Perhaps many people saw the link to this in the ALA Direct newsletter from last night, though I would be surprised if many sat through the 15-minute video. I have to say this is a wonderful presentation by Clay Shirky at the Web 2.0 Expo, and worth the investment of time. I even took a whole page of notes while watching the video.
The presentation discussed a response to someone's question of how do people find the time to participate on Wikipedia and other social networking venues on the Web. The implication is that these people had no life. He pointed out that for the past 50 or 60 years, our society has had an unprecedented amount of free time and we have chosen to spend a large amount of it watching television. The entire Wikipedia project represents about 100 million hours of human thought, whereas television represents 200 billion hours of human thought in the US alone in a single year. We spend 100 million hours per weekend watching the ads alone! Of course finding concrete studies to back up these numbers would be interesting, but the figures are plausible.
From the point of view of the masses, the media of the 20th century was only about consumption. Now, it's largely about consumption, but also producing and sharing. People who grew up with one-way media aren't necessarily buying into the new media, but young children are assuming that media is broken if they cannot interact with it.
Within this, he talked about the "cognitive surplus" of our society. If we knew what to do with it, it wouldn't be considered a "surplus" anymore. He is not advocating throwing the television out of the window. He feels that if we take a small part of this cognitive surplus and put it to use, we could do some wonderful things.
I'm going to try to find everything this guy has ever written now!