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Bill Brown

A complicated man.

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I was reading Clay Shirky's "Gin, Television, and the Social Surplus" today and came across this paragraph that really spoke to me:

Did you ever see that episode of Gilligan's Island where they almost get off the island and then Gilligan messes up and then they don't? I saw that one. I saw that one a lot when I was growing up. And every half-hour that I watched that was a half an hour I wasn't posting at my blog or editing Wikipedia or contributing to a mailing list. Now I had an ironclad excuse for not doing those things, which is none of those things existed then. I was forced into the channel of media the way it was because it was the only option. Now it's not, and that's the big surprise. However lousy it is to sit in your basement and pretend to be an elf, I can tell you from personal experience it's worse to sit in your basement and try to figure if Ginger or Mary Ann is cuter.

The larger point of his essay is that we, collectively, waste a lot of time watching television. If even a small portion of that were put to better (maybe different is more a propos) use, we could accomplish a lot. Shirky quantifies it with the entirely-made-up number that a 1% reduction in television viewing is the equivalent of 100 Wikipedia projects. I think that's bogus, but the general point rings true to me.

I think about these things often because a) I grew up watching a lot of TV, b) I am interested in the cultural shifts that the Internet has fostered and forced, and c) I watch too much television as it is. In January of this year, we ditched satellite TV and have limited ourselves to what comes over the antenna. That has severely curtailed the random, idle TV watching but it has largely been replaced with movie watching via Netflix.

Is that really any better? Perhaps, since movies are typically of higher quality and more worthwhile than television sitcoms. But isn't it, in the end, exactly the same? I shudder at all the great books I've neglected, all the music I've never heard, and all the blogs I haven't read—just kidding on that last one—as I fritter away the hours watching Antiques Roadshow or Lost. (Just kidding about Lost: the only way I'll stop watching that is when the series ends.)

I guess it's high time that I got a life.