Clay Shirky and the Cognitive Surplus

By Deane Barker on May 10, 2008

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus – Here Comes Everybody: Clay Shirky gave a heckuva talk at the Web 2.0 Expot about what he calls “the cognitive surplus.” Here’s the theory —

After the industrial revolution, Americans had something new: free time. And we needed to figure out what to do with it. So we started drinking gin and watching TV, instead of thinking and participating.

Television, Shirky argues, has become a huge heat sink that dissipates time that could be spent on constructive pursuits — a “cognitive surplus.” He offers this statistic, which is amazing.

[…] ll 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.

[…] 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.

So, we spend “2,000 Wikipedias” a year watching television. Seriously.

The entire talk is great. The link above goes to the printed transcript. Here’s a link to Zawodny, for the 15-minute video.