Nobody who works in television has the right to ask that question.
– Clay Shirky
I’ve mentioned before that one of the common responses I get when encouraging people to give blogging a try is that they don’t feel they have anything worth writing about. Although I honestly believe that, no matter how mundane our lives and musings might appear, we all have somebody out there who’d be interested to read about them, I can accept that some people just aren’t in touch with their inner writer and will either figure it out one day or they won’t. Good luck to ’em, I say.
Others claim that the only stuff they’d care to write about is so deeply personal that they couldn’t bear to share it so openly. Fair enough – I’ve used that excuse myself at times when personal circumstances have caused me to temporarily abandon my blog. The way I see it, if you’re trying to choose between sharing deeply personal thoughts you’d really rather keep to yourself and writing about stuff that’s really not important to you just so you can post something (something that isn’t deeply personal thoughts you’d rather keep to yourself), posting nothing is an acceptable third option. I’m waaaaaaaaaaaay too young to cut my ear off just so you’ve got something to read during your morning coffee.
Then there are the deluded, self-important assholes who smugly claim that they simply don’t have the time to blog and can’t understand how I manage. It’s hard to ignore the implicit accusation that the time I spend tinkering with my various online projects (blogs I maintain, communities I belong to, wikis I contribute to etc) is somehow wasted, a sink into which I pour my otherwise productive time.
I found the clip below about a month ago, showing author Clay Shirky speaking at a web 2.0 conference earlier in the year. It’s an insightful and well-delivered perspective on where this shift to online is taking us, starting with the wry observation that if gin was the critical technology of the industrial revolution (numbing the upheaval of transitioning to an industrial society), the critical technology of the post-war years must have been the sitcom.
Shirky makes a brilliant point in that we – individually and as a society – have a massive ‘cognitive surplus’ that we just don’t have a use for (if we did, there wouldn’t be a surplus). Throughout history this had never been a problem, because we used to spend all our time hunting mammoths, tending fields, and slogging it out in Mr Bumble’s work house. The dawn of the 40-hour week may have freed us from servitude in many respects, but it also created a problem we’d never faced before – what to do with all that spare time? For decades, television has been the sponge that soaked up all this latent time and energy, but now we’re finding new and better things to do with our time. Many of these new pastimes – such as playing elf warrior in Warcraft, or trading pictures of kittens with amusing facial expressions – might not be considered productive in the traditional sense, but it’s something, and watching television is nothing. And as the man says, it’s better to do something than nothing.
The numbers are astonishing. The estimated 100 million man-hours that have gone into Wikipedia to date may seem like a hell of a lot, but bear in mind that the Internet-connected population watches a TRILLION hours of television per year – enough to build 10,000 Wikipedias. That’s one hell of an asset, if we could only figure out how to use it – imagine the possibilities!
No, seriously, please imagine the possibilities. How do I find the time to create things online? How can you not?
Click here to watch part 2. If you’d rather just read about it, Shirky’s written account of the talk can be found here.