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50 000 hours of TV-watching

“Someone born in 1960 has watched something like 50 000 hours of TV already.” Clay Shirky and Daniel Pink add this up to 200 billion hours in the US and call this “The Great Cognitive Surplus” in a very interesting Wired interview.

This contrasts handily to Nicholas Carr’s rewired brains concerns. One might start up by wondering why the worlds most powerful media – TV – has not been criticized for hijacking the entire postwar population out of the opportunity to use more free time available to social connections – into solitary passivity and consumerism. Has not the huge number of TV-channels splintered attention and rewired brains already before Internet surfing mobilized a part of couch potato time? Is the answer that media has had – and still has the final world and can continue to raise issues serving its own selfish purposes?

So if instead of the free time gained in the industrial world would be used instead of used up – would not what create a massive growth in knowledge, interaction and social contacts? When a TV-set is bought the number of consumers go up with one but the number of producers stay the same – in the computer case both go up with one. Besides - how many young men would have written much at all (after school – where applicable) without SMS-messaging?

There are powerful levers in social communities (like Facebook, blogs etc) lifting up content – most of us have nothing against showing off a bit,  demonstrating activity and knowledge, most of us are a bit curious of what others do, most of us believe in what other users experience (rather than corporate promotion) etc.  From there to what drives us: (i) biological drives, (ii) sticks and carrots (religiously believed in by managers) and – (iii) things that interest us (by far the most underestimated)- the intrinsic motivator - we do things because they are engaging, interesting right and  good for society at large. I strongly agree – and find it tragic that organizations do no pick this up more – instead virtually brainwashing people into working only for monetary incentives or fear – when it should be for being interesting and contributing.  100 million hours spent on creating Wikipedia and open source like Linux or Apache are mentioned as working totally for free.

So – television crowded out other forms of social engagement (let it be that it is creating a feeling of shared presence in World Cups and the like). But as behavior is motivation filtered through opportunity – and motivation changes slowly -then the rise of activity enabled by the Internet radically changing the opportunity -  serves to demonstrate the underlying need for more interactivity and intrinsically motivated activities.

2005

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