In a brilliant talk by Clay Shirky on Cognitive Surplus from Web2.0 via laughingsquid.com, Clay mentions the following:
- All of wikipedia in every language 100 million hours of human thought
- TV watching 200 billion hours in the US alone, every year. (2000 wikipedias per year.)
- In the US, we spend 100 million hours per weekend watching just the ads.
He notes that a surplus is only a surplus because we don't know what to do with it. Because it's so complex - what to do with it - many experiments must run. I'll stop there; but there's more to what he says.
Evidently the revelation came to him when talking to a woman who asked, "how do people find the time?" Now, being a single working mom, I gotta wonder...what she may be asking is "and who is it that, after work, ends up having to do the laundry, the grocery shopping, finding appropriate gifts for an upcoming event, taking care of the sick kids, and organizing the summer camp schedule?"
It may be that she was perceiving that the cognitive surplus existed because of a social deficit.
So while the story of the four year old is endearing for entrepreneurs, the real narrative about interaction Clay might investigate would be the transformation of cognitive surplus to social capital. Televisions created a platform for conversation to glue together the social contribution, but it only worked so long as there were only a handful of options. The cognitive surplus was masked; but there was a platform for common dialog and discussion that kept the social fabric together. Until about 1980.
But then the social fabric became scattered and fragmented. "Everyone" didn't watch prime time television any more, or even traditional sports or the evening news. Quickly, the cognitive surplus became unmasked, and thankfully found and made its own outlet.
Fast forward 20 years, and, as with financial exchange, the social conversation is embedded in the movement of cognitive surplus, and the concept of "social entrepreneurialism" has taken off. How will this cognitive surplus be employed? As Clay says, we've woken up. It's time to create relevant institutions. What those will be, we won't really know, but we can watch the flow of capital and it will emerge.