’. And it created a crisis: what were people to do with new-found free time? Mostly they drank gin – that was the social lubricant that oiled society and kept the (production) cogs turning. Post-war industrialism in the west gave us a five day week and a nine to five working routine that added affluence and increased free time. The lubricant then became watching TV. The result has been similiar to drinking gin – ‘dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat’. Clay refers to this dissipated thinking as ‘surplus cognitive effort’ (thinking-doing time) and his calculations of how much of it there is is staggering:

200 billion hours is spent in the US watching TV every year.
100 million hours a weekend is spent in the US watching advertising.

Clay has also calculated roughly that it has taken about 100 million hours to create Wikipedia (an online encyclopedia created by volunteers with more than 8 million articles in over 200 languages). So the time spent watching TV equates with the creation of 2,000 wikipedia’s a year!

Moral of the story? We have more time than we care dare to think. The mass media are hoping that the present moment (where media production by media conglomerates is now competing with media production by you and me) is a passing fad. Clay thinks that just as TV consumption replaced gin, participatory culture is replacing TV. The lubricant oiling the society is now social and it just may lead to some interesting over-heating.

Have a listen yourself. It’s surplus cognitive effort well spent!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: