Thursday, May 8, 2008

The Brain Drain and Gain

There are always stories about how birth rates rise around the times of events like major black outs. Dave's best mate is a point in question. He believes that he was conceived around the time of a major flood that had his parents cut off on their farm, probably without power. While the jury is out as to whether this can be statistically and accurately shown ... it remains one of those urban myths ... when the TV goes off the act of creation goes up.

I can't help but think, after reading Clay Shirkyon's article Gin, Television, and Social Surplus (graciously forwarded to me by the ever roaming Catherine) that as writers and artists ... a big step towards being creative is turning the TV off. Or perhaps it's the first big move in becoming creative. Not only is it a displacement activity, it's a drain of time, energy, creativity and what Shirkyon calls our 'cognitive surplus.' He estimates that Wikipedia represents 100 million human hours of thought and that is the equivalent of what American's waste watching television ads in one weekend.

In Australia the tide is turning. The Australian newspaper reported in March this year that for the first time the average hours spent on the internet exceeded that spend infront of the box (13.7 hours a week online and 13.3 hours in front of the box, compared with 12.5 hours a week online and 13.8 hours watching TV in 2006.)

Shirkyon writes:

"And this is the other thing about the size of the cognitive surplus we're talking about. It's so large that even a small change could have huge ramifications. Let's say that everything stays 99 percent the same, that people watch 99 percent as much television as they used to, but 1 percent of that is carved out for producing and for sharing. The Internet-connected population watches roughly a trillion hours of TV a year. That's about five times the size of the annual U.S. consumption. One per cent of that is 100 Wikipedia projects per year worth of participation." On the most current Australian data - we're already there ... shifting just over 2.5% in one year.

He goes on to comment:

"However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it's worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter ... It's better to do something than to do nothing."

And that's what happened when I turned off the TV. I started to do 'stuff'. There would have been no time to run a magazine solo for three years, care for a rapidly growing and insatiably curious little boy, and keep my sanity if I had have been sitting ogling the box for hours at night. If I had have been cavorting with the TV last year and not on line participating, I would never have begun writing again ... and here I am, 'producing, sharing and consuming.'

I'm not an avid TV buff - I never really have been, but I used to waste my nights infront of the TV because it was on ... even when there was nothing showing that interested me. The TV has that kind of hypnotic effect on you.

I dont watch commerical TV at all and haven't for around three years now (after tiring of putting up with the rolling of eyes and groans from Dave as I watched CSI - my last bastion of commercial TV) The TV only goes on when we want to watch something specific. I am lucky to watch three hours of TV a week now. There's my Wednesday stable of favourites on the ABC - Spicks and Specks + two British comedy shows (currently the IT Crowd and Armstrong & Miller). I used to watch Life on Mars on a Thursday night (which finished the first week in April) and Robin Hood on a Sunday evening, which has also just finished. Which means it's down to Wednesday night TV ... just 90 minutes of TV a week. For the first time ever I'm proud be well below average!

Instead of frying my brain, I'm online or writing - or in the case of blogging, both! I dont suggest that I'm doing anything as big as Wikipedia (yet?) or writing the next Puliter Prize winner ... but I'm doing something. I'm glad that my cognitive surplus is being used in more industrious ways and will hopefully continue to do so in bigger ways in the near future ... after all Shirkyon says it was the industrial revolution, which spawned the five day working week that created free time and a cognitive surplus - may as well put it to good use.

How much TV do you consume a week? Is TV the evil enemy of your muse or do you have another brain drain (gin perhaps - for those who read the full article)?

1 comment:

Tricksy Pixie said...

I used to watch television constantly. I was one of those people who would bring the laptop into the living room so I could surf WHILE I watched TV. When my ex and I broke up and I moved out on my own, he thought I was crazy because I didn't get cable or even hook my TV up to get stations. It was a wonderful decision. In the first few months without TV I started painting and drawing again, my journaling exploded, and I started my slow crawl back to creative writing. Not to mention I was able to take four classes at school WHILE working 40 hours/week.

Yes, TV is evil. (A good DVD, however, I can excuse.)