Gin, Television, and Social Surplus

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus is a transcript of a speech that author Clay Shirky gave at the Web 2.0 Conference last month on his blog.

In this speech, Shirky posits that we’ve spent the last 60 or 70 years in a tailspin of idleness as we’ve been coming to terms with this newfound free time.

Starting with the Second World War a whole series of things happened–rising GDP per capita, rising educational attainment, rising life expectancy and, critically, a rising number of people who were working five-day work weeks. For the first time, society forced onto an enormous number of its citizens the requirement to manage something they had never had to manage before–free time. And what did we do with that free time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV.

And I completely agree with this. I’m a pretty motivated guy, what with all the creative endeavors that I’ve participated in over the years. But that time pales in comparison to the amount of time that I spend idle. Television, games, the unholy mass of RSS subscriptions that I check several times daily.

But Shirky believes that we’re finally about to pull out of this era of couch potatos.

And it’s only now, as we’re waking up from that collective bender, that we’re starting to see the cognitive surplus as an asset rather than as a crisis. We’re seeing things being designed to take advantage of that surplus, to deploy it in ways more engaging than just having a TV in everybody’s basement.

He believes that we’re moving beyond the 20th century notion of media and entertainment was a one way street leading right down the gullet of the consumer. But with the advent of the web and it’s removal of barriers to content sharing and actual content creation, we’re finding out that media is a three way street.

By and large people still like to consume. We’re not going to right the ship overnight. But it’s been found that if given a chance, people will opt to produce and share media content as well. Which, as a content producer myself, I think is a pretty accurate observation.

So, now that we’re going to be spending less time as couch potatoes, and more of our lives in a role like cross-pollinating, honey-producing bees, what are you going to do with this surplus of free time?


Clay Shirky

Via Boing Boing