I've been doing some weekend bike riding and visits to the gym in my building for the last five or six weeks -- not that you would know it by looking at me. But when I want to visit an intellectual gym, I pick up the New York Review of Books or boot up Edge.org -- always satisfying.
The latter recently posted a video by Clay Shirky of this title -- and its transcript (you'll need to scroll down the page to find it). Shirky is one of the most innovative thinkers out there, especially on the social web, and recently published Here Comes Everybody: The Power of Organizing Without Organizations (have read most of it, but got sidetracked by a rare read of a novel*). He says:
... And what did we do with that free time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV. ¶ We did that for decades. We watched I Love Lucy. We watched Gilligan's Island. We watch Malcolm in the Middle. We watch Desperate Housewives. Desperate Housewives essentially functioned as a kind of cognitive heat sink, dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat. ¶ And it's only now, as we're waking up from that collective bender, that we're starting to see the cognitive surplus as an asset rather than as a crisis. We're seeing things being designed to take advantage of that surplus, to deploy it in ways more engaging than just having a TV in everybody's basement. ...
Be sure also to read the intro by John Brockman and the commentary by Tim O'Reilly on that same page, and Nicholas Carr's commentary, Gilligan's Web, here.
Shirky's writing usually resonates with me -- and I like his "cognitive surplus" coinage. But here, on first reading, I feel more comfortable with Carr's critique. I'll read it again in a week or so and see if I change my mind.
Update 4 September 2008:
*Mark Laskowski asks, "what was the rare novel?" It was the excellent Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson. --Dennis