This past Thursday night, I was delighted to be a guest on the Seedlings’ show on EdTechTalk, hosted by Alice Barr, Bob Sprankle, and Cheryl Oakes. My daughter, Sarah, joined us for the conversation and chimed in with both her ideas and questions for other participants. Near the end of the show, Bob asked me a question I’ve been asked a few times in the past: How do you find all the time to publish what you share? I fumbled around for an answer, and ended up saying something about MarsEdit (my favorite offline blogging software) and the value of creating and sharing for my own learning, long term memory, and digital archive of ideas (this blog.)
I don’t think that was a very good answer. A better answer, and much shorter one, would have been similar to the message of Clay Shirky at the Web 2.0 Expo in April 2008. The answer I SHOULD have given to Bob was this:
I don’t watch much television.
Note in this answer I am NOT saying I do not watch ANY television. I do. But it’s in very, very small quantities and not very often. Apparently I am not alone in this behavior pattern. Shirky discusses (in part one and part two of his talk) how we, as a society, now have a tremendous “cognitive surplus” of time on our hands which we have largely spent watching sitcoms and other television programs in the past few decades. Since the industrial revolution, Shirky contends alchohol and sitcoms have taken up a lot of this surplus. That is now changing, and this is a fundamental shift in the way people choose to interact with media and with each other.
According to Shirky, Internet-using folks in the United States watch, today, an aggregate total of approximately one trillion hours of television per year. That is a LOT of time. Just think of how many hours of time were spent this past Saturday in the United States, watching college football both “live” and on the television. We’re talking about LOTS of heartbeats, when you add them all together.
Media, says Shirky, is a triathlon. In the 20th century, it was mainly a marathon for most people: and the activity was consumption. Generally the more media that was produced, the more media people consumed. We’re now living in a day of three hundred television channels in many North American markets. Where are people getting all their time to do different things like play World of Warcraft (WOW) or edit WikiPedia? We’re not seeing a majority of people today engage in these activities regularly, just a small minority, but given that HUGE aggregate amount of time spent watching television even a one percent change in behavior results in BIG numbers of hours spent on the “other” two events in the triathlon of media: producing and sharing.
Shirky shares a clever story at the end of his talk about a four year old who was poking around behind her family’s television. When asked what she was doing by her parents, she responded, “I’m looking for the mouse.” What many four year olds know today, but many school superintendents and school board members may not, is that media worth spending time on is media which provides opportunities to PARTICIPATE. This is another layer of the answer I wanted to give in my last post, in which I discussed the reasons I’ve left commenting turned ON for my daughter’s popular YouTube video. “This audience” online wants to participate, and EXPECTS to participate. These are the same students sitting in desks, arranged in rows, in our classrooms each day. Teachers and parents are wondering why kids are so bored in school today, and many students are wondering, “Where’s the mouse?”
Don’t just take my word for it, give a listen to Shirky (via YouTube) if you’ve got about 17 minutes to spare. The ideas he shares are worth your time.
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