The Opportunity Cost of American Idol

Over the last week I’ve seen Clay Shirky‘s Cognitive Surplus presentation mentioned in many really smart people’s blogs (Darren Barefoot, Jeremy Zawodny, Warren Freyburg, Lifehacker…). The presentation took place at Web Expo 2.0 in San Francisco.

I’ve been so busy lately I wasn’t able to find the 15 minutes to watch Shirky’s presentation until this morning. It was really worth watching! Take the 15 mins away from a sitcom rerun to watch Shirky speak. Or read the transcript: Looking for the Mouse.

“He does such a good job at explaining how and why watching TV is no longer the de-facto spare time activity that I’m going to simple force people to watch it when they claim not to understand how I have no time to watch television.” -Jeremy Zawodny

To sum up Shirky’s presentation – we’ve been spending years in front of the TV instead of participating. He believes that “doing” is better than not. That the future lies in interactive media, because that is what we want and the younger generation expects; to participate. To give you an idea of how much time we spend in front of the TV when we could be doing something, he points out:

“So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it’s the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus.” -Clay Shirky

So it seems we’ve got a huge surplus of time on our hands that we spend in front of the TV. If North Americans were to give up their American Idol / Canadian Idol habits and do something with that time, I wonder what we could accomplish?

If you were to spend 30 minutes less time watching TV every day, what would you fill that time with?

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