Clay Shirky: Gin, Television, and Social Surplus

Clay Shirky on what we can accomplish if we stop watching tv.
So how big is that surplus? 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. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that's 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus.

Interesting, but equating an hour of thought from the average wikipedia participant and an hour of thought from the average American TV watcher may be a mistake.
Given Wikipedia's usual standards, I'd say the two aren't far apart.
You cannot deny that Wikipedia has no less than three orders of magnitude more value than television.
I heartily agree. Stop watching TV and you'll find rather than not having any time, you have tons of time... at first. Then to fill in that time you'll start doing things that are very likely far more productive and enjoyable than watching television. All those things you wanted to do but didn't "have time" or just never got enough motivation to start. After a while, you'll find that you don't have any time again and certainly don't have any time for watching TV. You won't miss TV. You'll probably wonder how you ever wasted that much time on something so boring.

re Chris and Anonymous: the "value" of an hour of thought from the "average American TV watcher" would probably vastly increase in short order after ceasing watching television.
I second Derek Elkins' observation on other activities filing the gap, and this is after not having a TV at home for many years now. (This of course doesn't mean that you don't watch movies or TV shows. It's just more goal directed with DVDs and you can get news pretty easily from the web these days.)
Derek Elkins' advice to gain time by stopping watching TV could be supplemented with the suggestion to shut off one's internet connection. Internet is the new TV.
I also urge everyone to consider the valuable hours spent every day lying in bed doing abso*lutely nothing! Come on people, we've got to beat the Chinese/Japanese/Russians/Martians!
Clay Shirky cited the Brazil crime map as and example, among thousands, of the new Participation. Here's another:


--Eva Casey
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