Are you squandering your cognitive surplus?

David McCandless was inspired to create a graphic image–just a pair of boxes in proportionate sizes–illustrating “cognitive surplus.” As discussed by writer Clay Shirky, this refers to “the idea of spare brainpower in the world’s collective mind just sitting there waiting, wanting, to be harnessed.” McCandless compares the 800 billion hours per year spent watching television just by American adults, to the 100 million hours, total, spent by everyone involved, to create the whole of Wikipedia.

Take a look.

And you know, this is always the very first thing I think when I hear the constant, perennial complaint from people that they “don’t have time”–that they don’t have time to write, don’t have time to create, don’t have time to exercise, don’t have time to cook healthy food, don’t have time to read. “How much time do you spend, every day, watching TV? Watching TV and doing nothing else?” And that’s not even considering the mind-numbing, paranoia-inducing, brain-washing, creativity-killing effects that every minute of TV has in and of itself. Just as a time-sink alone, it’s unparalleled in human history. You can do some things while you watch TV, including exercising and cooking healthy food. But if you seriously want to write–that TV’s got to be turned off, and not only while you’re actually writing.

Just think if everyone did that–and started reading, instead. Just think of it.

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4 Responses to Are you squandering your cognitive surplus?

  1. paganpaul says:

    *grin* I am actually trying to make time to watch tv for 45 minutes a day as I am trying to catch up with the series Eureka…

    It’s indeed scary to see how much time people spend in front of the tube…

  2. sarajlarson says:

    This is what I keep telling people. When they admire some ancient art, like, say, chaine maille, and wonder how people had time to do it, I say, “They didn’t watch tv.” Artists don’t have much time for tv. Period.

  3. kay_baird says:


    This is why I hate Facebook. Their constantly changing layouts and features make you spend more time there, like a grocery store. LiveJournal on the other hand facilitates real communication — and can facilitate real thinking.

  4. novelfriend says:

    … but I don’t watch TV

    In fact, my husband pretty much has to beg and remind me to spend some time in the living room with him for the few shows where we spend time together. If it wasn’t for that, we’d barely have weekends together!

    Most of my time is online. It’s not all productive to writing, but it’s productive in that when I’m not writing, I’m looking at friends’ news on FB or Twitter (the only “ridiculous” FB game I play is WordScraper – which is basically Scrabble – and it’s against two people who are constantly teaching me lovely new words). I don’t watch vids on YouTube, and I check a whopping 3 webcomics.

    I still have no time. :(

    OTOH, when I do get dragged to watch TV, its well written programs that often inspire me to write more, like Doctor Who, Eureka, House M.D., Bones, Fringe, & Burn Notice.

    I also get to cuddle with my hubby, who’d hardly ever see me during the week, otherwise. :)