Clay Shirky Web 2.0 Keynote Says We Have Enough Surplus Time For 2000 Wikipedias

Media that ships without a mouse ships broken

SAN FRANCISCO, CA. – Wikipedia is for online communities what “I Love Lucy” was for the previous generations, said Clay Shirky, a social futurist and adjunct professor. During his speech at the Web 2.0 Expo San Francisco, delivered at Moscone Center on Wednesday afternoon, the author of Here Comes Everybody said surplus time is being used more productively.

He also forecast that the Internet would soon replace television.

Shirky had only 15 minutes but for a man who values time like the greatest treasure it was more than enough. The topic of his speech was, surprisingly, time. And this, according to Shirky, people have now more than ever before. As their parents and grandparents dealt with the abundance of free time by endlessly watching soap operas, the contemporary generation prefers to produce and share rather than simply receive. Wikipedia, among others, provides them with such an opportunity.

Clay Shirky Investigates Wikipedia

One Wikipedia project, said Shirky, means around 100 million hours of human thought. This is how long it took for online users from around the world to re-edit the Wikipedia entry on Pluto when astronomers had decided to downgrade it from a planet into a satellite. Impressive but Shirky left no doubt as to what activity still reigns supreme. “Television watching? 200…billion hours in the United States alone every year.” During that time, some 2,000 Wikipedia projects, in all languages, could be completed.

Nevertheless, Clay Shirky believes that television stands no chance against the Internet. As an example, he told a story about his friend’s four-year-old daughter who in the middle of a movie went to the television screen, carefully examined it from every angle and then asked where the mouse was. “Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for,” said Shirky. People nowadays, he argued, “are reacting to the assumption that media includes consuming, producing, and sharing.”

wikipedia pages
wikipedia editing

Find The Mouse

At the end of his speech, he said that the job of both web developers and ordinary online users is to “find the mouse,” that is to provide people with the best available product. “If we carve out a little bit of a cognitive surplus that we now recognize we can deploy, could we make a good thing happen?” Shirky asked his audience. Before they could answer him, Shirky answered for them: “I’m betting the answer is ‘yes.'”

Video Chapters

0:00 The Story Begins Back In The Industrial Revolution.
0:12 Industrial Revolution Was Fueled by Gin !
0:40 Waking Up Society.
1:06 When The Civic Surplus Began
1:24 The 21st Century’s Social Lubricant.
2:05 What Did We Do With Our Free Time?
2:40 When Was The Cognitive Surplus Seen As An Asset?
3:20 Conversation With A TV Executive.
4:05 Her Question to Clay Shirky was What?
4:28 Masking The Cognitive Surplus.
5:00 Compare Wikipedia and TV.
5:50 The Architecture of Participation.
6:20 How To Integrate A Surplus To Transform Society?
7:00 Complexity Prevents Prediction Of The Outputs.
7:28 One Example Of A New Project With Inexpensive Tools.
10:30 It is Better To Do Something Rather Than Nothing.
11:20 Production and Consumption.
11:40 What People Really Like To Do !
13:00 TV Pro ducer: Isn’t This All Just a Fad?
13:30 Society Grows Into This, Not Out Of It.
13:42 What Children Pick Up Is Amazing!
15:13 What Is Society Doing With The Cognitive Surplus?

Clay Shirky writes about and is often interviewed about the Internet since 1996. Wikipedia notes that “His columns and writings have appeared in Business 2.0, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Business Review and Wired.”

Consulting, teaching, and writing on the social and economic effects of Internet technologies all keep him busy. He is interested in the rise of decentralized technologies such as peer-to-peer, web services, and wireless networks that provide alternatives to the wired client-server infrastructure that characterizes the World Wide Web. He is also a member of the Wikimedia Foundation’s advisory board.

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Krzys Wasilewski
Krzys Wasilewski, while living in Poland, completing his masters degree in International Relations, was seduced by English Literature.