Time as a ‘social surplus’

7 May 2008 at 9:58 am Leave a comment

Andrew Curry writes:

The new media analyst Clay Shirky caused a bit of a stir in blogland last week with a compelling talk in which he described leisure time as a ‘social surplus’ which had been pretty much wasted over the past fifty years through watching TV. Actually, the argument was a bit more complex than that – his idea was that people had watched TV while we got used to the idea of having more leisure time, and now that we’d got used to it, we were starting to use bits of this time more productively, for example by building socially useful online applications.

There’s some interesting data in the talk. American TV watching (as a whole) takes up about two billion hours of time each year. And he calculates, with a little help, that building the whole of Wikipedia so far has taken about 100 million hours. American TV, in other words, takes up 2,000 Wikipedia projects per year.

Now the notion of time as a currency is one we talk about quite a lot round here. And it’s clear that there are different sorts of time. There’s work time (paid or unpaid); maintenance or ‘chore’ time (what you have to do to maintain your role); there’s recovery time (which is mostly where the TV watching comes in). And then there are the types which take you out of the work-eat-sleep cycle; ‘discovery’ time, or personal exploration time, and ‘identity’ time, which tend to be the places where personal roots are found.

I’m not sure about some of the social history in Clay’s talk, if only because, pre-television, there were rich social activities despite our having less leisure time (the huge 1930s ramblers’ campaign for the right of access to the countryside, for example), but I am persuaded by the underlying idea. It doesn’t take much of a switch from ‘recovery time’ to ‘discovery’ time to change the balance of social energy. This might not be online; book clubs, I think, would also fit the prospectus. But as he says:

It’s better to do something than to do nothing.

Futurismic has a video of Clay making his argument.

Photograph © Peter Curry 2008

Entry filed under: consumers, digital, television, time.

The credit crunch and UK financial attitudes Sharing data with the government

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

The Futures Company blog

The Futures Company was created through the merger of Henley Centre HeadlightVision and Yankelovich in 2008. This is the blog of the new company - but the former posts from the former Henley Centre Headlightvision blog still can be found here.

WPP? Leaders in Advertising,Branding,Marketing

%d bloggers like this: