As someone who spent a lot of hours over a very short period of time in my childhood watching sitcoms of the 70s, I can very much appreciate Clay Shirky’s argument about seeking out better ways of utilising our “cognitive surplus”.
What he is suggesting, which may be offensive to many, is that even though we are all far too busy and our lives are crazycrazy, we spend a phenomenal amount of time consuming television (he estimates in the States two hundred billion hours a year). Time better spent elsewhere.
In his talk called, Gin, Television, and Social Surplus, at the recent Web 2.0 conference (text transcript here), he presents an interesting argument about the potential of web participation to create new social projects.
We do not have a television in our household*. Never have. It is not because I feel television is a waste of time, it is because I think we can better spend our time. Life is just too short to spend it in front of a television.
Now we spend a fair portion of out free time in front of computer screens. And, this makes me nervous because my family’s and my activities is a cumulation of “consumption, production, and sharing” that Clay Shirky talks about. It is the consumption part that I have difficulties dealing with. Since we never have and still don’t watch television, the hours spent in front of YouTube seem like waste. Even though we have produced YouTube videos, SlideShare, etc. over the last year, I can’t quite reconcile myself to our consumption.
This talk has not calmed my worries, but it has allowed me to obtain a bigger picture about what we are doing in our family by blogging, playing WoW, podcasting, writing wikis, using Google Docs, and participating in social networks. We are, potentially, preparing ourselves for better things to come: a time when we will create new meaningful social institutions, movements and changes.
*I was the one who decided not to have a television. My husband and children would have preferred one. In this one topic, anarchy (me) ruled.