Sunday, July 06, 2008

Free Time

Being at the tail end of a great week spent on vacation, I've allowed myself more time than I usually would to think. It was fun to get out of town, and tend to the lighter things in life, but at the back of my mind I kept being nagged by the should do's and need to do's that I've not been so diligent about keeping up with. That's not to say that I'm lazy in general, but professionally I've not been nearly as ambitious as I had hoped that I would be.

At the time I graduated I thought that it would be cool to try to learn a new programming language each quarter just for kicks. I also thought it would be a good idea to read at least a book a week be it recreational or work related. Rather than keeping up with these lofty goals I fell into a trap that most working American's know well. Television. There's always something on, and if there isn't something on right now, the DVR or iTunes can easily cure the problem. I love my HD television, but truth be told I spend too much time with it. It's just too easy and brainless. With a movie the television makes for an easy date. With a season or three of a sitcom or drama the television makes for more than several evenings of hanging out with friends. This is not to say that television and one way media consumption doesn't have its place, but I do question what that place should be.

Clay Shirky gave a presentation at the 2008 Web 2.0 Expo that seems to have gelled some of my thoughts regarding my current use of time. Shirky calls it "cognitive surplus" or "free time". He talks about how much time we, as a society, spend masking that surplus by watching television rather than investing it in other endeavors. He quoted some "back of the envelope" calculations that the wikipedia project has an investment of 100 million hours of human thought. Then stated that America spends 200 billion hours a year watching television. Shirky then went on to speak about the evolution of society and how we're just now beginning to experiment with new ways to invest that 200 billion hours in an "architecture of participation". This architecture of participation would include things like wikipedia, facebook, flickr, twitter, world of warcraft, google reader or blogging the list is virtually endless. He posits that people like to produce and share. This thought resonates with me.

Deploying my cognitive surplus in front of the HD television is easy indeed, but spending it creating, reading, writing and participating in global conversations feels much more rewarding. There's a certain feeling of accomplishment after I've posted a new blog entry, or commented on the flickr photo stream of a friend. I feel pride in the fact that I contributed or participated.

So maybe for the next week, I'll try to limit the time spent on my couch. Rather, I'll read, write, and live a bit more, with the expectation that it will enhance my experience and possible that of others as well.

1 comment:

josué said...


This is an awesome post. Thanks for sharing.

Web 2.0 and all the social networking sites certainly do make it easier to collaborate, share, and learn, but I know from some personal experiences and observations of others that some elements of these sites and communities can empower us to squander our cognitive surplus in a huge way. I would think watching a quality tv program would be more instructive than inviting everyone you've ever met to "be a ninja" and join you in the fight against the "pirates" on facebook, or engaging in many of the other endless pass times that have sprung up on the internet. I know I fall for them, sometimes, and I certainly don't feel that satisfaction of which you speak above the way that I do when I blog or comment or something of that nature.

Anyway, thanks for posting. I may link to this on my blog.