Monday, July 21, 2008

"Where Do They Find the Time?"

Embedded above is video of a talk by Clay Shirky. He offers some really fascinating insights. He points out (about halfway through the video) that the sum total of all the work that's gone into Wikipedia to date amounts to about 100 million hours. Americans, meanwhile, annually spend 200 billion hours per year watching TV. Shirky calls this a "cognitive surplus" and predicts a coming transformation of society, as people take more and more of the cognitive surplus they've devoted to passive activities and start engaging actively in social media.

If right now you're mentally tabulating the number of times you've heard someone proclaim the demise of television in the new, utopian internet age, you can stop. Shirky doesn't go quite that far. He does expect people to watch less television over time, and he sees that as a good thing. But he also points out that people like to do three things with their free time: consume, create, and share. The problem with traditional media is they only enable the first of these. Increasingly, media served up as a passive, canned experience will become marginalized. Businesses that try to control both the message and the experience will lose viewers. And what emerges out of the surplus will involve so many people and so many person-hours that the outcome is too complex to be predicted.

Seventeen minutes long, well worth your time.