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Clay Shirky on our cognitive surplus

Posted by: Tedstaff

There’s a great talk from Clay Shirky in the latest issue of Edge — about all of our surplus, unused brain power, and what we might be able to do with it if we turn off our TVs:

How big is that surplus? If you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project — every page, every edit, every line of code, in every language Wikipedia exists in — that represents something like the cumulation of 98 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 98 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.

Watch the video or read the transcript >>

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Comments (1)

  • John Lopez commented on Aug 22 2008

    There is a serious assumption unexamined here: that TV watching hours can be successfully converted into useful work. It fails to take into account:

    1. Much TV viewing is done to relax… not being productive is the point, and recharging the batteries is necessary to be productive at other times.
    2. Many TV viewers have little to contribute “of value”. A quick pass over social media sites and the posts therein make it seem unlikely that they are vastly different from family and friends that I have… I find it a challenging stretch to imagine them contributing more than gossip and noise.

    None of this diminishes the success of collaborative projects; I just think that 2,000 Wikipedia projects is a *bit* optimistic about the remaining unused brain hour potential.