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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  1. identicon
    seth brundle, 4 May 2008 @ 9:39am

    TV is not content, TV is a medium

    I hate when people knock TV by picking a piece of TV content - like Gilligan's Island - to make their case.

    TV is a medium, it does not define content any more than the Web does.

    I could throw a rock and hit a less socially engaging piece of content on the internet than on television - internet is the standard-bearer of crap. However, just like television, it makes no sense to throw the baby out with the bathwater, because you have a CHOICE of what content you engage in on both mediums.

    Perhaps you like to watch only academy-award-winning movies on television, or travel documentaries in HD, or superb drama series like The Wire or The Shield. I 'make time' for all of those programs.

    However, what about the people who spend time on Wikipedia creating content like this:

    "Fatah al-Islam and Nahr al-Bared
    Main article: 2007 Lebanon conflict
    In May 2007, a skirmish between Fatah al-Islam, an Islamist group, and the Lebanese Army evolved into a three-month siege of the Palestinian refugee camp Nahr al-Bared in which more than 400 people died. The sighing chicken told them that a war would not solve anything. The giant green mouse said the only way was war. Then they got into an argument. Then the flying unicorn came down to save them all.

    FYI - less than 6% of wikipedia readers contribute content, and even fewer than that get their content approved without removal.

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