Gin and the cognitive surplus

Gin, Television, and Social Surplus

People new to open source software, blogging and other participatory Internet activities often wonder where others find the time. In short, it comes from not wasting a lot of time on things such as TV. The two-way nature of the Internet has made it possible for normal people to be part of the creative process in their spare time in a way that one-way media like TV and radio do not.

The article linked to above refers to the time wasted on TV etc as the cognitive surplus. It even goes on to define a ‘cognitive unit’ based on the total amount of work that has gone into creating Wikipedia. Using this unit, the amount of cognitive resources that are wasted on TV every year is estimated at 2,000 Wikipedias or 200 billion hours in the U.S. alone.

The linked article is worth your time. The suggested link between Gin, TV and societal change is fascinating.

3 thoughts on “Gin and the cognitive surplus

  1. Pingback: » Gin and T.V.

  2. Dan Siemon Post author

    Everyone has times when they are too tired to do anything useful whether that’s reading something challenging, writing, or coding, etc. I don’t think anyone would argue that we should never do activities that are unchallenging like most TV is. If a funny TV show makes you laugh and allows you to relax that is probably a good thing.

    However, I do think it is fair to say that participatory activities such as blogging, sports or even gaming are better on some level because they allow you to improve yourself (even if the skill is not that useful).

    Also note that the article was mostly picking on sitcoms. While there is TV that is challenging and educational sitcoms are not.

  3. cobolhacker

    And I have an idea of which television show you have in mind. :) If it triggers conversation, even T.V. can do more than simply entertain. But it would be hypocritical for me to come down hard on sitcoms — I really liked Seinfeld when it was on, I found it hysterically funny and very entertaining for some reason.

    If nothing else, participatory activity on the Internet brings people together. I’ve often thought this about online video gamers. They are often painted as basement-dwelling misanthropes, but in reality they are out there fraggin’ and slaying bog monsters with other people. Even the adversarial games often build bonds and friendships and that sort of thing.

    I remember one Counterstrike player plopping down the credit card to pay for a new system and she commented that she never would have thought she’d upgrade for a single video game. “Guys do that,” she said. I told her that you are buying this kit so you might excel at your sport. When you haul this thing down to that big match in the fall you’ll get to meet a lot of those people who’ve been fragging and that’s all good. You might even win. It’s really no different than meeting up with your old rivals at the Tour de France.

    In her case, gaming was a possible career. For me, it’s an unproductive diversion only. I’m rambling now. I guess I just would never want others to accuse me of wasting my “cognitive surplus” on activities that were not seen as productive. Given that, I don’t see how I could criticize someone else for enjoying Big Brother or American Idol or any of the brainless shows you get on the T.V. these days.


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