sometimes a number hits you like a baseball bat to the head

Televisions from days gone by by Neil Anderson. License:

Clay Shirky on how small wikipedia is, relative to the way we’ve spent our culture’s free time for the past fifty years:

So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it’s the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, “Where do they find the time?” when they’re looking at things like Wikipedia don’t understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that’s finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation.

The whole thing is worth reading, but that particular bit just jumped out at me like a lightning bolt.

On that note, back to my cave to work on passing Corporations and E-Commerce exams.

13 thoughts on “sometimes a number hits you like a baseball bat to the head”

  1. One of the most common reactions when people first learn about Wikipedia is to wonder where people find the time to write millions of articles for free. That’s precisely the reaction Clay Shirky got (thanks toLuis Villa) from, ironically enough, a television producer. Shirky points out the obvious answer: people spend a lot more time watching dumb television shows than they do contributing to Wikipedia. Shirky estimates that Wikipedia represents about 100 million

  2. One of the most common reactions when people first learn about Wikipedia is to wonder where people find the time to write millions of articles for free. That’s precisely the reaction Clay Shirky got (thanks toLuis Villa) from, ironically enough, a television producer. Shirky points out the obvious answer: people spend a lot more time watching dumb television shows than they do contributing to Wikipedia. Shirky estimates that Wikipedia represents about 100 million

  3. And how many thought units do people spend sleeping every year? Probably far more than TV-watching. Let’s stop sleeping and start working on Wikipedia!

    Yeah, it’d be great if people spent 24/7 making and creating and thinking, but let’s face it, there are limits to how much we can and want to do. And, get this, different people have different limits. And some people have external factors that prevent them from being productive. Maybe people watch a lot of TV b/c they are tired and burned out from work.

    But no, let’s just make fun of the TV watchers because clearly they’re just being lazy and not spending every waking moment working and thinking. How awful.

  4. Tim: eh; I’m ambivalent about book-selling blogs like this one; they tend to be forced and unnatural somehow.

    myself: I think you’re badly misreading the post. The point isn’t ‘televisions are bad’ or that everyone will always produce all the time. I was certainly consuming when I read Clay’s post :) The point is that consumption used to consume 100% of our media time, and that even the most impressive artifact of the new creation is a miniscule percentage of our media time. Therefore, if creation becomes even 1% of our media time, we should expect something like 20 new wikipedias a year. If creation becomes 10% of our media time then we should expect, from the US alone, something like 200 new wikipedia-like amounts of creation a year. You and I could quibble about whether 0.1% or 1% or 10% is a more reasonable number. But even if you assume that people will spend 100 times as much time consuming as they do creating, the sheer amount of new creation is still staggering to think about- 20 wikipedias! A year! Totally insane. Totally great, frankly.

  5. (oh, and I might note that, if we’re going to argue about 0.1% or 1% or 10%, you probably spent just as long commenting on my post as you did consuming it- so your ratio was probably about 50% creating. ;)

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