In Defense Of "Doing Nothing"

Jonah Lehrer finds Shirky's latest book wanting:

While Shirky pokes fun at [lolcats], he still argues that it represents a dramatic improvement over the passive entertainment of television. "The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something, and someone making lolcats has bridged that gap."

There are two things to say about this. The first is that the consumption of culture is not always worthless. Is it really better to produce yet another lolcat than watch The Wire? And what about the consumption of literature? By Shirky's standard, reading a complex novel is no different than imbibing High School Musical, and both are less worthwhile than creating something stupid online. While Shirky repeatedly downplays the importance of quality in creative production--he argues that mediocrity is a necessary side effect of increases in supply--I'd rather consume greatness than create yet another unfunny caption for a cat picture.

Further thoughts at Jonah's blog:

The larger point, I guess, is that before we can produce anything meaningful, we need to consume and absorb, and think about what we've consumed and absorbed. That's why Nietzsche, in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, said we must become a camel (drinking up everything) before we can become a lion, and properly rebel against the strictures of society.