How Do People Find The Time To Watch Television?

from the social-surplus dept

One of the most common reactions when people first learn about Wikipedia is to wonder where people find the time to write millions of articles for free. That's precisely the reaction Clay Shirky got (thanks to Luis Villa) from, ironically enough, a television producer. Shirky points out the obvious answer: people spend a lot more time watching dumb television shows than they do contributing to Wikipedia. Shirky estimates that Wikipedia represents about 100 million hours of collective effort by Wikipedia's editors. In contrast, Americans spend something like 200 billion hours watching television each year. And however pathetic people might find it that someone would spend their evenings having edit wars with people on Wikipedia, it's surely more pathetic to spend your evenings on the couch watching re-runs of Gilligan's Island. Even an online game like World of Warcraft, which many people deride as nerdy and anti-social, at least involves interacting with other people. Indeed Shirky argues, correctly in my view, that the transformation of our social lives from passive to active forms of entertainment is just beginning. People still spend a huge amount of time consuming passive media like television. If even a small fraction of that mental energy was diverted to more active pursuits, it could lead to the production of dozens of socially-beneficial efforts like Wikipedia. The problem isn't finding people with time on their hands; we've got tens of millions of those. The challenge is finding socially-beneficial projects that they'll enjoy participating in more than re-runs of Seinfeld.

Filed Under: clay shirky, free time, television, wikipedia

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    PaulT (profile), 28 Apr 2008 @ 1:40pm


    That's the same argument I used to have with my Dad many years ago. He'd berate me for spending so much time with a computer, yet his idea of entertainment was to sit for 6 hours in front of the TV (often loudly proclaiming his dissatisfaction with the offered content, yet never turning it off).

    He never seemed to grasp the fact that we spent roughly the same amount of leisure time, yet while my time was often spent either creatively or interacting with other people, he was just consuming content passively. I now work in the computer industry and don't feel that my time was ever truly wasted. His time on the other hand...

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