Clay Shirky’s very fine blog post on how leaving telly behind might free us to do more with our surplus brain power, time an attention.
“Where do people find the time?”
That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, “No
one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the
time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you’ve been
masking for 50 years”.
Just mention it in case you haven’t read it yet.
Nice. That idea about sitcoms seems quite original, as was the one about gin. I am somewhat convinced by the possibility of a 1% uptake. It’s probably higher than that already. But I am not convinced that the great social institutions of the 17th-19th centuries came out of reorganised surplus in the manner described. It seems more a case of a different sort of surplus reorganisers (Carnegie, Rowntree, Cadbury etc) than any groundswell of participatory fervour.
Nor am I convinced that people watch TV while the collective unconscious figures out a better activity. I think he’d come up with a useful figure if he calculated how many hours people spend on voluntary and hobby pursuits (from Robot Wars to allotments to church fêtes). If you think of that as refocused cognitive surplus, it would be easy to see that it’s far in excess of what he needs to develop an interactive media.
But I do agree that once people start looking for the mouse, there’ll be some changes made, just as there have been with music and journalism. (It’s easy to see the Post’s experiment with blogging in that light. Maybe the approach should be more interactive in that sense, more like YouTube, Facebook & ICQ.)
If you’re following this kind of topic, you might find Jonathan Zittrain’s work interesting.
The URI for Zittrain: http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=847124
Cognitive surplus? Hang on, is this written by an American? There’s a foul whiff of pseudo-science about this and that ever-so-confident air that comes from those new media converts who think their lives are better than ours.
Honestly, this has made me really quite cross. You could just as easily say that any form of popular culture was one great big diversion. I think media and cultural theory has moved on from this position hasn’t it? That the masses don’t know what’s good for them and somehow need saving? I actually find engaging with social media way more of a diversion than television ever has been.
“Here’s something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here’s something four-year-olds know: Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for.”
I could Fisk the whole article (that bit about the crime map – isn’t that a bit Tory?) but I’ll settle with the above as an example. My five year old more than understands the difference between a TV and a computer (and is very good with a trackpad rather than a mouse). She uses the latter much as she uses a book or a piece of blank paper. That is, she creates and engages with it. She does with new media what she could do with old media except I don’t let her get the messy paints out as often as the laptop. And the only thing she’ll really sit still for is a magician or a storyteller or a clown in a theatrical setting.
Arguments that draw on the presumed ‘wisdom of the child’ just demonstrate how lacking in substance they are. Not even my five year old is naïve enough to think that the world is about to change for the good just because we’re watching a bit less Cbeebies these days.