Before this blog post I would like to note the fact that kids are marching past outside waving Norwegian flags. I feel I'm in a fascist dictatorship. Yes, Bob, that is, in fact, the grinding heel of oppression.
Anyway, I've gotten into the habit of watching video lectures on Ted or YouTube while I cook dinner. It's a nice way of learning, because my mind is focused, and my body is distracted so I don't get restless. As long as I remember to pause during the difficult parts of the cooking, I take most of it in. The TED lectures are particularly good for this. They are rhetorically excellent, less than 20 minutes long, and focus on just transmitting a few interesting ideas.
So last night, as I was making sticky lemon chicken (which is, while not particularly sticky, very tasty if I dare say so myself) with champ, I watched two lectures which resonated with each other. In fact, they were pretty much just two sides of the same argument.
It's all about Web 2.0. Both lecturers are exploring the question of how the latest developments in the information economy are changing how we interact.
The first lecture is a TED lecture by Yochai Benkler. He is arguing that we have turned a corner in social organisation. That the web has introduced an efficiency of a new order of magnitude into social organisation and interaction which subverts the traditional information economy of the industrialised mass media age.
The second talk is by Clay Shirky. He is arguing that an important social technology for the 20th century was the sitcom, which had the same function last century that gin had in the centuries before that. He argues that the sudden appearance of free time, for the first time since antiquity, has led to a cognitive surplus which we don't know what to do with. Parts of commercial mass media are a sort of heat sink, draining away the surplus so we don't go crazy. Web 2.0 is harnessing parts of that surplus into projects like Wikipedia and blogging and other user-generated collaborative media.
He has also created the Wikipedia as a unit of cognitive surplus:
Wikipedia, according to him, is roughly 100 million work-hours of human thought activity. The US watches roughly 2000 Wikipedias of television every year, the world watches 10.000 Wikipedias - roughly one trillion hours.
So as he says, if you carve out just one percent of that time into social, web-based collaboration, that's still 100 new Wikipedia-scale projects every single year.
The talk is in two parts here, or you can watch the whole thing over at Making Light and read the interesting comments, too. Also, here is the transcript if you want the quick version.