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"A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken"

Jeremy Zawodny links to a Web 2.0 conference presentation by Clay Shirky about what Shirky calls “the cognitive surplus.” It can largely be boiled down to this: that whenever anyone asks, about the massive user-driven online projects (e.g. Wikipedia), “Where do they find the time for all this?” the answer is, generally, “They watch less television.”

Or at least, they see television differently than they used to. (See the title quote, a summary of how at least one anecdotal four-year-old views television.) I seldom, if ever, watch television; I try to keep this to myself, because it’s the sort of statement that makes people accuse you of trying to be superior (or simply acting smug.) I know people who do, but only in the context of other activities, not in the old context of simply sitting and watching. I can’t promise that I’m always doing interesting things with this extra time, though seven or eight hours of running every week may be part of it.

The difference, Shirky explains, is that we’re no longer afraid of what to do with our brain when we’re not working, and we don’t feel the need to hide in passive entertainment. We’re increasingly able to choose how we use that “cognitive surplus”, and when a project like Wikipedia can get a few billion of those brain-hours, it can do impressive (if not necessarily always accurate) things. It’s an interesting theory, and one that may not be provable, but if he’s right, the TV people had better be looking around to figure out where they fit in to this new world.

But don’t take my word for it; take Shirky’s.

Now Playing: The Obscenity Prayer by Rodney Crowell

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