Gin, Television, and Social Surplus – Clay Shirky video

I’ve been waiting for this video to come out for a few days now. This talk is pretty amazing, required viewing for anyone interested in the accelerating evolution of culture or just 21st culture in general. He’s speaking of the concept of a “cognitive surplus”; essentially that when we are introduced to new technology that makes our lives easier, we are given a surplus of mental energy. This energy can be expended in useful ways or wasted, as in the case with Gin in the 19th century and Television in the 20th.

Did you ever see that episode of Gilligan’s Island where they almost get off the island and then Gilligan messes up and then they don’t? I saw that one. I saw that one a lot when I was growing up. And every half-hour that I watched that was a half an hour I wasn’t posting at my blog or editing Wikipedia or contributing to a mailing list. Now I had an ironclad excuse for not doing those things, which is none of those things existed then. I was forced into the channel of media the way it was because it was the only option. Now it’s not, and that’s the big surprise. However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it’s worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter.

Media in the 20th century was run as a single race–consumption. How much can we produce? How much can you consume? Can we produce more and you’ll consume more? And the answer to that question has generally been yes. But media is actually a triathlon, it ‘s three different events. People like to consume, but they also like to produce, and they like to share.

And what’s astonished people who were committed to the structure of the previous society, prior to trying to take this surplus and do something interesting, is that they’re discovering that when you offer people the opportunity to produce and to share, they’ll take you up on that offer. It doesn’t mean that we’ll never sit around mindlessly watching Scrubs on the couch. It just means we’ll do it less.

Good stuff, if you have 15 minutes, give it a watch. You can also read the transcript here.

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