Hack the Cognitive Surplus*

Consider the following:

  • There are now 306 million Americans
  • And according to Clay Shirky the average American now watches 151 hrs of TV per mo. Which is about 37 hrs per week or 5.5 hrs a day.

Now, consider what these numbers mean:

When 306 million people each watch 37 hrs of TV per week, we as a nation have spent 11.3 billion labor/hours per week on passive engagement with television programming of some kind. Shirky calls this the ‘cultural surplus.’

What it means is that as a nation we are so graced with real wealth, the wealth of functional communities and strong networks of relationships (social capital) from which we continually build and rebuild our related networks of commerce and finance, that we can afford, even in the grip of the worst recession since the Great Depression, to spend billions of waking hours per week sitting quietly in our homes passively watching TV.


Got the recession blues? Big clue to effective action here. Got a team with recession blues? Multiply it.

*This blog entry inspired by Clay Shirky (book – Here Comes Everybody), and his concept of ‘cognitive surplus.’

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2 Responses to Hack the Cognitive Surplus*

  1. Gil Friend says:

    37 hrs/wk
    Not much less than a normal workweek.
    Not much less than many people sleep!
    What’s wrong with this picture?

    • darmistead says:

      It’s a good point. If we assign the average person on an average day 8 hrs for work (which never counts commute), and 7 hrs for sleep, it certainly clarifies how big an investment of time is represented by the roughly 5.5 hrs for tv. Looked at this way, these figures seem about right to me.

      But the basic point of the blog stands even if the average person views tv half this amount.

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