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Cognitive Surplus and What to do with 100 Million Hours of TV Advertising Time!

I get a buzz out of those rare moments when my certainties are confronted. Recently a quote permeated that part of my brain that has nothing better to do than ponder and elicit some profound meaning.

The almost imperceptible buzzing on the edge of my sub conscious related to a comment by a certain Clay Shirkey (I’d never heard of him either!) To paraphrase; how can we waste our time watching TV when there are so many other options?

I found myself pondering this question from the high ground of the devils advocate. What makes watching TV inferior to any other number of past times? There are a myriad of reasons to flop down on the couch and bond with family and pets, disengaging the brain and recharging our flow.

How can you actually waste time anyway? Surely the absolute incomprehensible magic of inhaling breath and functioning as a self-actualized bundle of cells, constituting me and you is of itself breathtaking.

I pondered the relative merits of this apparent inane burning of precious time, and concluded with a sense of self righteous indignation that this chap must be a social snob, looking down with disdain on us unwashed unsophisticated.

I also love Paradoxes, those seemingly irreconcilable contradictions that flavour our daily interactions when certainties collide. Like most hard and fast beliefs, context changes the terrain and hence my paradigm shift.

The real essence of the commentary however concerned an exquisitely elegant term, labeled ‘Cognitive Surplus’. This sounded like one of those mind numbingly boring concepts I remember from Economics 101.

Excuse the rhetoric. Here’s the message.

Once upon a time not so long ago, a whole society shared the experience of TV watching between 6pm and 10pm. This was the source of all relevant knowledge. Discussions around the water cooler pertained to the previous evening’s programming.
If you didn’t watch Johnny Carson, The Football, Saturday Night Live, The Gay Byrne show (that’ll confuse some of you), then you were out of sync with the tribe, marginalised almost as if you were illiterate in a world of academia.

Quite dramatically the shared experience of societies has changed utterly. Choices abound. There are all our social networking sites to update. We need to upload our videos, contribute to our multitude of Blogs, contribute to Wikipedia, invest in our various online ventures, whilst multi tasking with our Skype and ITunes.

Cognitive surplus refers to the additional collective time that has seeped away from the aforementioned TV watching.

Think about this: At its peek just in the US alone, it is estimated that TV accounted for over 200 billion hours of individual time invested. Adverts consumed an estimated 100 million hours!

Imagine the impact of just 1% of this time, now moving towards another medium, more specifically an interactive one, such as those mentioned. That’s 2 billion hours surplus that is compounding its impact elsewhere.

More and more people are becoming increasingly creative with this mass surplus and the effect is tangible.

Change is afoot. The creative juices of a previously dormant section of society are redefining our world, and the architecture of participation is manifested in the evolution we are living through.

I still defend my right to turn off 90% of my brain and watch re runs of shows that I didn’t particularly enjoy first time around, but I feel a little less motivated to be so vocal, and yes I’ll continue to disengage from the adverts and update my Blog!


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