Where Do They Find The Time?

Clay Shirky recently posted (wayback) a transcript of his Web 2.0 Expo keynote.

…If you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project — every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in — that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought.

Then Shirky asks us to compare that to television. He says we Americans collectively spend about 200 billion hours of our time each year watching the tube (the Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2006 and NHAPS in 2004 both concluded the average American spends 5.7 hours watching TV daily).

Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads.

This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, “Where do they find the time?” when they’re looking at things like Wikipedia don’t understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that’s finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation.

Interestingly, the Television Bureau of Advertising reports that while TV viewing among adults has increased by double digits since 1988 (12% for women, 15% for men), viewership by teens and children has been basically flat.

And that’s scary news to those who’d previously thought the internet was a passing fad, that YouTube and Wikipedia would fade away. A 2005 Pew Internet Project study revealed demands by teens for participation and sharing in all media. Their suggestion: “Think of [your] relationship with teens as one where they are in a conversational partnership, rather than in a strict producer-consumer, arms-length relationship.”

Shirky points to lolcats. The “cute pictures of kittens made even cuter with the addition of cute captions” are exemplary of a new, participatory form of entertainment — exactly the kind PIP’s teens were demanding.

When you see a lolcat, one of the things it says to the viewer is, “If you have some fancy sans-serif fonts on your computer, you can play this game, too.” And that message — I can do that, too — is a big change.

The takeaway? “Media that’s targeted at you but doesn’t include you may not be worth sitting still for.” That’s where people find the time for Wikipedia, lolcats, linux, and countless other endeavors. And this is all just beginning.