Gin, TV And The Web

This is one of those essays so brilliant and fun and provocative it stays with you for a while. It's by Clay Shirky and it's about social surplus - or how human beings manage modernity. It's hard to summarize, so here's a taste:

If I had to pick the critical technology for the 20th century, the bit of social lubricant without which the wheels would've come off the whole enterprise, I'd say it was the sitcom. Starting with the Second World War a whole series of things happened--rising GDP per capita, rising educational attainment, rising life expectancy and, critically, a rising number of people who were working five-day work weeks. For the first time, society forced onto an enormous number of its citizens the requirement to manage something they had never had to manage before--free time.

And what did we do with that free time?  Well, mostly we spent it watching TV.

We did that for decades.  We watched I Love Lucy.

We watched Gilligan's Island.  We watch Malcolm in the Middle.  We watch Desperate Housewives.  Desperate Housewives essentially functioned as a kind of cognitive heat sink, dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat.
And it's only now, as we're waking up from that collective bender, that we're starting to see the cognitive surplus as an asset rather than as a crisis.

Hence this blog. And everything else that is exploding online. It may be more constructive than some suppose.