Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Cognitive Surplus Gets Personal

What do you do with your cognitive surplus, assuming you have one? (If you're not sure, take this test: If you watch any television at all, you have one.)

The term was coined by Clay Shirky, and it's the name of his latest book. (Which I haven't read yet, but it's on my list of Future Favorites.) The cognitive surplus is the amount of time and mental capacity left over among people who have eight-hour work days, gasoline-powered vehicles to move them around, and water, sewage, electricity, and labor-saving devices in their homes. Shirky credits the cognitive surplus with the creation of the Wikipedia, among other crowd-sourced innovations in recent years.

I spend much of my cognitive surplus on volunteer work, gardening, reading books and the interweb, and a little bit writing this blog. I admit to watching six to 10 hours of television a week (probably about the same amount of time I spend here). Despite the fact that I have a far-from-grueling schedule, there are evenings where I can barely gather the mental capacity to write something as Daughter Number Three. Why is that?

Science fiction writer John Scalzi -- who publishes at least one fiction book a year, does other paid writing, and has maintained a very active blog for 12 years -- had this to say in a response to the many folks who ask him how they can make time for writing, or how to find inspiration:

If you need inspiration, think of yourself on your deathbed saying “well, at least I watched a lot of TV.” If saying such a thing as your life ebbs away fills you with existential horror, well, then. I think you know what to do.
Which reminds me of the words of Tinkertown creator Ross Ward: "I did all this while you were watching T.V."

This is not about guilt over watching television. None of us needs anything else to feel guilty about. We need to transform that response, so that we don't feel guilt, but energy to create something, whether it's music, clothes, a garden, or words.


Earlier posts on Clay Shirky:

Here Comes Everybody

Reporters Trapped Inside a Burning Business Model

More from Clay Shirky

Working the Cognitive Surplus

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