27 April 2008

Cognitive Surplus

Hugely important point from Clay Shirky (via boingboing)

Doing the numbers below, the entire volunteer effort that's gone into producing Wikipedia, in man-hours, is about one fifth of the time Americans spend watching television on an average day.

That kind of puts Seth Finklestein's "digital sharecropping" into perspective.

Here's the key section:

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. People asking, "Where do they find the time?" when they're looking at things like Wikipedia don't understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that's finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation.
I've tended to be towards the sceptical end of the new-media hype, but this way of looking at things really gives a glimpse of the possibilities.

1 comment:

Mark Wadsworth said...

Ah yes, but is it right to compare 100 million hours of thought by impassioned and hopefully knowledgeable people with 2 billion hours of morons on sofas? Or to be fair, deadbeat tired after a hard day's work people on sofas? You could also say that Americans spend 3 billion hours a year sleeping.