Tag Archive: “society”


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.

What we choose to do with freedom

On the way home from my evening class, the bus stops to pick up visitors from the county jail. At the prison I can see a few rows of small barred windows uniformly lit by yellow light. The people behind those windows have no choice but to remain in their cells.

The bus drops me off a few blocks from my apartment. As I walk home, I pass rows of houses whose curtained windows are inevitably lit by the flickering blue light of television screens. The people behind those windows remain seated in their homes by choice.

So I celebrate the vagrant youths and fading elderly who live in transit on the sidewalks and buses between prison, school, and home. Theirs may be a sorry lot, but at least they have somewhere to go.

Posted on Wednesday, April 16th, 2008.

A More Perfect Union

You’ve heard about the military-industrial complex. Have you heard about the prison-industrial complex? One in a hundred Americans are in jail. You know a hundred people. If none are in jail, consider those who stand on the other side of average. Johnny, we miss you.

Speaking of prisons, you’ve probably heard about Abu Ghraib. I want you to look at some pictures taken there. Expect blood, shit, unhappy genitalia, and healthy young women smiling over dead bodies—you know, reassuring evidence of the harsh but justifiable means that keep our world safe from cruelty and pain.

I want you to look at those pictures because I want you (friends, family, acquaintances) to think about how things like that came to happen. I don’t claim to know, myself, nor am I particularly interested in ascribing blame, but the fact that such events took place, in any context, really bothers me.

(We now return you to our regularly scheduled program of AppleScripts, LDraw, and, apparently, math!)

Posted on Friday, February 29th, 2008.