Cognitive surplus – that’s what I had (until I started writing this blog!)

Clay Shirky, author of ‘Here comes everybody’ recently presented at Web 2.0 Expo in San Francisco. It’s a presentation to watch and absorb and think about.  So much of what he had to say resonated for me. He talked of cognitive surplus; the idea of utilising free time productively rather than masking the cognitive surplus to engage in tasks like watching television. I feel like I am using my cognitive surplus to the max right now. Television hardly factors into my day anymore – I’m much more interested in expanding my learning via this online environment.

Clay makes reference to his childhood and the countless times he watched re-runs of Gilligan’s island – he muses how this time could have been utilised differently.  I can only concur. I’d have to add The Brady Bunch to the mix as well. The hours spent in childhood dedicated to re-runs was time wasting at its best.

He recounts a discussion with a TV producer about the cognitive surplas required to amass the pages;

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.  

Makes you think, doesn’t it? Just what are we capable of achieving, if we can channel some of that time into the generation of new ideas rather than the passive pursuit of television watching? Watch the video or read the transcript from Clay’s blog – you won’t be passively watching – your mind will be ticking over with the ideas he presents and I’ll bet he’ll be dinner conversation in quite a few households. (maybe even a few staffrooms!) 

Thanks to Dean Shareski for pointing me to Clay’s blog via Twitter.

3 Replies to “Cognitive surplus – that’s what I had (until I started writing this blog!)”

  1. Jenny what a great post and what a great deal to think about- now that I don’t waste huge portions of my life staring at ads and American TV shows that really tell me little about my life. The conversations we have online – the thoughts that are stimulated instead of dulled down are mind blowing . I feel like I have two lives now and I certainly know which is the more exciting and enriching. Where to go now with my surplus and what about what the kids do all day? oh dear…

  2. Some people tell me I don’t have a life, (my children [sometimes] and other teachers who are not passionate about ICT) But when I look at my growth in knowledge and friendships, as I consider those people in my PLNs friends, I know I am in the right space for me. TV is certainly losing its appeal as I explore and build online. I like Sue’s word – stimulating and it is. Affirming is another. When I get asked about why twitter is so good, my reply is: it’s supportive, it enthuses and it challenges us.
    comment08

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