I’ve often said that I have many hobbies. I draw, I write little computer programs, I play with Legos. I work on my truck and in summer I kayak. I’ve run a hundred miles in the past month, and sometimes I even try to play the piano.

Am I an expert at any of these things? Decidedly not. But my expertise develops in step with my entertainment, and perhaps some aspect of these endeavors will someday assist or inspire someone else. (Hell, maybe someday it’ll even earn me an income.)

So it was with great interest and optimism that I watched Clay Shirky’s recent “Gin, Television, and Social Surplus” speech (via Gus Mueller, who also linked to a transcript).

The gist of Clay’s talk is that television has been an entertaining but unproductive use of the relatively plentiful spare time enjoyed by members of modern society. More importantly, he argues that ambitious projects like Wikipedia represent a total investment of personal time that is negligible in comparison to the time people spend watching TV. He calls this recreational time our “cognitive surplus”, and regards it—rightly, in my opinion—as an incredible resource that has only begun to be tapped.

I am enthusiastic about what can be accomplished as more slivers of spare time are spent on pet projects and the mischievous misadventures that beckon from beyond the sofa. Serendipity, meet spontaneity! Curiosity and collaboration are already here.

Anyway, I admit television is a popular scapegoat. It’s not all bad, but there should be more to life than a daily cycle of drudgery and reruns. We improve each other’s lives by pursuing the interests that enrich our personalities and abilities, be at it work, in the back yard, or even on the tube. I am pleased to say that this holds true for every person I know; everyone has some hobby or calling or quirk that contributes to what I know and appreciate about the world. Thank you!

Posted on Wednesday, April 30th, 2008. Tags: .