Constraints

5 May 2008

Social surplus: gin vs. television?

Filed under: Commentary — András Salamon @ 15:54

If gin was the favoured coping strategy in the early part of the Industrial Revolution, then television is surely the Atomic Age equivalent. People have been living with several hours of free time each day for decades now, with most of that free time soaked up by watching TV. However, Clay Shirky argues that when it becomes easy enough to contribute, then people will tend to actively produce instead of just passively consuming. Wikipedia constitutes only about 100 million hours of effort, he says, which is a tiny fraction of the total amount of time spent watching television in a single weekend.

Shirky relates an anecdote of a four year old looking for a mouse to interact with a DVD, and then extrapolates this to a vision of people engaging in production as a leisure activity. I’m dubious that everyone is going to prefer to spend their leisure time producing cultural artefacts instead of essentially passive activities like taking in another repeat episode on the couch, laughing at clever captions, or “watching” records being played. However, if even a small fraction of people do make this shift, the effect should still be very significant.

One prediction: politics will become a mainstream time sink in the next few years, and representative democracy should slowly nudge towards finer grained structures. Of course, all the other social changes will be obvious, once they’ve taken place…

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