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Mining the Cognitive Surplus

kdawson posted more than 6 years ago | from the looking-for-the-mouse dept.

The Internet 220

Clay Shirky has been giving talks on his book Here Comes Everybody — his "masterpiece," per Cory Doctorow — and BoingBoing picks up one of them, from the Web 2.0 conference. Shirky has come up with a quantification of the attention that TV has been absorbing for more than half a century. Shirky defines as a unit of attention "the Wikipedia": 100 million person-hours of thought. As a society we have been burning 2,000 Wikipedias per year watching mostly sitcoms. We're stopping now. Here's a video of another information-dense Shirky talk, this one at Harvard.

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Fascinating (4, Interesting)

26199 (577806) | more than 6 years ago | (#23215850)

I was going to make a comment about such statistics being next to meaningless. ("What if nobody watched TV" is similar to "what if we didn't have any wars" or "what if all religions suddenly settled their differences"). Then I RTFA. And I'm not entirely convinced but I really hope he's right.

He making a compelling case for the end of the TV era. Can you feel it coming? Just think what it might mean...

Re:Fascinating (2, Funny)

lunaticLT (763681) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216024)

My pokemans! Let me show you them!

Re:Fascinating (1)

physburn (1095481) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216166)

Thats some pretty hefty statistics 1% less telly per year, equals 10,000 wikipedias. And while we all have plenty of veg time, when we don't have the energy to do anything else, most of us could easily spare much more than that. The trouble is of course, I'm not sure society or human knowledge as that much space for the average person to be productive to human knowledge. If all those extra hour went to Wikipedia it would need to get 10,000 times more specific (would it be easy to trade off for accuracy here), at lot of fields of human knowledge don't go that deep.

Re:Fascinating (1)

David Gerard (12369) | more than 6 years ago | (#23217352)

That's why this surplus is still a surplus.

Re:Fascinating (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216218)

The age of mediocrity. The irony is that TV makers brought it onto themselves by constantly lowering standards. The overall productivity of millions of people might topple the productivity of a couple thousand professionals, but it comes at the cost of having to deal with mediocre performance in order to not turn off contributors. If something good comes of it, I would like it to be that professionals realize that their only chance is quality, not finding ever cheaper ways to produce filler.

Re:Fascinating (3, Insightful)

Original Replica (908688) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216512)

The irony is that TV makers brought it onto themselves by constantly lowering standards.

I don't think that's true. Compare a season of "Heroes" to a season of "A-Team" or "Night Rider". Look at the quality progression of "Star Trek" "Star Trek:the Next Generation" "Battlestar Galactica". I think television quality has migrated towards the extremes, there is some television that is very good, and some that makes Charlie the Unicorn [youtube.com] look brilliant. I'm hoping that the rise of YouTube is going to be the end of reality TV.

Remember the good old days? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216316)

When the President was busy nutting in Monica's mouth, then started a war with Yugoslavia to give us something to watch on TV besides himself being torn to shreds by his political enemies? How many gallons of ex-Presidential semen have young interns drank in the 8 years that he's been flying under the radar?

Parent post's mod must be a liberal... (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216646)

You can tell because they are more interested in stifling dissent than in answering the question.

Re:Fascinating (1, Insightful)

LaskoVortex (1153471) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216324)

And I'm not entirely convinced but I really hope he's right.

He's right and his proof was made before he wrote the article, evidenced by the existence of Wikipedia itself. For this one project alone, 1/10,000 of the cognitive surplus of one year has already been harvested.

He['s] making a compelling case for the end of the TV era.

One can only hope. The TV is last century technology. It brought information into the collective consciousness. Computers and the internet will likely prove to be as powerful this century.

His major point is that TV is a 1-way collective technology while computers are a 2-way collective technology. So, while advertisers and TV companies guided collective thought for the second half of last century, the internet makes it possible for the masses to guide collective thought today. Hopefully the trend will go in this direction. Only legislation could reverse it.

Re:Fascinating (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216732)

He's right and his proof was made before he wrote the article, evidenced by the existence of Wikipedia itself. For this one project alone, 1/10,000 of the cognitive surplus of one year has already been harvested.
Right, because all of the mental effort that went into creating Wikipedia was taken from the mental effort that was wasted by watching TV, and not from anything else.

Seriously, do you even know what the word "proof" means? Your statement isn't based on any kind of fact so it may not even be true itself, much less prove anything else.

The article is based on two whopping unfounded assumptions:

- That this cognitive surplus even exists. It's possible that people simply have a finite amount of thought available per unit time and that this thought is already being completely expended. The fact that people in the past had much less free time is meaningless; they also had much less requirement for thought in their work and in their lives. Maybe a consequence of the move from mindless drones to modern thought-workers is that there isn't much thought left to be used in the free time created.

- That mental effort is interchangeable. This should be obviously false, not just unproven. It should be clear to anyone who has interacted with humans that when any kind of goal is at stake, some people's brains are vastly more effective at reaching it than others. If your goal is some physics problem, an hour of Albert Einstein's brain is probably worth more than the entire lifetime of that girl who made me a sandwich at the deli today. You can't say that there are X person-hours being wasted in front of the TV which could do awesome things if they were put to use elsewhere. These are not CPU cycles, you can't just load new software and go.

Now, overall I think that the guy's talk has a good point and tells a lot of truth. But it goes too far when talking about mental effort as if it were fungible, and there's no way that any of his conclusions are proven at all, much less by the mere existence of Wikipedia.

Re:Fascinating (1)

LaskoVortex (1153471) | more than 6 years ago | (#23217028)

It's possible that people simply have a finite amount of thought available per unit time

You are proof of this!

Re:Fascinating (3, Insightful)

kestasjk (933987) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216330)

I don't know anyone that still watches TV like people used to in the 90s. I haven't rtfa'd yet, but if he's saying that those hours will be put to good use now that we're not watching sitcoms I'm not so hopeful; it's not like you can't waste time on the net, that's all a lot of people (most?) use it for.

Re:Fascinating (1)

kestasjk (933987) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216346)

(Depends on your definition of "waste" though, are sitcoms a waste if you enjoy them?)

Video games? Pets? (0)

mi (197448) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216836)

Depends on your definition of "waste" though, are sitcoms a waste if you enjoy them?

I say, they are — along with watching (rather than participating in) sports, etc.

Unless the stuff is educational or otherwise improving (if it helps you rest or improves your relationship with the other parent of your children, for example, then it is fine), engaging in it is a waste. I'm surprised, computer-games have not been listed yet...

When Julius Caesar observed foreigners in Rome cooing with their pets, he famously asked: "Aren't their women bearing children?"

The waste of time on entertainment — along with the waste of emotions/nurturing on anything but your own kind is hardly new to our times... Religions and totalitarian governments have been trying to limit it in people for millennia.

This is not to say, I have not indulged in this waste — or that anyone should be begrudged for doing so. Just not excessively...

Once again, it should be viewed broadly — witness, for example, the realization by various religions, that "sex must be for procreation only" is too strict, and replacing it with "sex must be with your spouse only" (healthy relationships mean happier people and better brought up kids). Back to sitcoms, if you enjoy a particular one with your wife and/or friends, it is Ok. Otherwise — stop doing it and take the garbage out instead.

Re:Fascinating (1)

David Gerard (12369) | more than 6 years ago | (#23217364)

The key factor is: a technology is mature when you can get laid with it. Can you get laid watching Gilligan's Island? Can you get laid meeting people on the Internet?

Re:Fascinating (1)

bgillespie (1228056) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216334)

Hey! This guy [theonion.com] knows!

But in all seriousness, I bet that this article is on to something. In decades past, television has had ubiquitous popularity simply because it's so easy and accessible. But the new availability of quick and easy outlets for creativity is going to enable a shift. In particular, those who aren't already caught up in the status quo will probably tend towards the more interactive and dynamic forms of media.

I know that I personally don't watch television regularly, and I'm guessing that many others are the same way.

Re:Fascinating (3, Insightful)

athmanb (100367) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216340)

He's probably right, the TV era is going away and getting replaced with the MMORPG era.

Not that it makes any difference whether we waste our time on soap operas or getting epix though.

Re:Fascinating (1, Offtopic)

Artraze (600366) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216412)

Let's just suppose he is right; we just get rid of TV. Now what? He acts like removing TV will cause all the time that was devoted to it to be channeled into more productive things, like Wikipedia. Which isn't even to say society would benefit from that at all. Do we really even want the legions of people with IQ 100 to have more time on their hands? Which isn't to say slow people don't have value, but they aren't really capable of advancing society much.

Besides, TV _is_ dieing. But it's being replaced by gossip blogs and video games. Things like WoW eat more hours than TV, and the people wasting time on them are usually the ones that could make valuable contributions to things like Wikipedia and FOSS.

So let's then take away TV, games, YouTube, blogs, and all that stuff. And what will people do with their extra time? Drink gin. These people aren't wasting time because of TV; they're wasting it because they _want_ to. And taking away their 'fun' will simply cause them to waste time some other way.

Re:Fascinating (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216692)

You are either young or you have aged poorly.

Smart always helps, but successful people are passionate and driven more than they are good at tests.

Re:Fascinating (1)

David Gerard (12369) | more than 6 years ago | (#23217374)

Stupid people will continue to be stupid, and smart people will have outlets. e.g. Clay Shirky gets people on Slashdot talking about him, rather than just sitting in his basement.

Re:Fascinating (1)

Culture20 (968837) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216884)

"What if nobody watched TV" is similar to "what if we didn't have any wars" [...] end of the TV era. Can you feel it coming? Just think what it might mean...
The pessimist in me says that once people start having convictions and desires to do something again, we'll have a lot more war. TV ain't all bad; It's the _real_ opiate of the masses. Ever seen a Hollywood barroom brawl set in an opium den? It probably never escalated beyond two characters.

Re:Fascinating (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23217034)

Frankly I was confused by the summary. What else is on?

Nope. (4, Insightful)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 6 years ago | (#23215872)

I don't think that stopping the practice of watching long hours of re-ran Seinfeld episodes, so that you can spend even more hours writing and following links to various discussions and trivia about Seinfeld episodes and looking for places to download bootlegs of the same is an indication that, finally, all of that brainpower is getting put back to productive use.

Re:Nope. (1)

glitch23 (557124) | more than 6 years ago | (#23215924)

I don't think that stopping the practice of watching long hours of re-ran Seinfeld episodes, so that you can spend even more hours writing and following links to various discussions and trivia about Seinfeld episodes and looking for places to download bootlegs of the same is an indication that, finally, all of that brainpower is getting put back to productive use.

I actually don't think it necessarily should be something to worry about. As an example, I do watch re-runs of Seinfeld every weeknight. The side effect of this is that since I like the show it becomes entertainment to me and makes me laugh and in the end it makes me feel better. Who was it that said laughter is the best medicine? Sitcoms are supposed to be comedic and therefore be entertaining. Entertainment isn't directly supposed to be productive but it can make you feel better and therefore it can provide indirect productivity enhancements. Obviously those who do nothing but sit in front of the TV we may have to worry about but those people, I believe, are a minority.

Re:Nope. (2, Interesting)

ScentCone (795499) | more than 6 years ago | (#23215998)

Entertainment isn't directly supposed to be productive

I'm certainly not going to debate that, and that's not my contention, here. I'm talking about the assertion that time spent online is somehow, by its nature, more productive than the time spent catching a broadcast or TiVo'd session of a sitcom. People want to be entertained, and they're going to find ways to spend time being entertained. From what I'm able to determine - anecdotally, of course - the generations that most recently grew up sitting in front of the TV and talking on land-lines with their peers are indeed different than the ones that are spending the same (or, I'd guess, wildly more) hours sitting in front of MySpace and IMing their friends. But only in trivial ways. And worse, actually - at least people who sat through a 30-minute sitcome narrative actually had their brains involved in following a story arc, however silly it might have been. The ADHD-ness of how that same time is now being spent is dramatically visible, and might even worsen the sort of productivity that comes from being able to concentrate for more than 30 seconds at a time on any one thing.

Re:Nope. (2, Insightful)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216050)

Those kids who spend all their time IMing and MySpacing, and can't focus anything for more than 30 seconds will be perfectly suited to working in an office [news.com] . According to the article I linked to, most office workers get interrupted every 3 minutes. So these kids who have no attention span will probably be much better adapted to working in such and environment.

Re:Nope. (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216362)

I'm lurking 5 IRCs, checking some IMs, and got a dozen tabs open... Oh! And there's this really funny thing on YouTube! And I just saw that someone texted me. But I feel that I forgot something. Now what was that thing I was actually supposed to be doing?

Re:Nope. (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23217294)

Actually, this is sadly true.

I'd be doing a lot better in my current job if I had a shorter attention span.

The technical aspects of my job aren't particularly difficult-- but managing the constant interruptions through a variety of media, some of which really DO need to be dealt with immediately, so I can't just ignore them, all in a noisy, harsh-white, florescent-lit environment...

There have been times when I've had something that required more concentration than is possible at work, where I've pretended to be "sick" as an excuse to work from home, just so that I can be moderately functional. "Sorry, no, I didn't get your e-mail until now-- I needed to lie down for a little while. So what is it you need?"

Posting AC since this is essentially a public confession that I'm not qualified to hold my current job, since it's been made clear to me that being able to deal with the environment of constant bombardment is definitely a solid job requirement...

Re:Nope. (1)

WaltBusterkeys (1156557) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216358)

People want to be entertained
And there's nothing wrong with that. He thinks the "surplus" of time we have (beyond what's required to fill basic needs) should be used to create more knowledge. A lot of people--most, it seems--have voted with their behavior and decided that they'd rather use that "surplus" time to entertain themselves.

The point of human existence isn't just the creation of more knowledge. Sure, all else being equal, an activity that creates more knowledge is better than one that creates less. But, being entertained is a good in and of itself. Gaining pleasure from seeing something funny, or interesting, or beautiful is a good thing. We work hard so that we can be entertained.

He'd like everyone to have more sophisticated taste in entertainment, but who is he to judge? If Joe Sixpack enjoys watching Seinfeld, so be it. If it makes Joe Sixpack happy to watch TV then that's great! The world is one person happier for it. Not everyone prefers highbrow culture (his examples of "museums and public libraries") and it's very close to class-ist to suggest that anything but highbrow culture is a waste of time.

And don't pretend that people were once productive all the time. Storytelling has been around for as long as we have had language.

Re:Nope. (1)

glitch23 (557124) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216798)

From what I'm able to determine - anecdotally, of course - the generations that most recently grew up sitting in front of the TV and talking on land-lines with their peers are indeed different than the ones that are spending the same (or, I'd guess, wildly more) hours sitting in front of MySpace and IMing their friends. But only in trivial ways. And worse, actually - at least people who sat through a 30-minute sitcome narrative actually had their brains involved in following a story arc, however silly it might have been. The ADHD-ness of how that same time is now being spent is dramatically visible, and might even worsen the sort of productivity that comes from being able to concentrate for more than 30 seconds at a time on any one thing.

Although I'm sure some people (Internet addicts as an example) lose productivity because they are glued to their computers all day, there are some people who it seems have been able to use the Internet as a better tool than TV. It may not be productive per se but the effects discussed here [msn.com] seem to show it does have some advantages for some people.

Re:Nope. (2, Insightful)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 6 years ago | (#23215986)

Sound point, but his argument is a little more subtle. Not all that brainpower will be put to constructive use, at least not in the next generation or two. But his order-of-magnitude calculations illustrate that rerouting just a tiny fraction of that brainpower makes for large social changes.

Double-standards? (4, Insightful)

CRCulver (715279) | more than 6 years ago | (#23215874)

If, in defending the free exchange of media, we note that each "pirated" copy does not necessarily equal a lost sale, why should we think watching sitcoms necessarily equals lost useful effort?

Re:Double-standards? (1)

CastrTroy (595695) | more than 6 years ago | (#23215988)

That's kind of what I thought. Just because you're not watching TV, doesn't mean you will be doing something productive. Maybe you would be reading a book instead. Is that really any more productive? Sure you could spend all that free time writing open source software, or composing symphonies, But people need some downtime. Some time to just sit and and relax, without trying to get anything accomplished.

Re:Double-standards? (1)

Narpak (961733) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216058)

Just because you're not watching TV, doesn't mean you will be doing something productive. Maybe you would be reading a book instead. Is that really any more productive?
Not really, but it is healthier apparently. I remember reading that reading or playing games (like chess) could decrease the likely hood of dements caused by old age. While TV, or other forms of passive entertainment, did not.

Of course since I "remember" reading about it, it's not really reliable information because I've watched more TV in my life then I can account for. Tried to find url to the data on this; but I forgot the url for goodle (or what's it called).

Re:Double-standards? (4, Interesting)

MrAndrews (456547) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216586)

While I'd agree with you that there needs to be some downtime to help refresh one's brainpower, I think the question of "how much downtime" is the key.

I used to watch 2 hours of TV a night (which I believe is below the American average), and felt that after a hard day of work, it was nice to relax and just absorb for a while. But after recently giving up caffeine, I decided to see how many of my other "normal" activities were based on addiction too. So I gave up an hour of TV and tried to put it towards other uses (in this case, re-doing my office).

The first week was fine, the second week was hell, but by the end of the first month, I was actually adapted to not watching more than an hour every day. I had moved past working on my office, and was writing books again, debugging old code I hadn't touched in months. I had been ignoring productivity to indulge in something I could SWORN was essential to my mental stability.

I'm actually torn about this situation, because I make my living producing entertainment products that I hope people will mindlessly consume... but if we actually DO move beyond the old-fashioned paradigm, the hours I produce may have a harder time fitting into the "free time" the rest of the world has.

Someone should put some of their newly-acquired brainspace into finding a way to make TV more socially-and-interactively useful, so I don't have to worry so much.

Re:Double-standards? (4, Insightful)

couchslug (175151) | more than 6 years ago | (#23217252)

"I'm actually torn about this situation, because I make my living producing entertainment products that I hope people will mindlessly consume"

Why be torn? There will NEVER be a shortage of people ready to gobble mindless entertainment. What you do as a self-aware person doesn't mean fuck all to the drones, so make stuff that makes money for you and then enjoy the
power money gives you. You cannot (no one can) ensmarten the drones. Leave them to their American Idol and other comforting bullshit. They don't care what you want.

"Someone should put some of their newly-acquired brainspace into finding a way to make TV more socially-and-interactively useful, so I don't have to worry so much."

They did. It's called a computer.

Re:Double-standards? (1)

dnwq (910646) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216008)

It doesn't - but since there are a fixed amount of hours which have to be spent doing something, we can make the argument that some of those sitcom-hours might be translated to some other effort.

Re:Double-standards? (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216228)

The argument isn't that the effort is lost, the argument is that the effort is available in staggering amounts.

Re:Double-standards? (4, Insightful)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216250)

The cognitive surplus may be low-grade ore, but a gold mine is economical even if there's only one ounce of gold per ton.

Re:Double-standards? (1)

magisterx (865326) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216504)

You have an excellent point in that many people will find things that are as worthless as watching a sit com to do, and on the flip side some people might have time watching a sit com be useful. I for instance watch a lot of TV, more than I would care to admit to. But at the same time, most (not all) of that time is spent also doing something such as helping my wife with the dishes or helping her with the laundry or even reading the news. Its certainly not my most productive time, but neither is it completely wasted. But the point of the article and one I agree with is that if we devote even a small fraction of the time the nation spends just sitting and watching to TV to creating something, we could accomplish a lot. It doesn't mean killing TV any more than the rise of movies killed live performances. It just means spending a little bit less of it on pure TV.

Especially since (2, Insightful)

Sycraft-fu (314770) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216536)

Sometimes you need mental downtime, just like physical downtime. If you've just finished running a marathon, you aren't really going to want to go shovel your driveway right afterwards, nor are you likely to be effective if you do. Your body is worn out and needs to relax. Well, the same is true of the mind after hard work. Sometimes you just need to relax. There is nothing wrong with this, and in fact can make you more effective when you do go back to work.

Then, of course, there's the problem of assuming there's something wrong with goofing off. I don't know why some people seem to think life should be nothing but work. On the grand scale, what is the point of living if all you do is have no fun? There is nothing at all wrong with goofing off, and if people want to goof off by watching TV, that's fine.

There is no reason why people should have to be (or even could be) productive every waking hour of the day. It's ok if you just want to kick back and goof off. After all, I'd say that's what the work is for in the first place.

Not arguing, but observing (1)

AySz88 (1151141) | more than 6 years ago | (#23217228)

TFA is not hypothetically arguing that passive consumption (i.e. watching sitcoms) should become useful effort. TFA is observing that the shift from passive to participatory is already taking place, and is extrapolating that this shift will continue.

Wow (2, Funny)

NIckGorton (974753) | more than 6 years ago | (#23215880)

Just wow.

My hippy-social-justice-queer-tree-hugging-dirt-worshipper self just did a little dance.

Wow indeed! (1)

TheEmptySet (1060334) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216198)

Americans alone 'waste' around 325,000 lifetimes a year watching TV. Sure some chunk of it counts as education and healthy relaxation, but I'm not prepared to believe that even makes up half of it.

I think of the projects the article mentions as more like 'SETI at home'. Getting people to use unused cycles to do something potentially productive and pretty much guaranteed to be better for them. It's a shame my computer's CPU doesn't benefit from the experience of running some 'SETI at home' calculations.

I would have RTFA... (1)

FlyByPC (841016) | more than 6 years ago | (#23215886)

...but there's gotta be some "Must-See TV" that I'm missing. No time for boring ol' reading, is there?

Actually, I haven't had TV since January, and other than the Science Channel, I don't really miss it.

Re:I would have RTFA... (1)

NIckGorton (974753) | more than 6 years ago | (#23215922)

Yeah, well I am not even certain what counts any more. Until I recently purchased one (due to the need for Wii access) I hadn't had a TV for almost a decade. But I now watch the Daily Show religiously on my laptop. Does that count as watching TV?

There's a reason it's called "vegging out" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23215952)

After a long day at work, many people don't want to think too much more. If there wasn't TV on, they'd probably just go to bed. People don't sleep enough anyway.

Maybe, maybe not (3, Insightful)

AmazingRuss (555076) | more than 6 years ago | (#23215978)

I've been without broadcast TV for 15 years or so, and I find plenty of other trivia to waste my time on. Lacking the daily homogenizing input, I am kind of awkward in conversation with strangers or casual acquaintances. I don't know any of the little catch phrases from the sitcoms, or what any of the sports teams are doing. It would do my social life a lot of good if I watched TV, but I just can't hack it.

I also think that it's a good thing a lot of these folks have the TV to watch. It gives them something to talk about, and keeps them inside, out of trouble. I don't think the infinite number of monkeys technique really applies to advancing human thought. If they're captivated by sitcoms, it's doubtful they are going to have much to contribute.

Re:Maybe, maybe not (1)

26199 (577806) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216104)

(How the heck did you get modded offtopic?)

I think part of his argument is that new things are coming along that are fundamentally different from TV ... even if they appeal at the same level of sophistication.

The difference being that they're interactive; and, however slowly, people might start to build something.

Eh. Who knows?

Re:Maybe, maybe not (2)

Xelios (822510) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216258)

"The difference being that they're interactive; and, however slowly, people might start to build something."

If the quality of the most popular TV shows right now is any indication...the thought of that something scares the shit out of me.

Re:Maybe, maybe not (1)

Omniscious (1260360) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216682)

The difference being that they're interactive; and, however slowly, people might start to build something.


Some time ago i had a lot of fun proving formulas in natural deduction (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Natural_deduction). It is kinda like a game. There are some deduction rules (the game rules), with which i had to successively transform some given formulas (the starting line) into other formulas, with the goal to finally reach a predetermined conclusion (finish line).

It would be interesting to see a game, which hides the mathematical details, but harnesses the human intelligence of the player, so that by playing the game one would contribute to solving mathematical problems with useful applications.

Lika a multiplayer game, for example, where each client computer gets a function in two variables, with which the client computer can generate a visual landscape, the field of view being limited by computing resources. The players are distributed in a predetermined area. The goal is then to fight against the other players and to get to the highest point of the landscape whitin a time limit. This would approximate a solution to a maximum problem.

Of course, this is a bad example, because there are algorithms which do this job better, but you get the idea. (At least there would be more people willing to give their computing ressources, if the game is fun.)

It might be possible to solve decision or halting problems, if they are coded in some kind of interesting game, and if there are enough players.

Re:Maybe, maybe not (0, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216184)

Could it be you seem awkward in conversation because you are a condescending arsehole and the conversation dies in your presence because other people just want you to fuck off? It sounds to me you just have no social skills and rather than address your own obvious weakness you prefer to blame everyone else for liking TV or sport.

Like whether you watch TV or not and what you watch if you do has any bearing on your usefulness as a human being. You could be the greatest humanitarian in the world who saves lives and changes the world yet think "Mr. Bean" is the height of comedy. You could be someone who refuses to watch TV and pontificates on the state of the world via the internet. Who is the most worth while human being?

Re:Maybe, maybe not (1)

AmazingRuss (555076) | more than 6 years ago | (#23217116)

Goodness, such hate...feeling a bit insecure about your TV viewing habits?

I wasn't trying to say TV makes you stupid. I was saying that TV is a good way to keep stupid people out of trouble, and stupid people don't have much to contribute intellectually.

See what happened when you quit watching and went on the internet? :P

Re:Maybe, maybe not (1)

Concerned Onlooker (473481) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216552)

"I don't know any of the little catch phrases from the sitcoms..."

So, get people to explain them to you. People love talking about their favorite shows. This is exactly what I do. I've been without TV since 1991 and I've never really felt out of the loop. If all your conversations must revolve around TV then that's a little limiting in itself. Reading a few blogs and news web sites is more than enough to keep you in the running with pop culture.

Many will defend various programs on TV and they may very well be right about certain shows, but in general I think TV is a black hole in your life, stealing your precious time.

Re:Maybe, maybe not (1)

AmazingRuss (555076) | more than 6 years ago | (#23217136)

You're correct...I should just ask, but to be honest, the only thing worse than having to watch some sitcom is having to sit through somebody breathlessly recounting it.

Re:Maybe, maybe not (1)

andphi (899406) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216920)

(In the manner of a slave on a Southern plantation right before the beginning of the American Civil War) Oh yes, massa. Yah ain't nuthin but right, massa. Us is too dumb and ain't got no use for readin or book-learnin'. Yah jes' go on readin' yer big fancy books an' runnin' yer great big plantation. We ain't need no freedom anyhow. We jes' go on singin' our songs and picking our fingers ta the bone on this here cotton. We jes' simple. We jes' dumb. We nuthin' but slaves. You right, massa. You ain't never wrong, no sir, ain't never wrong.

Note, this is not intended to be offensive to African-Americans, other descendants of slaves, or even to descendants of slave-holders. It is intended to shine a slightly different light on the PP's apparently boundless arrogance, self-satisfaction, and seemingly non-existent interest in inspiring mere Muggles to greatness or even marginal contribution.

Re:Maybe, maybe not (3, Insightful)

AmazingRuss (555076) | more than 6 years ago | (#23217198)

You get out there and inspire the Muggles, and see where it gets you. Trying to push the back end of the bell curve into the front is very rarely a rewarding endeavor. As far as I'm concerned, the only way to deal with them is to be polite and get away as soon as possible...which is how I expect them to treat me too, given my ignorance of things that interest them.

I have an endless store of engineering trivia, others have an endless supply of pop culture trivia. It's not good, bad, or otherwise.

Re:Maybe, maybe not (2, Interesting)

anagama (611277) | more than 6 years ago | (#23217326)

Same here -- I gave up TV around 1993. I know exactly what you mean about being disconnected from pop culture but it hasn't really bothered me. After a few months without TV, I didn't miss it all because I had time to engage in hobbies and other things that interested me.

Unfortunately, I've discovered a new problem recently. I find my time dwindling again because in the last couple years, I've been spending way too much time online. While pre-93 I might surf channels all day hoping something good would come on -- now I'm surfing the web incessantly hoping there will be something good to read. I have to figure out how to restrain myself somehow, but this time it will be harder. I need a network connection to get linux distros and for help/documentation. Secondly, commercial free quality material is quite easy to get now thanks to DVDs, iTunes, and such. While my interests are very narrow in terms of TV content, I'm probably spending three or four hours per week on watching shows now. I'm really starting to notice how projects I have are languishing, and projects I want to do are being pushed further into the future.

Anyway -- I better get the heck of slashdot now and start my network time reduction.

excellent spin on metafilter (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216020)

Quite aside from the breathtaking stupidity of the gin metaphor. I think this comment on the metafilter thread got his number: [metafilter.com] http://www.metafilter.com/71179/Looking-for-the-mouse [metafilter.com]

His premise seems to be that we're starting to see a shift away from pure mindless broadcast, and that's clear enough. However he undermines his point later on:

Maybe she's going back there to see if Dora is really back there or whatever.... "She started rooting around in the cables. And her dad said, "What you doing?" And she stuck her head out from behind the screen and said, "Looking for the mouse."

This guy must not have been subjected to hours and hours of Dora. Because every few minutes, an arrow pointer comes out, glides suspiciously smoothly to an item of interest, and then the television makes a clicking noise and a beep (a weird anachronistic PC Squeaker beep that hasn't come out of a computer in better than 10 years, but TV people love to show off cluelessness I guess). Dora is television that mimics the appearance of interactivity; it's not unreasonable for a four year-old to wonder what's making it do that.

I don't know that the example of a kid puzzling over television designed to sell game product really supports his thesis that a wane in TV's popularity is analogous to a fundamental change in human productivity. Instead it seems like he's discovered the startling concept of the hobby, and is pointing out that people can now form groups to support a hobby.

I'd be prepared to consider his thesis again, but imitating a politician's presentation of examples that have nothing to do with the premise is pretty off-putting. Yes, I know Chewbacca is a wookie already, what's that got to do with the price of packets in Paraguay?
posted by majick [metafilter.com] at 6:25 AM [slashdot.org] on April 27


Interesting Analysis (4, Interesting)

rm999 (775449) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216120)

This is an interesting analysis of the distribution of users who contribute online:
http://www.tiara.org/blog/?p=272 [tiara.org]

I think the take-home message is that most people don't want to contribute much. The reason is obvious to me - after 40+ hours of working in a week, most people I know want to relax and not think much; passively watching TV is the perfect outlet.

Re:Interesting Analysis (2, Insightful)

Beryllium Sphere(tm) (193358) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216182)

Wait until they discover that, as the proverb says, "a change of work is the best rest".

Re:Interesting Analysis (1)

Al Mutasim (831844) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216222)

We work 40+ hard hours because we get measured and paid for performance. So the question is, how much are people willing to work and contribute outside the structure of traditional employment? He makes a good case that channeling just 1% of the time spent on TV would make a big difference, and I believe people are ready to contribute more than 1% to "productive" web-based leisure activities. So it's a big deal even in a tired world.

Re:Interesting Analysis (3, Informative)

1 a bee (817783) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216772)

He argues in the article even a 1% drop of TV viewing hours redirected to collaborative output (multiplayer online games, forum discussions, such as this one, all count as *output*) can have transformative societal effects (about 1000 wikipedias / yr, if I read that correctly). So even a small shift away from pure couch potato consumption, to collaborative production (remember the online multiplayer game isn't worth a damn without the other players), he claims, represents a huge shift in societal output. And if this collaborative production thing actually snowballs, then the 1% estimate will seem a bit too tame..

TFA is *observation* that passiveness is changing (1)

AySz88 (1151141) | more than 6 years ago | (#23217196)

The reason is obvious to me - after 40+ hours of working in a week, most people I know want to relax and not think much; passively watching TV is the perfect outlet.
Your 'obvious' point is precisely the assumption which is countered (I think, quite successfully) in TFA. The observation of the article is that this "relax = not think much" way of life is now evidently being replaced with a desire for thoughtful participation. And even a 1% shift creates a gigantic amount of 'surplus' desire to create. And so, this 'cognitive surplus' is becoming available to be 'mined'.

So, something that responds to the article, please...?

Just kinda stopped watching.. (4, Interesting)

xtal (49134) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216128)

I noticed a few months ago, I don't watch TV anymore. I'll buy DVDs and sit down and watch them, but there is too much interesting stuff going on now, and too many other things to do to sit there on the couch. Most of the programs are utterly asinine, and the good nuggets are all available through other media (DVD) now.

The most interesting thing is this is something that just sort of happened.. not something I set out to do. I think my cat might spend more time in front of the TV than I do.

Re:Just kinda stopped watching.. (1)

ScrewMaster (602015) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216356)

Most of the programs are utterly asinine, and the good nuggets are all available through other media (DVD) now.

Don't forget Bit Torrent. Every TV show on the air is available that way now. The problem is, even when the stuff is available for free I don't have much interest.

I've found pretty much the same thing happening to me. We have a big screen TV, but we really only use it for watching movies (Netflix, as it happens.) Broadcast TV programming is, by and large, worthless and what good stuff there is on cable/satellite doesn't really do it for me. Certainly I can't justify $60-$80 a month on it. Sure, there are the movie channels, I've found that a few DVDs each month from Netflix satisfies that need, and for a hell of a lot less money. Hi-Def is nice, to be sure, but until they drop the price of cable programming substantially I'm going to find much more productive things to do with my time.

You know, like posting on Slashdot.

Re:Just kinda stopped watching.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216424)

Same here. TV just isn't interesting any more; I can get everything I want elsewhere and TV just isn't interesting now.

This has been bothering me forever! (1)

kickmyassman (1199237) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216130)

Absolutely wonderful! This has been something that's been bothering me for the better part of four years. I felt odd when I wanted to do something, but it would mean that I'd miss out of the collective culture of watching TV.

Now I know why. We're moving on from TV, and you can't have both ideas at the same time. You can either do something or watch TV, and I for one want to do something.

I hope this guy is right.

Amusing ourselves to death (3, Interesting)

Reader X (906979) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216132)

Two things about Clay Shirky's critique of TV:

1. He's right.
2. He is pissing in the wind.

The Internet, and in particular Web 2.0 and the interactive/collaborative opportunities it creates, have pretty much already been coopted into the trivialization of thought and discourse. For every Wikipedia article there are hundreds of lame blog posts on boneheaded topics (including, for some of you, this one!). From an epistomological perspective, the Internet/television convergence is only accelerated by Web 2.0 technology, because the medium conditions us to behave trivially, a sizable fraction of people like it that way, and the economics of the medium tend to reinforce and extend that use.

The interested reader may also want to check out Neil Postmans's magnum opus [amazon.com] on the death blow television has administered to our public discourse, written some twenty years ago.

"the Wikipedia"? no (0)

Punto (100573) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216134)

What happened to "the Library of Congress"? now we have two different standards for the measurement of information for bullshit statistics?

How many Wikipedias in a Library of Congress?

Re:"the Wikipedia"? no (2, Informative)

Workaphobia (931620) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216216)

No, no, a Library of Congress is a measurement of information quantity, and a Wikipedia is a measurement of attention; the dimensions are not equal at all.

However, 1e8 person * hours is an incredibly bad choice for the definition of a Wikipedia. Why not make it more metric, defining it to be something like 1 person * second of attention? Then the SI standard unit would be a megawikipedia, or MWp. This is equivalent to one person studying something for one and a half weeks, or all of America witnessing an event that lasts a third of a second.

Re:"the Wikipedia"? no (1)

FLEB (312391) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216354)

Wikipedias (in this case) is a measure of collective time. The LoC is a measure of information quantity. It's two different units and systems.

Re:"the Wikipedia"? no (1)

FLEB (312391) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216366)

It's two different units and systems.

Wait. Huh? Thought pattern flew off elsewhere... meant to say "It's two different things being measured".

Re:"the Wikipedia"? no (1)

Punto (100573) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216462)

Because the library of congress appeared magically one day, without anyone spending any time to create it? I'm not saying it's the exact same unit, but if you're measuring "information/time", why not use the unit for "information" that you already have?

Re:"the Wikipedia"? no (1)

Workaphobia (931620) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216940)

Because the wikipedia is not measuring information/time. It's measuring attention, i.e. time*person. For instance, you might spend an hour watching TV, or an hour assimilating all the knowledge these puny humans have ever discovered as you prepare your fleet for its impending victory over the pink apes.. Ahem.. But as long as you're the only one working on that task, the attention quantity remains the same, even though the information content is completely different.

Re:"the Wikipedia"? no (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23217048)

I was gonna ask the same thing, but was to busy watching "When Farm Equipment Goes Bad XVIII"

yeah yeah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216160)

Yeah yeah, just let me see Friends once again

Wasn't this the plot of Batman Forever? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216208)

The one with Jim Carrey as the Riddler? He was trying harness everyone's brainwaves that were being wasted by watching TV.

Good News? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216236)

Could you say this bodes well for OSS, Creative Commons, charity work and polictical action? Personal interests, the drummers and the pipers are major players into the allocation of cognitive suplus. Its the drummers and the pipers that can lead us to greatness or destruction. It is better not to be a lemming nor trampled under their feet. Mining the surplus can be very beneficial to the world, with meditation in various forms it becomes a renewable resource as well.

Bullshit (1, Insightful)

Neon Aardvark (967388) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216260)

A. Wikipedia has no original information (in theory), it is a repository of cites, so it's a poor choice for what could be accomplished by people using their leisure time to work and actually create something new.

B. What could have been done by all the people reading about this study? And these are intelligent, slashdot-people. Well, some of them.

C. How much productivity, measured in Swimming-Pool-Empire-State-Building-Einstein-Years, is lost by not embracing genetic manipulation to improve average intelligence and produce a master race?

D. Yawn.

Bogus. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216310)

Reading this wasted 0.00000006 of a wikipedia of my life... look TV or otherwise no person is 100% productive 100% of the time and frankly there's alot of "thought" hours out there I'd rather not be exposed to. How many wiki's did this man waste rewording the argument everyone's parents used of "TV will rot your brain!"

Post Inducer (4, Interesting)

Al Mutasim (831844) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216314)

Doesn't that essay make you want to post comments to Slashdot, rather than just read? It does me.

good missed points (5, Interesting)

opencity (582224) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216352)

Jerry Mander's book [wikipedia.org] from the 70s made a crucial distinction between active and passive media. The above slashdot comments seem limited to wikipedia bashing or a splitting of web 2.0 hairs re:2008. That is, the percentage that are coherent, which is low by the usually high standards of non technical commentary on this site ... cough ...

This reminded me of seeing Esther Dyson and some pundits on Charley Rose a couple of years ago. They all laughed when Dyson said: "I can't tell you what web 2.0 means". Web 2.04 (or wherever we're at) means everyone can be Esther Dyson, everyone can be Charley Rose. Not everyone can be Tom Friedman as it takes years to acquire the ego involved in that much stupidity. Now is everyone going to be Charley Rose? No. Will there still be old school one way media? Yes, at least for a long time.

Mander's point is that TV is passive and active participation works the brain muscles more than then passive staring at the screen. The brain is a muscle, use it or lose it. As someone who quit TV, not unlike drugs, in my teen years I've long argued that TV was the reason for the collapse of literacy in the US. Will the wide open web cure that? Probably not, we shall see, but any change is good. American pop culture, mainstream corporate entertainment, now resembles a piece of chewing gum so worked over there is no flavor left (see: pop music). Are endless sectarian/technical blog exchanges entertaining? YMMV, but compared to what's on TV and the radio they at least measure up.

Re:good missed points (1)

maxume (22995) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216790)

+1 bonus point for ripping on Friedman.

Re:good missed points (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216854)

Does Jerry Mander engage in redrawing boundaries of congressional districts?

Re:good missed points (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216882)

No [wikipedia.org] but should be modded funny. And it's his real name.

I am not a resource (0, Offtopic)

BorgCopyeditor (590345) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216546)

Mining? Surplus? Resources? To hell with that.

My mind is not for rent / to any god or government.

I am not a number. I am a free man.

Re:I am not a resource (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216640)

I am Billgatus of Borg

Resistance is futile

You will be assimilated

Tried it already (4, Insightful)

77Punker (673758) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216614)

I'm about to graduate from college and at the end of this semester, I realized I had a ton of math homework that I needed to do in order to pass. Why was this the case? I'm a smart guy so it's really not very difficult for me, and it's not just busywork.

I had been wasting time playing video games. I decided about 3 weeks ago that I wasn't going to spend my time doing things that have no outcome and only serve as time sinks: no video games, no pot smoking, no TV watching(unless it's informative). Exceptions (like social events) do exist, but I've stuck to it.

Since then, I put time into my senior seminar and it ended up kicking ass, done a whole semester's worth of math in about 4 straight days, greatly increased my guitar playing ability, learned to meditate, and learned a new programming language. I've also taken care of loads of smaller things I may have just ignored and come closer to some friends and family. Most of this great success is due to the fact that I've eliminated my biggest time sink (video games). I imagine I'll also have more money, since video games are expensive and I'm selling my X360.

These changes have allowed me to come closer to my full potential, and I don't regret it one bit. For me, video games took hours (years?) of time that I'll never get back, but at least I'm young enough that it's not too late. I feel like I just woke up from a coma.

I strongly encourage everyone to examine his time-sinking habits and eliminate them; it may change your life!

Re:Tried it already (1, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216916)

Yeh, just imagine all the gold-collecting and powerlevelling you could do in WoW if those pesky consoles weren't around.

Re:Tried it already (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216960)

#1 Time sink: Slashdot.

Re:Tried it already (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216966)

I strongly encourage everyone to examine his time-sinking habits and eliminate them; it may change your life!
Are you saying that I have to give up slashdot? 'Cause that's not going to happen.

Re:Tried it already (3, Insightful)

antifoidulus (807088) | more than 6 years ago | (#23217162)

The key isn't to get rid of it entirely, that is just going from one extreme to another. If you have to worry about being productive all the time you are just going to fizzle out more often then not. The key of course is moderation. Sometimes I find slacking off helps when I am at a standstill on a difficult problem. Just getting my mind off of it seems to allow it to wander and usually I will wind up figuring out the critical step while my nose isn't buried in a book.

You can also find more productive ways of slacking off, if that makes any sense. For instance, my guilty vice is South Park, so I loaded up the latest episode today and watched it while I was on an elliptical machine in the gym(with a set of wireless headphones). I was able to watch the episode and workout at the same time.

I vote Mary Ann... (1)

RJFerret (1279530) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216618)

Wait, what was the question again?

Re:I vote Mary Ann... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216892)

oooh, sorry, the answer we were looking for is Ginger:)

Silly. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23216700)

Extremely silly. For one thing, we already measure how much work people do, at least in theory: the GDP. Granted, there are problems with the GDP, most notably the fact that it isn't capable of measuring the value of Wikipedia.

But whether you slice it as attention (one Wikipiedia), information quantity (one Library of Congress), or labor and services (GDP), you're in essence measuring the amount of effort people put forth.

Let's say half the US population is employed at 15$ an hour and works a 40 hour week. This comes out to 4 or 5 trillion, maybe a third or so of the GDP (13 trillion). Note how retardedly conservative this is: a third of the GDP and half the population using half of its time working at an hourly wage. But this estimate also comes out to 3120 Wikipedias (40 * 150 million people * 52 weeks / 100,000,000 man-hours/wikipedia).

In other words, every year, in GDP alone, the US puts out MUCH MUCH more than 3000 Wikipedias.

Free time is what people do when they AREN'T BUSY doing things like raising the GDP or producing art or what have you. Yes, there are a freaking lot of people in America, and yes, a lot of them relax by watching TV.

It's just magic with numbers.

What he's trying to say is that maybe people will spend their free time doing something useful instead of watching TV, but he doesn't really have any argument or statistic to support this. Waving your hands around and saying "HOLY CRAP THERE'S SO MUCH TV WATCHING" does not fly.

In the end I suspect the Internet Revolution, mass collaboration, artistic utopia of connection, etc. will largely be brought about with the emerging tech-savvy generation and the very best and brightest thereof, not with any sizable percentage of TV-obsessed "drones." Remember, the original "Internet for the masses" was AOL.

More of this nonsense? (1)

Jane Q. Public (1010737) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216704)

It's a stupid idea and an even stupider name.

When he shows a cause-effect relationship between pretty much ANYTHING and his new "unit", or anything useful that is in reality easily calculable using this unit, I might start listening.

Definitely Mary Ann (1)

admiralfurburger (76098) | more than 6 years ago | (#23216956)

Although, Ginger in elf costume might sway me...

Shirky also over on blogging heads (1)

dsanford (570133) | more than 6 years ago | (#23217106)

There is an April 19 dialogue between Will Wilkinson and Clay Shirky on: http://bloggingheads.tv/ [bloggingheads.tv] specifically http://bloggingheads.tv/diavlogs/10353 [bloggingheads.tv] that turned me on to Clay Shirky, I haven't ordered his book yet, but it is on my Amazon wish list ;->

IFailzo8s (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#23217230)

OpenBSD leadEr theo
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