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Clay Shirky on Social Surplus

Brilliant, brilliant article. Go. Read. Now.

Some highlights:

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. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads.

Now, the interesting thing about a surplus like that is that society doesn’t know what to do with it at first—hence the gin, hence the sitcoms. Because if people knew what to do with a surplus with reference to the existing social institutions, then it wouldn’t be a surplus, would it? It’s precisely when no one has any idea how to deploy something that people have to start experimenting with it, in order for the surplus to get integrated, and the course of that integration can transform society.

In this same conversation with the TV producer I was talking about World of Warcraft guilds, and as I was talking, I could sort of see what she was thinking: “Losers. Grown men sitting in their basement pretending to be elves.”

At least they’re doing something.

The cost of participating in social media seems like small change given the cognitive surplus from turning the TV off.

If you didn’t listen before… Go. Read.