Thursday, May 01, 2008

The Cognitive Surplus

We know that the media ground is shifting, but nobody knows where it's headed. I think that the talk below by Clay Shirky gets to some underlying truths. Until now, media has assumed that we are only consumers. They put stuff out, we watch/read/listen and pay for the privilege. Shirky believes that we're coming to the end of the period where we'll spend our surplus time purely as consumers of media and that with the web, we're moving into a period where, in addition to consuming, we're also producing and sharing. We can already see this with YouTube, FaceBook, MySpace, Wikipedia, etc. and Shirky thinks that these things are not fads but signposts as to where we're headed. Clearly, anyone thinking of creating intellectual property needs to consider what this means.

One of the things that Shirky talks about is the astronomical number of hours spent consuming media. This is something that I've thought about on a smaller scale. If you make a half hour TV show and a million people watch it, you've used up 500,000 hours of human life. If you make a feature and a million people watch it, you've used up two million hours of human life. There are only 8,760 hours in a year, which means that your TV show burns up more than 57 years of human life and your feature burns up more than 228 years of human life for every million viewers. These amounts are not trivial. We should all ask ourselves if we are providing value for the amount of the audience's life we are using up. And looking at it this way, how can we be surprised if the audience would rather spend that piece of their lives doing something other than consuming media?

(Link via ¡Journalista!)


Jinny Liang said...

That was a great article and talk. Thanks for sharing Mark!

Steve Schnier said...

I don't know if a TV show or movie is "using up" any amount of time. If the members of the viewing audience weren't watching that specific program, they'd be doing or watching something else. Time isn't lost because the audience has watched a given show, it's passed irregardless of the activity.

Interesting idea though.