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April 27, 2008

“Where do people find the time?”
Posted by Patrick at 09:23 AM *

I generally hate being read to, and prefer transcripts to watching video of public speakers, but this fifteen-minute Web 2.0 talk by Clay Shirky—about gin, television, the “cognitive surplus,” and the true answer to the annoying question in the title of this post—grabbed me and wouldn’t let go. (Via Warren Ellis, to whom all due props.)

Transcript here, if you really can’t deal with video.

I’m currently in the middle of Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody, “a book about organizing without organizations,” which I’m finding fascinating and valuable even when I disagree. More on this later.

Comments on "Where do people find the time?":
#1 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 10:09 PM:

O fuck me. Claude Degler was right.

#2 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 10:25 PM:

"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."

Awesome.

#3 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 10:29 PM:

Mary Dell, ROFTLMAO.

glad I didn't have a beverage in my mouth despite my flexi keyboard.

#4 ::: VictorS ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 10:35 PM:

Teresa, could you pretty please unpack that a little for us slower-of-comprehension types?

#5 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 10:37 PM:

Yes. I never watched that much TV -- I tended to read instead. But
reading, while more interactive than TV (because it requires the
reader's imagination to function), is still a fairly unsocial medium.
The time I spend online comes out of my reading time, which is the same
as most people's TV/movie time... but it's much more social and
interactive than either one. And I think that's important.

#6 ::: Clan ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 10:42 PM:

Does this video remind anyone else of the final flowering of humanity in "Childhood's End"?

"The general standard of culture was at a level which would once
have seemed fantastic. There was no evidence that the intelligence of
the human race had improved, but for the first time everyone was given
the fullest opportunity of using what brain he had."

"One unexpected result of this was the extinction of the
professional sportsman. There were too many brilliant amateurs, and the
changed economic conditions had made the old system obsolete."

Yet among all the distractions and diversions of a planet which now
seemed well on the way to becoming one vast playground, there were some
who still found time to repeat an ancient and never-answered question:

“Where do we go from here?”

(This is my first comment. How'd I do?)

#7 ::: eric ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 10:50 PM:

I've been spending my cognitive surplus stimulus checks on some of them there free ebooks from Tor.

Some haven't been my style, some I have in hard copy, some are going to involve buying the rest of the series.

#8 ::: Jason McIntosh ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 10:57 PM:

Oof, his expression of personal regret at a childhood spent in the
basement watchin' stoopid TV really resonated with me, too. The memory
of my four-year-old self is rather jealous of the mouse-hunting
four-year-olds of today.

Sometimes I think that my entire career path now seems based around
making up for lost time. But, it's better than watching TV. :)

#9 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 11:13 PM:

VictorS @#4: Per my friends at Google, Claude Degler was an
eccentric fan who had various prophetic notions. I haven't read enough
to chararacterize beyond that. Teresa wrote about him in Making Book, reprinted here.

#10 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 11:16 PM:

I won't repost the McLuhan quotes I put on the Boing Boing comment
thread . . . suffice to say that he was way ahead of the game.

McLuhan's Understanding Media ends with an observation that
the age of automation and electronic media will see the end of fears
over conformity and give us a real challenge . . . what to do with
ourselves.

McLuhan is also fond of a Whitehead quote: The greatest advances in civilization are processes which all but wreck the societies in which they occur.

Hang on tight.

#11 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 11:17 PM:

#6, Clan: Just fine, I'd say. I really need to re-read Childhood's End.

#4, VictorS: This may (or may not) help.

Or, alternately, this, this, or this.

#12 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 27, 2008, 11:22 PM:

"Where do people find the time?" That was her question. And I
just kind of snapped. And I said, "No one who works in TV gets to ask
that question. You know where the time comes from. It comes from the
cognitive surplus you've been masking for 50 years."

Wow. Friggen nailed it.

#13 ::: Tazistan Jen ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 12:10 AM:

I like the part where 1% more contributing makes a big difference.
Because even on the internet I mostly just read (like Lee I never
watched much TV). But 1%? I can manage that.

And my kids are the generation after the gin carts. They play
interactive games, they text, they facebook, they enter contests with
self-developed neopets, they take care of stables of horses online.
Whatever is coming they are all set.

#14 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 12:10 AM:

Secondary thought: I have a few friends who, from my POV, spend absolutely amazing
amounts of time watching movies -- new, old, it doesn't seem to matter.
And they write reviews of same, and I extrapolate that every review
represents at least an hour of time spent watching the movie itself
plus probably 15-20 minutes composing the review, and I've been
wondering for years where THEY find the time! Because they seem to have
normally-busy lives otherwise...

#15 ::: Matt Stevens ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 12:25 AM:

Thanks, this is thought provoking.

However, I have to add: I'm a Warcraft player today, but I was a D&D player 25 years ago, and certainly Warcraft is a less participatory activity than D&D is and used to be. I'm just not sure the progression is even or unidirectional.

#16 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 12:51 AM:

tnh, #1: Big Grin.

Clan, #6: It does seem that we on the edge of some sort of dramatic
transformation, doesn't it? But I don't think it's the end; only a big
change.

#17 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 12:55 AM:

Second thought: a colleague reports from CHI '08
that the focus of HCI is shifting from developing new technology to
applying new technology; to design, in other words. A threshold, it
seems, is being crossed in many areas of knowledge and many places in
the world.

It's about damn time!

#18 ::: Remus Shepherd ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 01:12 AM:

Now look at how Clay Shirky's message contrasts with a recent article in the NY Times which argues that we need to discourage people from offering cultural contributions. (Specifically, writing.)

Makes it pretty clear where the two poles of media attitude are, I think.

#19 ::: Ben Morris ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 01:36 AM:

This is very cool.

I am left with a tangential question that perhaps someone who has read Shirkey's Here Comes Everybody can answer. Is there a specific meaning behind titling the book with a Finnegans Wake reference? Here Comes Everybody being a phrase of importance within that book. My inner Joyce-nerd is curious.

#20 ::: A. J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 02:08 AM:

The narrative of Degler seems from this angle to read as a collective confabulation, ala the Cthulhu Mythos.

#21 ::: Max Kaehn ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 03:18 AM:

“It’s better to do something than to do nothing... even LOLcats.” I am reminded of one of my stepfather’s favorite G K Chesterton quotes: “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.

#22 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 03:19 AM:

I'm very skeptical of any message that involves completely
dismissing the value of an entire form of human expression, as Shirky
does with television. To say that playing World of Warcraft is
"actually doing something" while experiencing and engaging with the
subversive narratives of Desperate Housewives is wasting a
cognitive surplus seems...not backwards, but just kind of nonsensical,
a comparison that would be inaccurate if it weren't so meaningless. As
sick as Shirky is of hearing "where do people find the time", I'm sick
of hearing the word "mindless" attached to watching TV. Like anything,
it can be experienced mindlessly, but need not be.

Tell any Star Trek fanfic writer that television isn't a participatory art form. Tell people who spend their lives in academic dissections of Buffy that they're wasting their time, or not contributing anything.

Any art form is potentially participatory, potentially a dialog, and
while easy access to technology always heightens the amount of
participation that goes on, I'm not so sure that it fundamentally
changes the nature of the game. What we're seeing now with the internet
doesn't strike me as particularly different from the punk explosion of
the mid to late seventies, for example, when a startlingly huge number
of people simultaneously realized that they actually had a way to
express what they wanted to express, and went and did it. True, there
is no analogous moment with television, but I'd wager that has more to
do with the artificial restrictions, both governmental and corporate,
on the means of distribution than with anything intrinsic to the medium.

#23 ::: A. J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 04:32 AM:

ethan @ 22,

I didn't take it as a dismissal of the entire medium of television
-- partly because I see a distinct separation between sitcom-era
television (which the writer was definitely dismissing) and
fandom-involved serial television such as your examples above.

The latter fits into an interactive picture in a way the former doesn't, and television is changing and has changed a great deal over the last few decades in order to accommodate that need for expression.

Also, from the horse's mouth, It doesn't mean that we'll never sit around mindlessly watching Scrubs on the couch. It just means we'll do it less.
Presumably he's in there with that we. "Mindlessly watching Scrubs on
the couch" -- or in other words, spending a prolonged period of time in
absorption mode -- has its own inherent value. (For one, this mode
actually helps me recharge my writing batteries.) At the same time, I
agree with the observation that that mode was for a long time the
cultural equivalent of a hammer to which everything's a nail, and, you
know, we need hammers and all, but everything isn't, and ain't it
wonderful we have wrenches now?

(...Okay, I think I tangled some metaphors up in there somewhere, but I've had two hours of sleep. Howe'er
it was he got his trunk / entangled in the telephunk / the more he
tried to get it free / the louder buzzed the telephee / I think I'd
better drop this song / of elephop and telephong.
)

#24 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 06:34 AM:

Matt Stevens @ 15 -

Thanks, this is thought provoking.

However, I have to add: I'm a Warcraft player today, but I was a
D&D player 25 years ago, and certainly Warcraft is a less
participatory activity than D&D is and used to be. I'm just not
sure the progression is even or unidirectional.

Tabletop RPGs almost certainly are more participatory (or can be, at
least - I'm certain there are games and campaigns that aren't or
weren't as well - hell, I've played in games that could have been
Warcraft sessions) than Warcraft is... for now.

But while CRPGs are, in some respects, a very old medium (Adventure,
Zork, etc.) - in other respects Warcraft (and Everquest, etc. as lesser
examples) is, in fact, something new - the Massively Multi-Player
Online part really does make "sitting in the basement pretending to be
elves" different from "sitting in the basement getting eaten by a grue... again."

and MMORPGS are really still in their infancy - Ultima Online is
just more than a decade old, and most of the really big (and advanced)
ones came online in the last five years or so.

MMORPGS also have plenty of interactivity and creation/sharing urge
enablers - machinima might have gotten their start primarily with Halo*, but there are more than a few
machinima that are generated in Warcraft, Everquest, and other games -
basically, any game that lets you record and save events and play them
back (in the engine or not) allows you to generate video that you can
then use to your own purposes.

And this doesn't count the social aspects - guilds, raid teams, fire
squads, trading, etc. In games that have Alternate Reality Game tie-ins
(like ILoveBees or the more recent Halo 3 tie-in), figuring out the
puzzle can be a huge social tie-in, as message boards light up with
clues, interpretations, guesses, and the like.

Right now, the tabletop experience is more expansively interactive
than MMORPG or CRPG experiences (although there have been efforts to
bring TTRPG-like experiences to the computer - the Vampire:The Masquerade
CRPG included a storyteller-driven option to its engine (although my
understanding was it was rather clunky), and Neverwinter Nights has a
toolset (Aurora) which allows users to create their own content (As do
several other games, with custom level builders, etc. - but Redemption
and Neverwinter Nights go further, allowing the GM to build cut scenes,
custom behaviors, etc.).

I expect to see that sort of engine customization ability and the
inclusion of player-directed content generation tools increase, not
decrease, as time goes on - Halo 3 has a whole bunch of new tools in it
that previously were either unrefined or nonexistent in previous
versions (much more powerful event recording, level generation, etc.).
(Halo online is really an MMOFPS - Massively Multiplayer Online
First-Person Shooter - but many of its tools are whizzer suited to
generating your own content).

Partly because there is demand - after they get done doing whatever
stuff the game company has set up for them, an increasing number of
players are saying "what next?" or "Hey, wouldn't it be cool if...".
Partly because including the tools - many of which had to be developed,
in whole or in part, to generate the game in the first place - doesn't
add much, in terms of development costs or game size, especially
relative to the revenue that can be generated (I know someone who
bought NWN just for the Aurora engine). And, honestly, partly because
the game designers are often geeks who think this shit is just as cool
as the players do... :-)

"Looking for the mouse."

Heh. I like it.

*Okay, I cheated on this one - Haloid was actually done by Monty Oum in a variety of packages, then composited in Director. But Red Vs. Blue is all generated with the Halo engine.

#25 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 06:55 AM:

The embedded video isn't working for me. Link please?

#26 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 07:29 AM:

A.J. Luxton @ 23: "The latter fits into an interactive
picture in a way the former doesn't, and television is changing and has
changed a great deal over the last few decades in order to accommodate
that need for expression."

I remember reading a bit from Everything Bad Is Good For You,
I think, which talked about how much more cognitively complex modern TV
is compared with even a couple of decades ago. The part that really
struck me was the invention of continuity. The idea that what happened
in one episode will affect later episodes? That was invented!
It sort of blew my mind--not because I have never watched reset-to-zero
shows*, but because I have watched them, without ever realizing what
bugged me about them. As much as I love the Simpsons, the fact that everyone forgets
everything they learned last episode frustrates the bejeezus out of me.
Contrast that with the twelvety-seven plotlines going on in every
single episode of Heroes, Lost, or any number of other modern shows, where missing even a single episode is a recipe for confusion and incomprehension.

For decades the common wisdom was that shows that required people to
know what happened last episode were unwatchable. In the last decade,
that's suddenly changed. Is it that the common wisdom was wrong, or is
it that the viewers have changed?

*Which is what I think Shirky means when he talks about sit-coms.

#27 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 08:08 AM:

I kinda lost the ability to follow the speech given after hitting one of those "somone on the internet is WRONG" moments.

Sitcoms weren't a post-war innovation. Before TV, there was radio,
and it hooked people just as throughly, with plotlines and jokes that
were just as inane, or just as clever. And before radio there were
penny-dreadfuls, and the explosion of novels in the late Victorian
period.

What strikes me is that he's arguing that there's something
fundamentally immoral about narrative fiction. Or, if not immoral, that
consuming narrative fiction is a less worthy activity than arguing on
wikipedia. Or playing World of Warcraft.

Now, WoW isn't my drug of choice, but honestly, I've played my share
of video games. And there isn't nearly as much "pretending that you're
an elf", as there is "killing the same type of monsters over and over
until you level, or the item you want drops." There are better video
games and worse video games, but there are better or worse books and TV
shows.

I'm foursquare in favor of constructive hobbies. And I think that a
lot of stuff that's thought of as unconstructive is actually far more
constructive than it appears. But I really don't see that TV is really
at fault when people aren't more constructive. Or radio, or books.
Sometimes, what you have energy for is to consume careful crafted
entertainment. Or godawful entertainment, for that matter.

Also, he needs to learn more about the industrial revolution.

#28 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 08:38 AM:

Alter S Reiss, #27: "What strikes me is that he's arguing that there's something fundamentally immoral about narrative fiction."

He seems to think that using television as a kind of sedative is
unhealthy. Given the amounts consumed, it's hard to argue that he's
wrong on either count: first that a lot of television is used as a
sedative, second that it is overused.

#29 ::: Greg London ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 08:44 AM:

Alter@27: What strikes me is that he's arguing that there's something fundamentally immoral about narrative fiction.

I didn't get that. I took it to mean that narrative fiction is a
surplus of intellectual energy, and once the tools are in place to
leverage it (computers, internet), then that surplus can be leveraged
into it's own revolution.

Or, if not immoral, that consuming narrative fiction is a less
worthy activity than arguing on wikipedia. Or playing World of Warcraft.

The piece I quoted, the piece that really struck me as getting at
something, was that the TV person couldn't understand where someone
could find the time to contribute to wikipedia.

But working in television means you work in an area that operates on
intellectual surplus energy. His response to her "where do people find
the time" question was that they already have plenty of surplus time
watching your television shows, they just chose not to watch as much TV
and chose to spend more time doing something more interactive.

put another way, the TV person whose audience can only watch them
via some intellectual surplus couldn't understand where someone could
have the intellectual surplus to work on wikipedia. To the TV person,
they couldn't see they were operating on a surplus, and saw themselves
different from wikipedia, and the other surplus mediums.

But they're not.

#30 ::: Andy Brazil ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 09:22 AM:

I so get "looking for the mouse" - my 5 year old grandson will sit
for hours playing on the net. He can't quite read, and we have to
navigate to the websites for him, but once there we can walk away and
leave him to his own devices (secure in knowing that he can't leave the
site, so he's in a sandbox). His current favourite is a Power Rangers
site where he can assemble little clips into a timeframe, add sounds
and dialogue and make a little movie. OK it's a limited set of clips,
it's near impossible to make anything that makes any sense - but he
narrates the story to me as the movie runs. So here's a five year old
who's made his first movie before he's written a sentence. That's a
generational discontinuity right there. He still watches some tv - but
he'll choose internet over tv as long as he has the energy - tv is for
falling asleep to.

#31 ::: A. J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 09:23 AM:

heresiarch @ 26: For decades the common wisdom was that shows
that required people to know what happened last episode were
unwatchable. In the last decade, that's suddenly changed. Is it that
the common wisdom was wrong, or is it that the viewers have changed?

Your commentary here really hits a note for me, because now that I
think of it, the serial TV show is my favorite form of storytelling
next to written fiction -- film hits somewhere lower on the list than
either. And conversely, the TV show with the cast of anterograde
amnesiacs is probably my least favorite form of storytelling.

Did Star Trek subtly pioneer continuity, I wonder? It seems to me that, while the original series didn't stack plot, the characters didn't forget their immediate history either and did seem to learn from it... (Not that I think it's the only source, just, it may have been influential.)

Alter S. Reiss @ 27, I again don't think the author was arguing
against TV per se so much as pointing out the collective overuse/abuse
of a certain kind of television, but I agree with you on And I think that a lot of stuff that's thought of as unconstructive is actually far more constructive than it appears. It's a lot of fun to dig through one's life and figure out the purposes of all the apparently "useless" things one does.

#32 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 09:27 AM:

I had the "but consuming narrative is what you do when you read! Why isn't that on his hit list? Or is it?" moment too.

I'm still thinking and absorbing* but one thing that comes to mind
about my objection (and the ones others have raised, too) is that you
can't possibly create all the time. You have to refill the well**
periodically. In theory we could refill only from life and nature, and
never absorb narrative, but in practice that's silly and unnecessarily
limiting.

Maybe the point isn't that we'll never sit and enjoy/partake in
non-interactive culture, but that we'll probably start making new
things of that culture as a matter of course. If media wants to have
some control over our making (assuming control is possible) they need
to accept that we'll be doing this and plan on it. At which point it
isn't a purely non-participatory medium.

Nonfiction books are barely non-participatory, because I think
there's a traditional assumption that we'll go and do and quote. Novels
and fiction... I dunno. Reviews, analysis and discussion are
traditionally acceptable participatory behavior.

Huh. Aren't reviews, analysis and discussion of TV a much newer
thing than television? We're expected to read (passively) a review of a
series to decide if we want to watch it, but non-professionals are not
expected to review or discuss individual episodes. Television Without
Pity was a big new innovation, wasn't it?

*And thanks to some morning caffeine, really feeling like my mind
can go anywhere. I'm so glad I keep my intake small so I can feel this
instead of getting immune to it. Of course, since I'm rambling a bit,
you guys might wish I did become immune.

** I can't recall the origin of that metaphor - wasn't it a science
fiction writer? I want to say Bradbury, but my googling isn't turning
up anything useful.

#33 ::: Sarah ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 09:42 AM:

Ha. The knitters'/crocheters' website, Ravelry, has an
astronomically long forum thread on "annoying things non-knitters have
said to you," about half of which are variants on "where do you find
the time?"

#34 ::: Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 09:47 AM:

One day last summer I walked into Sasha's bedroom at lunchtime to
tell him to get his lazy self up while there was still daylight, and
found him doing something at the computer with a screen that had stars
all over it. "What are you playing?" I asked. "I'm not playing, I'm
identifying types of galaxies for an online site," he replied
virtuously. And he was. This astronomy project had put all their huge
numbers of pictures of galaxies online and were having random teenagers
identify them, and after this had been done three times (over the
summer) they had an essentially annotated database of galaxies. They
had turned data into information and advanced science using surplus
cognitive function.

You wouldn't believe how cheering I found this.

#35 ::: Scott H ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 09:58 AM:

He’s got some interesting ideas, but I’m not sure that I agree with
the basic premise, which I’d paraphrase as “As the tools for engaging
in productive leisure time activities become more conveniently
available, we should expect to see the number of people engaging in
productive leisure time activities rise proportionally.”

Yes, we’ve seen a rise in both the quantity and quality of
collaborative projects as a direct result of recent advances in
communications technology. The internet gave a lot of lonely geeks in
basements previously unavailable tools for constructing peer groups.
When they came together, many of them built cool things. However, my
feeling is that the speaker was overlooking a key fact: even provided
with superior tools, the vast majority of people will never attempt to
build anything. His statement:

“And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S.
alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that's
2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television.”

Presumes, I think wrongly, that the other 1,999 units of cognitive
surplus are qualitatively equal to the one that put Linux together. I’m
not saying there won’t be more stunningly cool collaborative efforts
emerging, but I doubt that there will be as many as Mr. Ellis seems to
think. For a small minority, the internet was a tool for identifying
and coming together with other people who were bored to tears with
Gilligan’s Island. For the vast majority, it’s just a better way to get
porn.

#36 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 10:11 AM:

Here's the money quote, as far as I'm concerned:



At least they're doing something.



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.



And I'm willing to raise that to a general principle. It's better to
do something than to do nothing. Even lolcats, even cute pictures of
kittens made even cuter with the addition of cute captions, hold out an
invitation to participation. When you see a lolcat, one of the things
it says to the viewer is, "If you have some sans-serif fonts on your
computer, you can play this game, too." And that's message--I can do
that, too--is a big change.



It's not possible to read that as anything other than a condemnation of
non-interactive entertainment. Reading a novel -- any novel -- is worse
than grinding your way through a level or two on WoW. Watching a TV
show -- any TV show -- is worse than arguing about gun control on
Usenet.

It's a stupid thing to say, but then, "It's better to do something
than to do nothing," is an obviously retarded general principle. Is it
really better to drive a nail through your head than to sit quietly for
a bit? It looks a bit like reductio ad absurdum, but when the general
principle is explicitly stated, I'm not even reducing it.

The history is wrong, as well; using that product of interactive
culture, wikipedia, I discover "The story arc of Andy's romance (and
subsequent problems) with the Harlem beautician Madame Queen entranced
some 40,000,000 listeners during 1930 and 1931, becoming a national
phenomenon." At the time, the population of the US was about 120
million. The popularity of the sitcom isn't a product of post-war
plenty; it's a product of the Great Depression.

It goes back further; sitting and listening to people telling
stories has always been a popular way to spend free time. Changing
technologies have changed the way in which people sit around and
listen, and it would certainly be possible to write a sensible essay
(or, for that matter, give a sensible talk) about how the internet is
turning a lot of one-to-many media into many-to-many media. But this
one isn't it.

I'm entirely willing to agree with Greg London @29 that time spent
on wikipedia is in a lot of ways equivalent to time spent watching TV.
But that's not the point that Shirky is making.

On the other hand, Randolph Fritz @28, you seem to have the end of
an argument without the first part. If I were to say, "since the US
consumes over nine billion pounds of cheese a year, given the amounts
consumed, it's pretty clear that a lot of cheese is used as a sedative,
and that it is overused," you'd think I was mad.

In order for the argument to stand, you need to show that cheese is
used as a sedative, and that the amounts consumed as a sedative are too
high, against some sort of standard. I'm willing to believe that's the
case, with either cheese or TV, but again, it's not the argument that
Shirky is making.

#37 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 10:23 AM:

heresiarch @ 26

Is it that the common wisdom was wrong, or is it that the viewers have changed?

The common wisdom was wrong, the viewers were always ready for it*, and the writers and directors changed. The kind of stories they wanted to tell and felt confident that they could tell were different.

TNH @ 1

"Fans are Slans?" Hey, we knew the answer to that one a long time ago,
and we remember everytime our telepathic feelers tingle with the
approach of another one of us.

response to the original post

Several comments before this have either agreed with or taken issue
with the idea that television must be bad and the internet good. I
don't get that idea from the speech at all. I get that there is room in
people's heads for consumption and production and sharing and that
we're seeing the maturity of the technology of production and sharing,
which, largely for economic reasons, I think, had to come later.
There's no implication of morality or aesthetic quality, just more
opportunity.

Just to point out that ideas don't come out of nowhere, the google
crime map idea has been alive and well for years here in Portland. The
Tax Assessor's office has an online GIS map of property in the
Multnomah County area. Enter an address, get a map of the property,
with tax info and a bunch of buttons for showing sewer and gas lines,
crime statistics (broken out by type of crime), residences of sex
offenders, even aircraft noise contours.

* even back in the 50s and 60s when people talking around the water
cooler about last night's episode of "The Dick Van Dyke Show" would
compare it previous episodes, and draw conclusions about the characters
from the comparison.

#38 ::: A. J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 10:26 AM:

R.M. Koske @

Maybe the point isn't that we'll never sit and enjoy/partake in
non-interactive culture, but that we'll probably start making new
things of that culture as a matter of course.

and:

Huh. Aren't reviews, analysis and discussion of TV a much newer thing than television?

Yes and yes. Regarding the debatability, above, of whether that was
intended by the original article, it's what I took from it, whether or
not that was the intention. (Is that a sentence? The fact that I'm not
sure means I should go to sleep now.) Once the words leave the author
and hit the reader...

Bedtime, though. Really.

#39 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 11:20 AM:

Scott Taylor @ 24,

I'd say there's a bigger difference between tabletop RPGs and World
of Warcraft: the latter is *popular*. D&D was very interactive, but
it appealed to a smallish slice of the population. I will (biasedly)
claim that Zork is more interactive than most modern computer games
(multiplayer aspect aside), but Zork only appealed to a tiny slice of
the population. Stuff like that (and, sure, fandom) selected out the
verbal, creative types 25 years ago.

WoW, Livejournal, and cellphone texting are now drawing out the
creative and interactive tendencies in the wider population. (And if
you're worried about the D&D players, hey, they're still playing
D&D -- or DitV, or Nobilis.)

#40 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 11:32 AM:

Oh my god, I just spent half an hour composing a reply to a bunch of
comments and then accidentally closed the window and lost it. I hate
everything. I may try again later.

#41 ::: Scott Taylor ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 12:05 PM:

Andrew Plotkin @ 39 -

Scott Taylor @ 24,

I'd say there's a bigger difference between tabletop RPGs and World
of Warcraft: the latter is *popular*. D&D was very interactive, but
it appealed to a smallish slice of the population. I will (biasedly)
claim that Zork is more interactive than most modern computer games
(multiplayer aspect aside), but Zork only appealed to a tiny slice of
the population. Stuff like that (and, sure, fandom) selected out the
verbal, creative types 25 years ago.

Oh, certainly - I wasn't commenting on their relative popularity
(believe me, as an RPG writer/developer, I'd love to have one
ten-thousandth the market share that WoW or Halo has - I'd be in the
top five designers in the industry!), merely on their varying levels of
interaction and creation-enabling (creation-enablement? I Are Verbing!
You Can Verb Too!).

WoW, Livejournal, and cellphone texting are now drawing out the
creative and interactive tendencies in the wider population. (And if
you're worried about the D&D players, hey, they're still playing
D&D -- or DitV, or Nobilis.)

Well, a lot of them are also playing WoW, in addition (or instead of) tabletop, for a variety of reasons.

Other than that, we appear to be in violent agreement - for various
reasons, D&D and the tabletop RPG market pretty much saturated its
environment years ago - partly through being 'the only game on the
block' for that sort of thing, partly for other reasons.

But the "Tabletop games are" (more accurately can be) "more
interactive, allow more creativity, etc. that vidya games" shibboleth
is, while still true for now, less so with every generation of online
game that comes out.

#42 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 12:12 PM:

R.M. Koske @ 32: "In theory we could refill only from life
and nature, and never absorb narrative, but in practice that's silly
and unnecessarily limiting."

Goodness, I'd hope not! If we weren't allowed to recharge listening to narrative, well, we'd never get anywhere
interesting. It'd be like trying to build a wall without using that row
of stones you just laid; foundation after foundation without any upward
progress.

Scott H @ 35: "However, my feeling is that the speaker was
overlooking a key fact: even provided with superior tools, the vast
majority of people will never attempt to build anything."

I think you're missing two things:

1) Shirky's claim isn't that everyone will suddenly devote every
leisure hour to writing a novel/inventing cold fusion--only that, all
of a sudden, it will be much easier to do so. People might still only
choose to use 1% more of their leisure time in a productive fashion,
but that's still 1% improvement, and small percentages add up to a lot
of productivity when you're talking millions of people.

2) Productive activities are really fun. Really. They aren't
necessarily more fun than passive activities, I admit: a balance is
necessary. But the idea that people, minus the prod of economic
incentive, will sit around like blobs is itself the product of a
culture where leisure activity is already coded as passive. If
given an equal choice, a substantial number of people will choose to
devote a fair amount of their leisure time to productive endeavors.* Up
until now, that choice hasn't been equal. We've been piping convenient,
high-quality passive entertainment into people's homes--of course
people will overwhelmingly choose to be passive. Suddenly, that's
changing: now we're piping an interactive, productive medium into
people's living rooms. The cost of choosing a productive activity
versus choosing a passive one has massively shifted. As a result, a lot
more people are going to choose productivity.

*People produce all sorts of amazing things in their spare time--the
Special Theory of Relativity, for one. Really, the progress of science
up until the industrial revolution was almost entirely driven by
dudes** futzing around for the heck of it.

**used here in its West Coast gender inclusive usage (though not really)

Bruce Cohen @ 37: "The common wisdom was wrong, the viewers were always ready for it*, and the writers and directors changed."

It's possible. I am but an egg, and my perspective on it is severely
limited. There has likely always been a number of viewers who craved
for more continuity (it's pretty natural, I think), but I'm not sure
that the producers of the day were wrong to decide that it wasn't worth
it to risk turning off potential viewers with less-than-immediately
comprehensible plots. What has really changed, it seems to me, is our
viewing habits: it isn't unusual for people to schedule their lives
around a show, and when that isn't possible, there's always VCR (or now
Tivo). Even more critical is DVD collections and BitTorrent: suddenly
it's possible for anyone to catch up with that hot new drama they
missed the first season of. I think all of those factors have
contributed to making continuity a more attractive option.

#43 ::: Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 12:13 PM:

I was going to contribute my thoughts, but then the opportunity to
produce rather than just consume filled me with such dread and
performance anxiety that I was unable to go on and so now I'm going to
go watch an episode of "Seinfeld".

Whew, what a relief.

#44 ::: Adrian Smith ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 12:38 PM:

Alter S. Reiss@36: If I were to say, "since the US consumes over
nine billion pounds of cheese a year, given the amounts consumed, it's
pretty clear that a lot of cheese is used as a sedative, and that it is
overused," you'd think I was mad.

Used to know a guy who was in charge of the boarding section of an
international school in Greece who absolutely swore by cheese as a
sedative. Dunno about the general population, though.

#45 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 01:02 PM:

Back in the mid-90s, ISTR a local NJ tv station rebroadcasting a
talk which John Ciardi had given to a local elementary-school class. At
one point, he lamented the advent of radio serials during his
childhood: all of the neighborhood kids would be playing stickball,
jumprope etc. together outside in the afternoons until the time came
for the Tom Mix show or whatnot, and then everyone would vanish inside,
each to their own particular houses.

(OTOH, the early years of radio also brought about the widespread
popularity of classical music to a degree that seems almost
unimaginable today; whereas the excerpts in Fantasia and "The
Rabbit of Seville" may've originally played on the audience's presumed
pre-existing familiarity with those pieces, these days they're
practically the *only* exposure for much of the audience (including
me). Which is not to automatically overprivilege classical music above
other genres, but for the sake of the traditional highbrow stance (and
set of values) that popular media is inherently mindless and vulgar....)

Meanwhile, even within the medium of television, isn't the ~!990s
"recent invention of serial narrative" claim rather overlooking several
decades of daytime soap operas?

#46 ::: Jen Roth ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 01:31 PM:

ethan @22:

"Tell any Star Trek fanfic writer that television isn't a participatory art form. Tell people who spend their lives in academic dissections of Buffy that they're wasting their time, or not contributing anything."

People do tell fans that, all the time. I think that participatory
fandom is another one of those "where do they find the time?" things.
Somehow, spending a lot of time watching television is normal (albeit
an activity that many people look down their noses at), but spending a
lot of time engaging with the television you watch and producing
thoughtful responses is weird, obsessive, and the kind of thing people
do when they have too much time on their hands. Even the creators of a
lot of shows have this attitude toward their fans -- Aaron Sorkin, for
instance, wrote his issues with fans right into a couple of West Wing episodes.

#47 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 01:51 PM:

Greg, #29: The piece I quoted, the piece that really struck me as
getting at something, was that the TV person couldn't understand where
someone could find the time to contribute to wikipedia.

Yes, exactly. That's the bit that jumped out at me, too; my
immediate reaction was considerably ruder, along the lines of, "They
have the time because they're not watching TV, you idiot!" Seriously,
it was as though the interviewer just assumed that there's a certain minimum amount of time every day that people have to spend in front of the TV screen, in addition to everything else in their lives.

Perhaps I'm sensitized to this by virtue of not having been a heavy
TV consumer since I got out of college; I'm accustomed to having people
think I'm weird for not spending hours a night parked in front of a TV
screen, and have been known to point out that I'm actually doing just
as much sitting in front of a screen as they are, but it's a computer
screen!

#48 ::: individualfrog ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 01:55 PM:

Julie@#45 beat me to it! Soap operas have had continuity since they
were on the radio in the 30s. Serial shorts in the movie theater did
too. I think the "reset button" style (which I have no problem with
whatsoever--both modes are lots of fun) is rather newer.

Speaking of things I think but have no evidence of, Scott H@#35
says, "the vast majority of people will never attempt to build
anything", but my "problem" with this talk was rather that I think they
always have, it's just gotten easier to share/show it off. I say this
making no distinction between gardening, memorizing baseball
statistics, perfecting your barbecueing technique, building
supercomputers in your apartment, knitting, and editing
Wikipedia--almost everyone has some hobby. Just because you or I don't
find it interesting or valuable doesn't mean it's not creation. The
suggestion that "the average person" hasn't been creative in their free
time until recently struck me as wrong. But the scope of things you can
easily and cheaply do has certainly expanded in recent years, that's
true.

#49 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 01:55 PM:

From where my generation stands, this all looks wonderful and
exciting and obvious once it's pointed out (I'm 27, and many of my
friends are a few years younger than me).

I'm not knocking television (and I agree with those above who say
that Shirky is not really doing so either), but TV just isn't a
priority for us. A lot of the people I play WoW with don't watch a lot
of TV. Many of them don't even have cable - the possession of high
speed internet INSTEAD of cable is something I would never have
anticipated, but it seems to be an obvious choice for a lot of people I
know. If you can only afford one, the internet wins every time (of
course that may be because of netflix and pirate media and
downloadables and shows being on the network websites the day after,
but the point stands.)

The best example of this new world I can think of is a voice chat
program called Ventrillo. A group of friends will essentially buy a big
server and set up a password to it. Within this server is any number of
rooms. And there you are, in a room talking to 2-200 of your closest
friends (though for actual conversation, it rapidly looses feasibility
over 20).

I've actually gotten to the point where I go home and I log into
Ventrillo, even if I'm not going to be playing World of Warcraft. It's
a medium somewhere between the phone and sitting in a room with your
friends. Whereas being on the phone pressures you to say something, to
confirm you're still on the line, it's possible to lapse into 20
minutes of companionable silence on Ventrillo, only to suddenly say,
for instance:

"Oh my God, I just saw this awesome video. It's about cognitive
surplus and television and the industrial revolution and... squeeeee.
Hold on a second... check my comment, and go watch it."

In that time I've found an isolated link to the video and used
Ventrillo's interface to attach a link to it to my current username.
Twenty minutes later, most of the other people in the channel have
watched it, and we're having a conversation about free time and the
internet and MMOs and local stigma against pen and paper roleplaying
(interesting side-note: both young men in the channel with me had been
told as children that D&D was satanic.)

And with the introduction of something like Vent, or guild chat, or
IRC, even passive absorption of something becomes more. I remember in
the past watching shows at home, and noticing something, and wanting to
tell someone about it, but being utterly unable to. It was
maddening. Now I know that there will be someone to talk to about it.
Hell, sometimes I'm online at midnight when xkcd or Girl Genius
updates, and my friends all refresh them together, and talk about the
new stuff. If that isn't a bleeding edge combination of passive
absorption and actually doing something, I don't know what is.

A friend of mine from WoW said "you know, I know that I'd be a lot
less social if I didn't play WoW." He went on to say that people
probably think it's weird, that playing an online game is being social.
But it's true... before WoW there were maybe five people who I'd have a
lengthy conversation with at least once a week. Now there are something
like twenty.

#50 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 02:10 PM:

Wai-wai-waitaminnit! Was Claude Degler from New Castle?? Are you telling me I grew up ten miles from an actual science-fiction fan and thought I was alone in the world?

(Aside: maybe I'm a Muncie Mutant. I was born there, after all. And it would explain a lot.)

@16 Randolph - not the end, not even the beginning of the end; just the end of the beginning.

#51 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 02:17 PM:

The social aspect is one of the things I miss most about playing
WoW, actually. I had a bunch of friends online that I could count on
typing to, if not every day, at least every raid night, and now I
rarely hear from them. Which I guess says something about how good of
friends they were, but these are people that I went on to meet in real
life, have dinner with, lent me boxes when I moved across the
country... They were some of the people I talked to the most. Of
course, I quit playing WoW so that I could spend more time creating -
sewing, gardening and cross stitching. Not that it always works out
that way. I seem to be spending a great deal of time playing spider
solitaire, which I haven't done since college.

And yes, we chose to have high speed internet over cable. The amount
of money cable cost per hour watched just didn't seem worth it.

#52 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 02:29 PM:

I wonder if soap operas didn't continue with serial stories long
after nearly every other medium gave them up because adults who stay
home with children have a bigger cognative surplus than the rest of us.
I know my sister with her two small children has been quite starved for
grown-up stimulation. She's too tired and busy to read, but a serial
show that develops slowly might be something that you could follow as
the rest of life went on, especially if you managed to make that hour
be the children's naptime.

#53 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 02:39 PM:

Bruce Cohen @37: Just to point out that ideas don't come out of
nowhere, the google crime map idea has been alive and well for years
here in Portland. The Tax Assessor's office has an online GIS map of
property in the Multnomah County area. Enter an address, get a map of
the property, with tax info and a bunch of buttons for showing sewer
and gas lines, crime statistics (broken out by type of crime),
residences of sex offenders, even aircraft noise contours.

Do you have any links? I'm moving to Portland in July and this info would be lovely to have on hand.

An aside: Making a request like this would not be possible if this
information were delivered via the nightly news. assuming the news
could get their collective thumbs out of their collective asses and
stop talking about lapel pins and bowling long enough to deliver actual
information.

#54 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 02:49 PM:

heresiarch @26: As much as I love the Simpsons, the fact that
everyone forgets everything they learned last episode frustrates the
bejeezus out of me.

I get the principal you are applying but your example is just a little off. One of the internally consistent rules of The Simpson's
universe is that it's characters don't learn from episode to episode
and regularly comment on this fact. It's a tad meta but it's a
conscious decision to subvert the stupidity of the sit-com medium by
having the characters realize they are doing repetitive, stupid things
for dramatic reasons but unable or unwilling to act otherwise. Lucy and
Ethel would never pause to wonder why they keep getting into wacky
mishaps while Bart and Lisa do this, if not constantly, at least
occasionally.

And this is one of the points Clay Shirky was making: that we now
have the skills as a culture to not only make these sorts of self
referential critiques but we now expect them to be made, if not by us,
then by a meta-narrative stand in (Comic Book Guy on The Simpson's does this, which is why he has no name).

#55 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 02:51 PM:

Individualfrog, #48: Indeed. My partner just cued up this
for me. One of the things we discussed afterwards was that this sort of
thing has always been happening, but until YouTube came along, the only
way we'd have seen it was (1) to know these guys and have been around
while they were jamming, (2) to have seen them at a coffeehouse or
open-mike, or (3) for them to have been busking on a street corner when
we were passing by. There was no non-commercial wide-distribution
channel for creative people to use.

EClaire, #51: Sing it, sistah! Springsteen's "57 Channels and
Nothin' On" isn't a patch on today's cable networks. But the biggest
problem isn't so much a lack of content as the amount of garbage that
we'd have to pay for to get the few things we might want. The first
cable network that decides to price every channel individually and let
customers select just the things they want to watch (aka a build-your-own package) will make a friggin' mint.

#56 ::: EClaire ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 03:02 PM:

We used to be able to do that when we used an actual satellite dish
- order channels a la carte. Now, to get Speed and Versus (so I can
watch Formula 1 and my dad can watch the bicycle racing) you have to
get Dish Networks 250 channel package - which is over $500 a year.
Sure, I watch Animal Planet occasionally, and try to catch The Daily
Show and the Colbert Report whenever I can wrench the remote away from
my dad around 10. But it's a good thing he's paying for the TV, because
I certainly wouldn't. (There may also be an argument for not moving
back in with someone who is used to leaving the TV on during all waking
hours - the sheer noise of it makes me crazy.)

#57 ::: Tazistan Jen ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 03:05 PM:

#36: It's not possible to read that as anything other than a
condemnation of non-interactive entertainment. Reading a novel -- any
novel -- is worse than grinding your way through a level or two on WoW.
Watching a TV show -- any TV show -- is worse than arguing about gun
control on Usenet.

It is quite possible to take it otherwise. IMO, you have taken
quotes out of context and twisted the speaker's meaning. He clearly
likes the idea of people taking *some* of their passive consuming time
and devoting it to creating for others. He really isn't trying to pry
your novels away from you.

#58 ::: fidelio ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 03:17 PM:

Julie @ #45, WRT classical music on the radio, back in the day.

It was an immensely huge deal when NBC Radio got Arturo Toscanini to
agree to conduct their orchestra for a series on concerts; a lot of
people had thought they were wasting their time asking, that the great
conductor would never deign to mix with the new medium. Not only did
Toscanini agree to their deal, he stayed with them for over fifteen
years, until he retired from conducting; Leopold Stowkowski also worked
for NBC. The Saturday afternoon New York Metropolitan Opera broadcasts
may be one of the last vestiges of the old classical music programming
that people like David Sarnoff and the other early executives felt were
"what the people wanted"--or at least, what they would be willing to
listen to.

But I see where the Met has made the leap to satellite radion, so it's far from over.

#59 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 03:20 PM:

Look, a post of many subjects! Whee!

@EClaire and Lee, on the subject of TV

Oh gods, a la carte networks on a shifting, impulse-buy system would be
fantastic. I mostly watch Comedy Central with some limited Four
Networks/Bravo/History/Discovery. Every once in a while though there'll
be something I want to watch on IFC or one of the other "ha ha, you'll
only get this with six tiers of cable, sucker" channels. I can see
going without, say, USA for months, resubscribing while Monk was in new
episodes, and then dropping it again.

@heresiarch #26 and Keith #54

I'll have to agree that the Simpsons is very active in making fun of
the continuity dump. This quote from Homer was one of my favorite jokes
from the show in the last few years:

"I’ve had a lot of jobs in my life: boxer, mascot, astronaut, baby
proofer, imitation Krusty, truck driver, hippie, plow driver, food
critic, conceptual artist, grease salesman, carny, mayor, grifter, body
guard for the mayor, country western manager, garbage commissioner,
mountain climber, farmer, inventor, Smithers, Poochie, celebrity
assistant, power plant worker, fortune cookie writer, beer baron,
Kwik-E-Mart clerk, homophobe, and missionary, but protecting people,
that gives me the best feeling of all."

That, along with the exchange:

"Do you even have a job anymore?"

"I think it's pretty obvious that I don't."

Were incredible, meta moments that rewarded fans and let you breathe.

And finally,

@EClair #51

On the transition from online friends to other-kinds-of-friends, it is
tough, and immensely more work than maintaining friendships that
started IRL. I do believe it's possible; though whether or not they
survive really depends on how much time surplus either of you have
beyond the games you play, and how much you have in common beyond the
game.

I was talking with a friend from WoW who doesn't play anymore about
a raid we were on, and he said "yeah, Raidleaderguy came over to my
house after and told me about it." In that case they have boring,
small-town proximity to help them, but there are other things.

Heh, I actually became much closer to one of my friends from WoW
after he quit, as he now didn't have as many people to talk to or as
much to distract him from his problems, so we ended up having more time
to talk.

It's really hard to predict who I end up keeping and who I lose. But
I have a bigger pool to draw from, and a far far higher success rate
than other purely online means of forming friendships.

I apologize for the chaotic and rambling nature of my comments in
this thread. This is just a subject that I'm so involved in and there
are so many possible implications - I can't calm my brain down for very
long.

#60 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 03:25 PM:

Keith @54--Re: "self referential critiques" and meta-narrative
features. _Tristram Shandy_, for starters. Jump a century and a half
and there's _Six Characters in Search of an Author_ and Buster Keaton's
_Sherlock, Jr._ and any number of Warner Bros. cartoons, right up to
the Goon Show and Monty Python. Neither programmers nor Escher invented
recursion, any more than contemporary TV producers invented the story
arc. (Dickens, anyone?)

#61 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 03:29 PM:

And Chaucer wrote himself (or a Chaucer-persona) into -The Canturbury Tales_. Drasty riming, indeed.

#62 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 03:57 PM:

Russell Letson @60: While TV producers didn't invent recursion or
serialized story arcs, they've brought it to a large enough audience
where it's absence is now considered a flaw. That's big. Children's
programs now have the same or better continuity than a serilaized
Dickens novel. 150 years ago, children's entertainment was nonexistent
and mass media was a Punch and Judy puppet show.

#63 ::: Jp ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 04:37 PM:

Neither. Technology and business changed. Reset-zero shows dominated
an era when if you didn't see a show on first broadcast, you wouldn't
have another chance to see it unless the entire series was repeated on
the same channel, and that wouldn't happen for a long time. So if a
show depended on you watching every presentation in sequence, it would
drop viewers at every broadcast as the next batch of people who had
something else to do one particular night got left behind.

Three things changed:

1. Widespread distribution of series boxsets

2. VHS, Tivo and other view on demand/home recording technologies

3. Non-network channel proliferation, leading to airtime becoming less
precious, leading in turn to the practise of repeating each episode
multiple times within the span of the series.

Of these, I think the third is the most significant - the VHS
recorder was obviously important, but it still places the onus on the
audience to be such big fans of a show that they will plan their lives
around it, even if only to pre-arrange a recording. But with multiple
repeats of an episode each week, the audience has many opportunities to
watch an episode without having to make any major personal effort.

There's a tradeoff in play: if every episode in a series is
important, some people will make an additional effort to watch every
episode (rather than just watching some), but some people will watch no
(or fewer) episodes because they won't or don't want to make that
effort. In the post-war era, the limited availability of repeats meant
that a continuity-heavy series would lose more viewers than it gained,
losing money. But in the past twenty years, the greater availability of
airtime and repeats have significantly shifted that balance, and hence
made continuity-heavy shows more profitable.



Soap operas are a bit of a special case. Firstly, they tend to be
targetted at an audience which is able to (and wants to) take daily
structure from a viewing schedule, and to do this they tend to use
timeslots which are rich in this kind of audience: early afternoon or
early evening. Additionally, they tend to be continuity-light rather
than continuity-heavy - key parts of story arcs are deliberately
plotted across multiple shows so that it's possible to miss one or
shows without falling disorientingly behind on even one storyline.

#64 ::: Alter S. Reiss ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 04:46 PM:

Tazistan Jen @ 57.

It's possible that I'm extra special grumpy this evening, because
both my router and my wireless mouse are acting up, leaving me,
ironically enough, to the mercy of recorded TV shows for most of my
amusement.

And yet, when I managed to get through to the essay, it seems to say
what I remember it saying: a lot of TV is really dumb, and
collaborative internet projects are really neat. And, honestly, it's
hard to argue with either of those premises. There's a hell of a lot of
dumb TV, and there are a great many interesting things being done on
the internet.

All the same, I think the framework in which he's assimilating those
ideas is fundamentally wrong. He sees our attachment to sitcoms as a
reaction to plenty, whereas the sitcom became a popular form during a
time of want. And I think that's a significant error. TV isn't where
people go to escape the possibility of having fun; it's where they go
to retreat from more stringent demands.

I don't think that anyone's trying to take the novels from my hands.
I don't even think that Shirky looks down on reading novels; he paints
TV as being a specific remedy to a specific problem. The problem being
that people would accomplish too much with their free time, and the
remedy that TV provides being wasting people's free time without
accomplishing anything.

I think that the logic of his arguments leads inescapably to the
valorization of any interactive activity over any passive consumption
of entertainment. And that's dumb.

In what context does "a screen that ships without a mouse ships
broken" not indicate a fundamental sense that interactive modes of
entertainment are superior to passive modes?

I'd go on in this vein, but I despair: If quoting three successive
paragraphs in their entirety is taking quotes out of context, and if
treating an explicit statement of a general principle as a statement of
a general principle is twisting the speaker's meaning, I'm not sure how
to reference my arguments in the text at all.

The frustrating thing about the essay is that I don't disagree with
most of Shirky's conclusions; I think that his argument goes off the
rails in a couple of places, and I think that he misses the opportunity
to talk about some really interesting stuff.

I mean, there wasn't a big media brute squad keeping him in that
basement, watching Gilligan's Island. He could have written novels or
fanzines or letters to various editors. Or, for that matter, he could
have been playing the piano, or playing ball or rolling a barrel hoop
along with a stick, or whatever kids did back then. He was watching
Gilligan's Island because it was the most attractive entertainment
option available at the time.

And I think it's really neat, the way ease of publishing and ease of
finding stuff is shifting things so that activities more productive
than watching Gilligan's Island are becoming attractive entertainment
options.

But I don't think that Shirky's essay really gets to the meat of
that. I think the "cognitive surplus" thing isn't defensible, except in
the broadest terms -- certainly, treating lots of free time as a 20th
century phenomenon shows a profound ignorance of history. I think the
idea that TV is uniquely useless to be at best foolhardy and at worst
pernicious, and it's very hard to miss that idea in the essay.

In short: No I'm not.

#65 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 04:58 PM:

#63

Soap opera story arcs used to be slow enough that you could pretty
much follow it on one show per week: they'd do a review of last week's
story, then start this week's story, plus there were reviews of the
previous day's story every day. Result: ten or fifteen minutes of
storyline in a half-hour show.

(My grandmother watched some of them.)

#66 ::: Leah Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 05:49 PM:

Alter S. Reiss @ #64

I'd like to watch the whole clip again and put out some
counterarguments to your interpretation in general, but right now I
only have the time to answer the one specific, explicit question you
ask. And I think I ramble on long enough.

In what context does "a screen that ships without a mouse ships
broken" not indicate a fundamental sense that interactive modes of
entertainment are superior to passive modes?

Replace, in this case, 'mouse' with 'advanced interaction device' or
even 'sufficiently developed and modern remote,' as they are pretty
much the same thing. The little girl is probably simply much more
familiar with the mouse, it's a more flexible and sophisticated input
mechanism than the remote, and requires less advanced
learning/reading/numbers to use. However they are fundamentally the
same: a device to allow you to manipulate the 'thing.'

I'm thinking here specifically of a TiVo/DVR remote. For fun (or eternal and constant aggravation), try watching a show like Lost on a DVD or DVR for the first two seasons. Then switch to live broadcast sans-DVR.

It is maddening and broken feeling at that point, at least to me,
even though it is the same thing: a passive mode of entertainment. My
Lost-watching-friend and I are so used to being able to freeze frame,
rewind a bit and make sure we heard what someone was saying, or even
just pause and say "HOLY CRAP DID YOU SEE THAT? WHAT DOES IT MEAN?" and
have a five minute discussion before resuming. And now we can't.

A TV that ships without a DVR ships broken to me now. Not un-usably
broken, but lacking - like a clock without a snooze alarm, or a
tape-recorder without a fast-forward button.

The mouse, the tivo, the screencap of the document on the desk...
whether you're solving some mystery of what is really going on in Lost or catching a throwaway gag on the Simpsons, being able to manipulate the media on some level is essential.

Add to that the fact that we've sometimes watched the Lost Pop-up rebroadcasts with Lostwiki open, and you begin to see where you are, if you are us. Our cries, (cries, monseigneur!)of 'have you seen that show Lost?' echo throughout our office, our lives, our World of Warcraft guilds. We are tirelessly devoted to passive absorption of that story.

But there is still some activity that I would categorize as 'mouse related.'

Maybe you are fortunate enough to have someone within shouting
distance with whom you can discuss every single program you like. Or
maybe you don't feel the need to talk about TV or novels, but merely
enjoy them solo. That's not wrong.

But for me the 'mouse' he is speaking of is the mouse of distance
communication. It is the mouse of pauses and instant replays. It is the
mouse of DVD special commentary. It is the mouse of customizable
access.

It is the 'mouse' I reach for when I'm reading the book that my
friend recommended and I get to that one part and I want to tell him
that that part was amazing. It is the mouse I reach for when I get to a
panel of a comic that I think would make an excellent LJ icon.

It is not saying other tools are bad. It is saying "A word processor
without a tab key is a broken word processor." Tab is not the only tool
in the world. It is not even the only tool for formatting paragraphs.
It is, however, a very useful thing that people like and would miss
were it gone. I know this from a few situations where I have been stuck
with a computer that was only equipped with notepad for typing. Notepad
may have once been all you needed out of a word processor. It may still
be all you need for some uses. But to the modern user it is, in many
ways, broken.

And after all this, I still consider my time spent watching Lost as a 'passive' activity.

And that is how, to me, an uber-connected fan-crazy, hyper-literate
twentysomething... that phrase totally did NOT indicate a fundamental
sense that interactive modes of entertainment were superior to passive
ones.

Heh. I didn't mean to rant, but hopefully you have a bit better idea of what it looks like from in here?

#67 ::: Sica ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 06:20 PM:

As someone highly fannish and mostly involved in several TV show
fandoms I couldn't help but bristle at the TV watching is passive!
comments in the thing.

It can be but it isn't always. Not really. Fanfic, reading and
writing and commenting, vidding, meta and discussions all springs from
actively watching the TV shows.

I do find interesting though a poll I saw on LJ a while back asking
fans about their TV viewing habits and most people there didn't really
watch any 'normal' TV because they found it not as fun and didn't
really want to spend their time on shows or tv stuff that they weren't
fannish about.

#68 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 07:34 PM:

So:

If there is video of Clay Shirky from the Web Two Point Oh Expo, where is the video of Teresa?

#69 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 07:55 PM:

Keith @ 54: Comic Book Guy on The Simpson's does this, which is why he has no name

His name is Jeff Albertson. Though that is a relatively recent development.

PJ Evans @ 63: Soap opera story arcs used to be slow enough that you could pretty much follow it on one show per week.

My mother used to do exactly that. Once a week, after washing
clothes, she would set up the ironing board in front of the television
and watch while she ironed and folded. I think it was just to alleviate
the tedium of the ironing rather than from any real interest in the
stories - I know she didn't always watch. One of my earliest memories
is of asking her what the men on the TV were doing. "They're going to
the moon." I don't think I'm completely over how awesome that seemed
yet.

I wish they would bring that show back. What's Ron Moore doing next year?



Sica @ 67:

Those things do grow from actively watching but they're not
inherently there in the original medium. You make that interactivity
and by doing so (and deriving so much more from it than from the show
alone) you're demonstrating a part of Shirky's thesis: Doing something
is better than doing nothing.

The fanfic writers and commenters, the vidders and all the
communities that have sprung up around them, especially those that did
so before the intertubes were plugged into every home, are the
beginning of what Shirky is on about. Because it wasn't inherent in the
medium, you had to make the interactivity yourselves. You're the ones
blazing the trail into interactivityland without the technology that
the rest of the world will use to follow you. It's why, when everyone
else got online, they found the internet was already full of nerds.
Shirky wasn't talking to you because you're already there.

#70 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 08:04 PM:

Holy cow, do I ever think some of you are bristling unnecessarily
over the TV thing. I watch about twenty times more TV now than I did
ten years ago, because TV has changed. The TV you're defending the watching of isn't the TV Shirky is remembering from his childhood, and mine.

And for that matter, even when Shirky is deprecating that kind of
TV, he's doing so with a lot of gentleness and understanding. It feels
to me like some of you are looking for offense where none was
proffered.

#71 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 08:11 PM:

And by the way, I don't think there's anything inherently bad about
burying one's self in an immersive narrative, and I'll bet the rent
Clay Shirky doesn't think so either. I make my living developing and
selling those immersive narratives, I remind you.

Shirky is observing that if just one percent of the time
and energy devoted to watching TV gets redirected to more interactive
pursuits, that's a potentially a huge social change. This seems like a
fair comment--about the dynamic of small shifts with big consequences,
among other things--and a long way from the wholesale condemnation of
"watching TV" or "reading fiction" that some people are discerning in
his talk. It's an interesting point even if you stipulate that there's
nothing inherently more virtuous about "interactive" pursuits as
opposed to any other sort.

#72 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 08:29 PM:

ethan: re comments and loss, That is why I started using notepad to
compose comments. If I try to close it by mistake nothing terrible
happens; it asks if I want to save the text.



General: I have problems with some of the reactions people have to my
use of the computer. If I'm crunching images, or doing various sorts of
e-mail, that's "productive." If I'm blogging, or reading that's seen as
not productive.

The end result (an informed me, who can talk about things) isn't seen as connected.

Gardening (even the simple task of watering) is seen as productive.

Even my passive time (watching the Dodgers on television) is time I
spend online; which just re-inforces the idea that the computer is just
about as meaningful as pointless television.

Leah Miller: The sidenote is appallingly common. I stopped counting
the number of times I was told D&D was satanic before I hit 17. I
don't doubt that it still has that accusation, but I don't find it all
that surprising either.

Lee: The closest you come to the build your own model is satellite.
Since cable companies get a limited monopoly, they make a mint
regardless.

#73 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 09:43 PM:

Paul @ 69

I remember spending a couple or three weeks with Granny in the
summer of 1973 - she was getting ready to sell her house - and
watching, depending on what day it was, either soaps or Watergate
hearings. Educational television?

#74 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 09:44 PM:

Alter R. Reiss (#36): I was lucky enough to see the speech live. When he said the bit about LOLcats, I thought, "Hey! Why's he dissing LOLcats?! I like LOLcats! They're fun!"

But now that I read the text, I think I misinterpreted it entirely.
I think Clay likes LOLcats too -- or, at least, approves of them.
That's his point: They're slight, but they're fun, and now, with the
tools afforded by the PC and Internet, anyone can do them and
distribute them worldwide, therefore contributing some small quantum to
the amount of creativity and joy in the world.

Similarly: I've done some building in Second Life. I am Second
Life's Most Inept Builder, but still I've created a couple of things,
and been proud of them, too, because I think of myself as completely
inept in the visual arts so if I can create a structure in Second Life
that stands up and doesn't make people want to throw up, then I
consider it a triumph.

Patrick (#70 & 71): I interpreted Clay's comments on TV the same way you did - it wasn't an indictment of all TV, just the really bad. TV.

And even if Clay is dismissing all TV, I can disagree with that portion while still finding his message extremely valuable.

I watch TV more efficiently now, thanks to TiVo. I never, ever
channel-surf and find myself watching something I don't like, just
because it's the only watchable thing on. I used to do that far more
often. Now, I have a whole lot of stuff I'll enjoy piled up on TiVo,
and if I feel like watching TV, I'll watch some of that. And I only
watch commercials if they capture my interest.

Back in the 80s, I worked at a daily newspaper, on the swing shift,
getting off work about 1-2 am every day. Other reporters and editors
were able to go home and go right to bed, but not me -- I'd be bouncing
off the walls for hours. Couldn't sleep. And this was in the
country, there was nothing to do after midnight except get drunk, fight
or fornicate. I wasn't much a fan of the first two, and my girlfriend
worked days. I could only read so much, so I watched a lot of TV.
Sometimes I was so desperate for entertainment I watched Charlie Rose twice; they ran the show for two hours after the entertainment talk show went off the air, and then they ran it immediately again.

And sometimes I look back and think, man, if only we'd had Internet access then.

Patrick, when I heard Clay's speech I thought of you, specifically a
comment you made years ago about how our society doesn't recognize the
importance of creative play.

#75 ::: don delny ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 09:45 PM:

Terry Karney, 72, said:

Lee: The closest you come to the build your own model is satellite.
Since cable companies get a limited monopoly, they make a mint
regardless.

The closest you can come is Netflix + itunes video + unauthorized
streaming video + bittorrent + irc. Yes, yes, helpy, not helpful, but
there you go.

also,

I've been meaning to reply to a couple three people on the
Indistinguishable from parody thread, but I have been overtaken by
ennui. I think fond thoughts of all of you, but I am so...drained.

#76 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 09:47 PM:

Alter R. Reiss (#36): I was lucky enough to see the speech live. When he said the bit about LOLcats, I thought, "Hey! Why's he dissing LOLcats?! I like LOLcats! They're fun!"

But now that I read the text, I think I misinterpreted it entirely.
I think Clay likes LOLcats too -- or, at least, approves of them.
That's his point: They're slight, but they're fun, and now, with the
tools afforded by the PC and Internet, anyone can do them and
distribute them worldwide, therefore contributing some small quantum to
the amount of creativity and joy in the world.

Similarly: I've done some building in Second Life. I am Second
Life's Most Inept Builder, but still I've created a couple of things,
and been proud of them, too, because I think of myself as completely
inept in the visual arts so if I can create a structure in Second Life
that stands up and doesn't make people want to throw up, then I
consider it a triumph.

Patrick (#70 & 71): I interpreted Clay's comments on TV the same way you did - it wasn't an indictment of all TV, just the really bad. TV.

And even if Clay is dismissing all TV, I can disagree with that portion while still finding his message extremely valuable.

I watch TV more efficiently now, thanks to TiVo. I never, ever
channel-surf and find myself watching something I don't like, just
because it's the only watchable thing on. I used to do that far more
often. Now, I have a whole lot of stuff I'll enjoy piled up on TiVo,
and if I feel like watching TV, I'll watch some of that. And I only
watch commercials if they capture my interest.

Back in the 80s, I worked at a daily newspaper, on the swing shift,
getting off work about 1-2 am every day. Other reporters and editors
were able to go home and go right to bed, but not me -- I'd be bouncing
off the walls for hours. Couldn't sleep. And this was in the
country, there was nothing to do after midnight except get drunk, fight
or fornicate. I wasn't much a fan of the first two, and my girlfriend
worked days. I could only read so much, so I watched a lot of TV.
Sometimes I was so desperate for entertainment I watched Charlie Rose twice; they ran the show for two hours after the entertainment talk show went off the air, and then they ran it immediately again.

And sometimes I look back and think, man, if only we'd had Internet access then.

Patrick, when I heard Clay's speech I thought of you, specifically a
comment you made years ago about how our society doesn't recognize the
importance of creative play.

BTW, I'm sympathetic to the notion that prospective writers should
be discouraged, but in a completely different context and for
completely different reasons than the Times.

#77 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 09:52 PM:

And immediately after clicking send on that last message, I came across this: From the Mozilla blog.

The Tron guy is a symbol of everything that's great about the
Internet. He put his brain cells and hands to solving a problem for the
sheer joy of solving it -- there's absolutely no practical purpose to
what he did. Moreover, I suspect he knows he looks ridiculous, and
doesn't care. Go, Tron Guy!

#78 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 10:04 PM:

Jp, #63: I'm not sure your initial premise -- that Before VCRs
people would stop watching a sequential show altogether if they missed
an episode -- is correct. If they'd been watching right along, and just
happened to miss one episode, they could pick up what happened either
by inference the following week, or by talking to friends who saw it,
or both.

Anecdotal evidence in support of this: I didn't get into BTVS at all
until someone talked me into watching the musical episode. I missed five full seasons
of an extremely sequential show -- but it still only took me a few more
episodes and some in-depth discussions with friends who were fans to
get reasonably caught up and be able to go forward. Admittedly, some of
the inferences I made from things in the musical episode proved not to
be correct, but that didn't materially interfere with my enjoyment of
the show as a whole.

Sica, #67: TV watching used to be a LOT more passive than it can be
now. A few shows (mostly kiddie shows) had "fan clubs", where you sent
in your dues and got things like autographed photos of the stars and a
newsletter... thru the postal mail. Otherwise you were limited to the
kids down the street or the folks at the kaffeeklatsch or the
water-cooler crowd. (SF fans were way ahead of the curve when
they came up with fanzines and APAs, which actually enabled you to
interact with other fans of your media-of-choice, who didn't live in
your town, in a "virtual group" environment -- although, again, it all
went via the postal mail, which meant having conversations that
stretched out over months.) It's that mode of TV-watching that he's talking about with the "Gilligan's Island" reference, not what TV fans do now.

#79 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 10:11 PM:

"It's that mode of TV-watching that he's talking about with the 'Gilligan's Island' reference, not what TV fans do now."

Yes, exactly.

#80 ::: Andrhia ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 10:14 PM:

The part about this that really resonated for me was at the end,
that little morsel about grasping every opportunity to transform a
passive experience into an active one. I'm surprised at how much this
discussion has focused on television as it used to be, and not
television as it's becoming.

I could just be obsessed, but forgive me, this is what I do. The
future of entertainment is a profoundly exciting thing, and yes, it
does include consuming, creating, and sharing, just like the esteemed
Mr. Shirky says. It's alternate reality games and cross-media narrative
and pervasive gaming. We're taking the passive experiences of
traditional entertainment and encouraging you to kick the tires of the
story world and watch the whole thing shake a little.

The thing he doesn't talk about, that I think is a related
phenomenon, is one of convergence. Like Leah @ #66, for a lot of
viewers, that old-fashioned passive viewing experience, just sitting on
your couch by yourself being fed the show, is no longer sufficient. You
want a website to visit; you want the blogs of the lead characters, you
want their email addresses, you want to know what happened between
characters offscreen. You don't want to just hear about the secret,
pivotal government documents, you want to read them. It's happening in
television and film, and it's seeping into novels, too.

When I think about it too much, I *still* get a little light-headed
and a lot overexcited. Searching for the net-native literature is a
heady business.

#81 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 10:21 PM:

Oh, and, Ben, #19: I've assumed all along that the title Here Comes Everybody was a deliberate Joyce reference.

#82 ::: Clan ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 10:24 PM:

Has anyone else thought about how “fixed” media experiences can be a
benefit? No matter how crazy the radio show, I couldn’t have generated
David Lynch’s films in my head without his help. If you have total
control over a media experience, you may change it to suit your needs
and thus never see something you’re not expecting. I like TV.

But if all you have is fixed media, or if the barriers to
self-generated media are disproportionately high, then it seems to me
you wind up leaning on fixed media for things that they really aren’t
good at. Scott McCloud has observed that kids who want to be Spiderman
will play him in videogames, not read comics. Which lets/forces the
comics tell other stories, that aren’t so closely based around
hero-identification power fantasies. So, now we get both. Hybrid vigor.

#83 ::: Clan ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 10:28 PM:

Oh, and following up on Patrick's parenthetical comment in the post
itself: what props would be appropriate to send to Warren Ellis? Some
Tom Savini prosthetic, or something from "Beyond the Valley of the
Dolls" maybe? A question for the ages, to be sure.

#84 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 10:33 PM:

My brother did props for The X-Files for some years. Maybe some of those would suit?

#85 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 10:34 PM:

Two brief thoughts on this before I vanish for the night:

1. On Wikipedia, it's awfully easy for a lot of good work to be
destroyed. This may be a general problem of mass interactive media;
consider spam in the e-mail network, or trolls and overload on Usenet.

2. It follows that to make best use of this additional cognitive capacity, new social forms are needed.

#86 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 10:50 PM:

Apparently I make a lot of social change -- I never just watch TV, I
bead at the same time! Although I'm going to clean my trackball in a
few minutes while I watch the news.

#87 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 11:12 PM:

Julie L. @ 45: "Meanwhile, even within the medium of
television, isn't the ~!990s "recent invention of serial narrative"
claim rather overlooking several decades of daytime soap operas?"

That thought's been tickling the back of my mind for a while
now--thanks for bringing it up. It's true that if you want to find
serialized TV shows, that's the obvious beginning. There are a couple
of big differences though. R.M. Koske's point @ 53 about the greater
cognitive surplus of stay-at-home mothers is, I think, right on. Jp @
63 also makes a lot of good points. I guess it can be summed up as: "It
used to be a small, tightly defined and widely ridiculed part of the
market. Now it's the whole thing."

Keith @ 54: "One of the internally consistent rules of The
Simpson's universe is that it's characters don't learn from episode to
episode and regularly comment on this fact."

Lampshade-Hanging doesn't make the Handwavium
go away. It's still there, you've just brought the audience in on the
joke. (Though I consider the fact that the writers feel the need to let
the viewers in on the conceit a sign of progress.)

#88 ::: mythago ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 11:18 PM:

Two-word refutation: Soap operas.

#89 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 11:43 PM:

A couple years ago I decided I needed to be playing more video games, so I bought a Nintendo DS Lite. I've gotten some games for it, and noticed a few things about how I interact with them. I noticed that after playing Cooking Mama,
which consists of a bunch of very simple minigames where you're trying
to follow simple directions exactly, I felt like I'd just been killing
time. But after a while playing my current obsession, Anno 1701, which is sort of a cross between Sim City and Sid Meier's Civilization,
and requires resource management, tactical thought, and
experimentation, all in service of a storyline, after playing that I
feel like I've accomplished something.

My point? Not all examples of an activity are equivalent. Watching Gilligan's Island isn't like watching Lost.

(Also, now I'm thinking about learning how to write my own homebrew DS game.)

#90 ::: Clan ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 11:45 PM:

Patrick @ 84

Yes! One of David Duchovny's hairpieces would be perfect. Or Gillian
Anderson's. Or one of Mitch Pileggi's baldcaps. (Basically I assume
that no one in Hollywood accurately represents their hairline. Maybe
your brother would know differently.)

I suppose if "The X-files" were interactive everyone would have
whatever hair we wanted them to. I think an episode of "The X-files"
with the hair of X Japan would be pretty cool, myself.

#91 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 11:48 PM:

Alter S. Reiss @ 64: "He sees our attachment to sitcoms as a reaction to plenty, whereas the sitcom became a popular form during a time of want."

You've got to define your "plenty" and your "want" a little more
closely--we're talking time, not money. If you are arguing that the
birth of the sitcom happened during the Great Depression, then it works
perfectly: the Great Depression left millions of people with,
literally, nothing to do. That's an enormous cognitive surplus if I've ever heard of one.

"In what context does "a screen that ships without a mouse ships
broken" not indicate a fundamental sense that interactive modes of
entertainment are superior to passive modes?"

A screen with a mouse is still capable of passive modes--you don't
have to use the mouse. (I watch a lot of video on my computer.) A
screen without a mouse, however, is ONLY capable of passive
interaction. This is symptomatic of your reading of Shirky: you
consistently portray Shirky as advocating interaction to the exclusion
of passivity. What I see him as advocating is the superiority of having
both options, side by side.

Even lolcats, even cute pictures of kittens made even cuter with the addition of cute captions, hold out an invitation to participation. When you see a lolcat, one of the things it says to the viewer is, "If you have some sans-serif fonts on your computer, you can play this game, too." And that's message--I can do that, too--is a big change. [emphasis mine]

He's not saying that you have to play, only that media that
offers the opportunity to play is better than media that doesn't. That
TV shows that inspire fan-fic and wikis and deep thoughts about the
nature of the world are better than TV shows designed to fall right out
of your head. That reading a poem and rewriting it in LOLcat is better
than reading it, being amused, and forgetting it.

(That's another thing that seems pretty intuitive to me, that you
don't seem to be seeing: passivity isn't an inherent characteristic of
narrative fiction. Reading a book and responding to it--by writing
fan-fic about it, incoporating some ideas from it into your worldview,
getting into arguments about it on the internet, etc.--is productive!
Someone else, reading the same book to kill time, is engaging in the
same material in a passive way. Shirky isn't even vaguely attacking
narrative fiction. He's attacking the expectation that we should only
engage in it passively.)

"if treating an explicit statement of a general principle as a
statement of a general principle is twisting the speaker's meaning, I'm
not sure how to reference my arguments in the text at all."

If someone says, "it's better to exercise than to sit indoors" do
you immediately assume that the speaker thinks you ought to workout 24
hours a day? One can state a general principle without implying the
necessity of absolute compliance. You keep insisting on reading
Shirky's statements in the strongest possible sense, rather than
adopting a common sense reading.

A.J. already quoted it @ 23, but I'll quote it again:

It doesn't mean that we'll never sit around mindlessly watching Scrubs on the couch. It just means we'll do it less.

How do you read that as advocating the complete and utter
superiority of productive versus passive? Clearly, he sees a role for
both.

#92 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 28, 2008, 11:57 PM:

Lee @ 78: "Anecdotal evidence in support of this: I didn't
get into BTVS at all until someone talked me into watching the musical
episode. I missed five full seasons of an extremely sequential show --
but it still only took me a few more episodes and some in-depth
discussions with friends who were fans to get reasonably caught up and
be able to go forward."

Would that have been possible though, without a large group of
friends who were really really into BTVS? Those sorts of mechanisms
are, in a sense, exactly what Shirky is talking about. (I know someone
who got into BTVS by reading the scripts online. I watched them all on
DVD, because my friend had them.)

I don't Jp was saying that every single person who missed an episode
would give up, just that a certain percentage who would give up after
missing a few, and some who would never start watching because of the
learning curve.* Even a fairly small loss would be enough to kill a
prime-time competitor, I think.

*I caught a couple episodes of BTVS on TV when it was aired. I
didn't stick with it because it was pretty confusing, and I didn't have
any friends to explain it to me.

#93 ::: Bob Rossney ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 12:15 AM:

I think a very important part of Shirky's talk is one that he spent
about a sentence on: he said that, in essence, it's important that when
things fail, they fail visibly, so that we can see what went wrong and
correct for it. The roster of failures is long and growing, and I think
it's growing quite a bit faster than is our understanding of why.

We still don't know what conditions constitute failure. Here's the
striking thing. Assume Shirky is right. Assume that we're at the
beginning of some kind of epochal shift in how we think and what we do.
(I don't have any trouble making this assumption, myself.) There's a
big cognitive shift that's about a generation wide that's passing over
us, and when it's done, the world will be different.

It's quite possible that from that perspective, Wikipedia - Shirky's benchmark - will be seen to be a total failure. It certainly looks successful today.
But we tend to look at its quirks - that its coverage of anime is
vastly more detailed than its coverage of Restoration drama - as
epiphenomena of the medium. What if they aren't? What if they're a
product of a defective model?

I'm thinking here about Teresa's posting guidelines for Boing Boing.
Those are the product of close on two decades of informal failure
analysis. A great part of that analysis is determining how to
distinguish something that's working from something that isn't. (An
even greater part is figuring out where the failure modes are.) As
Shirky says, we're still at a point in our understanding of this where
its physics is more like weather than like gravity.

Also, not only are we (probably) mistaken in our notion of what
failure looks like, there are a lot of (probable) successes that we
don't even know are there yet. We only know about lolcats because it
was funny and weird enough for knowledge of it to spread beyond the
narrow environment they started in. I think of Leah Miller hanging out
on Ventrilo every night, weaving webs of significance with her friends
in a corner of the online world whose very existence is news to me.

I don't have any problem with Shirky's notion of the cognitive
surplus, and I think his metaphor of television as cognitive heat sink
is pretty much right on. Television as we have come to know it is going
to be dead in a generation. So will newspapers. A big part of what's
going to make that happen is the social, collaborative, and
participatory nature of what will replace them.

#94 ::: A.R.Yngve ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 12:37 AM:

Is the novel obsolete technology? ("Where's the mouse?") Or... Does
its "participative" properties reside in the reader's mind... and will
that ensure its cultural worth for the foreseeable future?

(Assumption: the act of mentally interpreting a novel is the "Doing Something" part. This takes effort. We easily forget how much work it took learning to read fiction beyond the kindergarten level.)

#95 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 12:38 AM:

Marilee #86, my mum (GRHS) grew up in the early Golden Age of Radio
in 1920s & 1930s, but was brought up to never 'just sit around' and
listen — perhaps easier with radio than TV — and carried this through
her life, crotcheting, knitting, podding peas, &c, though she
ironed during the day, and we never had TV on in daylight.

She also had fulltime paid employment, being our breadwinner
(unusual in the 1960s) after my father was incapacitated, so she needed
to multitask.

#96 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 12:41 AM:

Keith @ 53

The front page is here.
If you don't have a specific address to look up, click the "Mapping"
button to go to a map of the whole area you can navigate in.

#97 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 12:50 AM:

Lee @78: I didn't get into BTVS at all until someone talked me into watching the musical episode.

Hey, me too! Except that I didn't have anyone to talk to about it
(other than getting my husband to watch it too, and then he bridged
over to also watching Angel for at least several months before
I did), but I did manage to catch up in fairly short order by watching
the daily reruns on FX.

Interactivity is a funny thing-- I saw the original Star Wars
trilogy in theatrical release during the 70s and 80s, but it didn't
particularly catch my interest until several months after I'd seen
ROTJ, when at summer camp in 1983 I met someone who had a copy of the
fan screenplay "Fall of the Republic" and was incorporating it into a
form of epistolary role-playing.

"...You mean I can fill in the gaps within the timeline and character relationships, and extrapolate outward? And add more women to Galaxy Farfaraway?"

Which I then did for many years thereafter, more or less happily.
(Hypnogogic mashups made for some rather discomfiting psychological
phenomena at times, but that's not the fault of SW in particular.)

I wonder to what extent it's possible to compare falling in love
with someone to getting caught up in a new fandom-- the adrenaline rush
of excitement, the pleasantly obsessive drive to learn every detail,
the uplifting submergence (yeah, I know it's an oxymoron) of emotions
and imagination out of everyday life.... the communal aspect is a bit
different, though; even the most vigorous polyamorists can't hope to
personally share themselves across such a wide global range as the
intarwebs now allow for fandom, unless you count posting videos on
YouPorn.

#98 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 12:52 AM:

Patrick @ 81: I know it's just like saying Joyce all over again, but I thought it might also be a nod to the Illuminatus! trilogy, as I'm almost certain that's a band name therein.

#99 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 12:57 AM:

heresiarch @ 42

The commenters who mentioned the serial nature of soap operas have a
very good point, but I'd also point out that the first really serious
multi-episode narrative arcs on television were the mini-series in the
70's and early 80s: "Roots", "Shogun", "Thorn Birds", etc. But that was
before large-scale availability of VCRs, so I don't think they had much
to do with it. Also, the whole idea of a mini-series was accepted
immediately and very enthusiastically by viewers; it didn't seem to me
that they needed time to adjust to the idea.

#100 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 01:02 AM:

A poem (or any work of art) that falls right out of your head is a
lousy poem, and conversely plenty of resoundlingly mediocre (or even
meritricious) work inspires fan clubs and other post-consumption
activity. Hell, even an alley fight can generate a crowd rooting for
one drunk or the other. Come to think of it--karaoke. I rest my case.
(But not my elbows on the table, at least not until after dessert.)
There are some interestingly cross-wired categories in this discussion,
and some really interesting talking-at-cross-purposes that may be
generational.

#101 ::: Russell Letson ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 01:05 AM:

Resoundlingly (adv.): Making a resounding noise, but smaller and spelled funny.

#102 ::: A. J. Luxton ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 03:04 AM:

All the comments about soap opera remind me of Tania Modleski's Loving With a Vengeance: Mass Produced Fantasies for Women,
which is still one of my favorite critical works of all time, just for
sheer endless fascination with how she pulls apart invisible
assumptions and reveals nifty toys underneath. It appears to have come
back in print, though I haven't seen the new edition yet. But I highly
recommend the book at least from going on the previous edition. Though
there are substantial places where I don't agree with her conclusions,
she "shows her work" well enough that it's easy to hit a great idea and
spin off your own conclusions in another direction.

I'd try to sum up what Modleski says about soap opera, but her
writing is difficult to summarize. What I will say is this: Buffy draws
heavily on the soap opera tradition, and that is what makes it
good. To my knowledge it was the first TV show of its type and
prominence to do so.

And in general, styles of fiction that have been "pink-collar
ghetto"ed are becoming more highly regarded, which in turn makes them
better funded and more competitive, which brings better writing and
acting into what was originally a valid but ill-accomplished form.

#103 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 05:50 AM:

Shirky's argument does have a certain flaw, inasmuch as, owing to
the inherent logic of economics in general, and capitalism
specifically, surpluses don't last. They get re-invested.

That's why primitive people can produce a similar level of art as highly developed western economies.

However, suppose Shirky's argument to be correct, what other
testable predictions could we make? Clearly, certain populations would
have different levels of leisure time, contributing to different levels
of production of cultural goods. Are there populations known for high
levels of leisure time?

Do countries with more statutory holidays produce more more cultural goods than those that don't?

If you could answer these questions, would that needfully entail
solving so many fundamental problems of art history, anthropology and
sociology, and economics, that they'd have to give you at least one
Nobel?

#104 ::: Andy Brazil ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 07:11 AM:

Do countries with more statutory holidays produce more more cultural goods than those that don't?

The EU has far more holidays - four weeks paid leave plus statutary
holidays - then the US. However, looking at
http://www.internetworldstats.com, it would seem that internet usage is
roughly one third as much again in the US than in the EU. (I make it
170m users in the US consuming 17.5% of all internet traffic, as
against 273m connected users in the EU consuming 21% of all traffic.)

So whatever Europeans are doing with the extra time, they're not using the net to do it.

#105 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 07:22 AM:

Marilee, #86: "I never just watch TV, I bead at the same time." Teresa does exactly the same thing.

Anyone who skimmed past Bob Rossney's closely-reasoned #93 should go
back and read it more intently; it's one of the most interesting
comments in this conversation full of interesting comments.

Meanwhile, the well-known liberal political blogger Atrios, always a
skeptic about internet boosterism, has a post up this morning
reflecting that perhaps he was too skeptical, that at the end of the
day there really is a generational shift going on: Different Now.

#106 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 08:52 AM:

Keith @ #62: Children's programs now have the same or better continuity than a serilaized Dickens novel.

True. Fans of Avatar: The Last Airbender have no problem
sympathizing with the "Is Little Nell dead???" phenomenon. (And re
Leah's comment @ #66, I'm glad I watch it on the computer and/or DVD,
because there keep being "Wait, wait, pause it; I have to savor that
line!" moments.*)

And on the tangential topic of things that ship broken: my cell
phone doesn't have an apostrophe. So when I text people, I get to
choose between sounding like an illiterate clod and sounding like
Commander Data.

(Generational shibboleth: I remember cutting-and-taping-together a
cardboard lunar module and dangling it off our apartment balcony by a
thread. I was in college when the videogame Lunar Lander came out.
That's "videogame" as in "thing the size of an oven that you put
quarters into".)

------------

*"And here's one I made out of noodles!"

#107 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 09:20 AM:

heresiarch @ 87: Lampshade-Hanging doesn't make the Handwavium go
away. It's still there, you've just brought the audience in on the
joke. (Though I consider the fact that the writers feel the need to let
the viewers in on the conceit a sign of progress.)

Oh sure, it's a great lot of lampshade hanging but that sort of
overt and obvious hand waving would not have been possible thirty years
ago or even, say, fifteen years ago when the Simpson's first
started. But evolution requires intermediary stages. The cool part is
watching it happen and realizing there's potential to be invovled in
shaping it.

#108 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 09:26 AM:

Bruce Cohen @96: Thanks for the link!

#109 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 09:29 AM:

Andy Brazil at #104 writes:

So whatever Europeans are doing with the extra time, they're not using the net to do it.

Nor are we watching more TV. I think the EU TV-watching figure stands at about 3/4 the US one.

Here's a thing that used to be hard: you are out and about and see a
thing, and you wonder what it is. You know that it's a flower, or a
vintage car, or a strange insect. You know what it looks like, but
don't have the knowledge or vocabulary to know where to start looking
in a reference book.

Now you can snap a picture with your phone, upload it to flickr, tag
it with "Anyone know what this is?" and someone browsing will tell you.

Almost without effort you can find the keywords you need to learn
all that you may want to know about Campanula Porscharskyana, the Velie
Car Co., or the varieties of bumblebee.

#110 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 09:39 AM:

Back to the NYT article linked in #18; I finally figured out what's been bothering me about it, by substituting "basketball" for "writing".

This proliferation of neighborhood playgrounds is letting non-elite
athletes play basketball whenever they want. They'll never be Michael
Jordan, so why are they wasting everyone's time? Nobody (except maybe a
couple of their friends, but who cares what such a tiny segment of the
population wants?) wants to watch a bunch of neighborhood guys shooting
hoops. They should just go home and stop bothering people with their
amateurish play. Basketball is a SPORT, not a hobby, and it should be
treated seriously as such.

You never see that. It's totally accepted that anyone, no matter
their level of ability, can play basketball if they want to. So why
shouldn't they be allowed to write novels, or make tv shows? Somehow
the limited delivery capacity of the systems supporting those
activities has become to be seen as a value of the activities
themselves.

I don't think the point is that everyone should do instead of consume (if they did, who'd ever be able to get someone to listen to them?) - it's that they can
do, should they so desire, and there's no effective gatekeeper any
more, 'cause everyone's going around the big hole in the fence at the
back. Welcome to punk rock, circa 1970?

(Does that mean that it will take another generation before we start
being able to find the good stuff in the massive seas of output? I
haven't been able to find a solution to the 'most self-published novels
are crap' problem. I know what we did with music... maybe similar
structures will grow up around DIY authors?)

#111 ::: Naomi Libicki ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 09:52 AM:

Lila #106:

And by "an illiterate clod" you mean "George Bernard Shaw," right?

#112 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 10:12 AM:

Note to Patrick: Isn't it about time for a new printing of The Green Millennium?

#113 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 10:26 AM:

Naomi @ #111: its hard to sound like George Bernard Shaw when youre
trying to make pickup arrangments for your daughters double bass.

#114 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 10:34 AM:

#104, Andy Brazil -

So whatever Europeans are doing with the extra time, they're not using the net to do it.

If the nutritional/health websites I read are to be believed,
they're buying their groceries every day or nearly (which Americans
think takes too much time), cooking meals every day or nearly (which
Americans think takes too much time) and having long, slow,
conversational meals with their friends and family (which
Americans...you get the point.)

#115 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 11:17 AM:

Terry Karney (#72): Even my passive time (watching the Dodgers on television)...

AR. Yngve (#94): Assumption: the act of mentally interpreting a novel is the "Doing Something" part. This takes effort.

These bits of comments seem to encapsulate what I've been doing lately.

"Mentally interpreting a novel" could be my job description as a
reviewer, and it's definitely not a passive activity. (I only read
passively when it's a book that doesn't much interest me; otherwise, I
take some notes and think about things while I'm reading, as I'm sure
most reviewers, editors, teachers, students etc. do, unless they have
eidetic memories.)

As for baseball, it may seem like total inactivity for the watcher,
the proverbial "sitting in the lounge chair with a beer" thing, but a
good game *feels* participatory even if you're not standing up and
shouting along with the fans at the stadium. Now that I'm lucky enough
to have an AZ team that's winning at an insane rate (10 games ahead in
the Western Division), I've been watching as never before, often with
nerves on edge (they ain't perfect!) or pulse pounding. In years when
the games were duller, I'd do beading or even reading while they were
on, but now that would mean missing half the drama.

It seems odd for me to be defending sports watching, since the most
popular ones (football, basketball) don't interest me at all, and my
usual favorite -- tennis -- is marginalized. (If I could, I'd watch
more on the Tennis Channel.) But drama is where you find it, *and* I'm
having fun!

#116 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 11:24 AM:

Cat Meadors @110: (Does that mean that it will take another
generation before we start being able to find the good stuff in the
massive seas of output? I haven't been able to find a solution to the
'most self-published novels are crap' problem. I know what we did with
music... maybe similar structures will grow up around DIY authors?)

The problem of 'most self-published novels are crap' equally applies
to just about everything else. The big hurdle is finding a effective
way to weed through the vast amounts of crap to find the diamonds, be
they self published or professionally produced. This has been an age
old problem, one I certainly hope that we're on the verge of solving or
at least mitigating, possibly with the help of the Internet (or more
precisely, various tools online, such as blogs and Amazon reviews and
such) as I'd like to see my self-published book in the hands of more
people and I'm sure there are others out there who have the same desire.

And we're starting to see this but it's going to take removing the
stigma that 'self-published'=crap, even if it is a statistical truth
that is self evident. (Maybe we can amend it to, 'self-published
writing is often crap, but so is everything else but hay, look at this,
it's kinda neat!')

#117 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 11:31 AM:

Bob Rossney @ 93: "It's quite possible that from that
perspective, Wikipedia - Shirky's benchmark - will be seen to be a
total failure. It certainly looks successful today. But we tend to look
at its quirks - that its coverage of anime is vastly more detailed than
its coverage of Restoration drama - as epiphenomena of the medium. What
if they aren't? What if they're a product of a defective model?"

I agree with your basic point--that we will learn just as much from
our failures than our successes--but you do realize, don't you, that in
a generation or two today's anime will be just as highly regarded as
Restoration drama?

A.J. Luxton @ 102: "I'd try to sum up what Modleski says
about soap opera, but her writing is difficult to summarize. What I
will say is this: Buffy draws heavily on the soap opera tradition, and
that is what makes it good. To my knowledge it was the first TV show of
its type and prominence to do so."

I've been sort of flailing ineffectually here, lacking any real
knowledge of the history of soap operas. It seemed kind of obvious that
they were the first real exploration of the serial form, but I had no
idea how much influence they'd actually had on later serial works. Of
course they would be where a sensible person who was interested in
creating serial work would look, but they're just so common and house-wifey that I can just imagine all those cool and hip TV directors completely ignoring them.

Shorter me: That sounds like a really interesting book! I wish I were someplace with a good English-language library.

Keith @ 107: "Oh sure, it's a great lot of lampshade
hanging but that sort of overt and obvious hand waving would not have
been possible thirty years ago or even, say, fifteen years ago when the
Simpson's first started. But evolution requires intermediary stages.
The cool part is watching it happen and realizing there's potential to
be invovled in shaping it."

Agreed!

#118 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 12:24 PM:

Mitch @#77: Oh, Jay knows he looks ridiculous. That's the point, I
suspect. (If you want to get a laugh, try telling him it makes him look
like Hercules. Not the mythological character, this. ;} )

#119 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 12:51 PM:

#112, John J Arkansawyer: Actually, Fritz Leiber's The Green Millennium is available from Wildside.

#120 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 02:07 PM:

Patrick,

I did not know that and should have looked to see. I was too busy
having a "kids these days" moment wondering why that novel hadn't been
pulled into the discussion, ever, anywhere I looked.

Leiber was more foresightful than he's commonly given credit for--"America the Beautiful" indeed.

#121 ::: Avram ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 02:22 PM:

Like Heresiarch (#117), I don't see any reason why Wikipedia
shouldn't have more coverage of anime than of Restoration drama. I see
this as neither a quirk nor a flaw. But then, I've been saying for
years that opera was 19th-century anime. (OK, for a very broad
definition of "19th-century".)

I'm also waiting to see what kind of Biblical textual analysis
emerges from a generation that's grown up reading (and writing) fanfic.

#122 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 02:30 PM:

I wonder how much of the "reset" phenomenon has to do with the need
to be able to resell the reruns of the show to run in a randomized or
arbitrary order? My impression is that this is or was a big driver in
the need to keep the episodes independent.

It seemed to me that most of the historical statements Shirkey made
were obviously and badly wrong, but that he still had a nice point with
respect to both:

a. The availability of a huge stock of "cognitive surplus" that can
be spent on interactive things instead of passive things if people want
to.

b. The way interactivity just fundamentally changes the way you use
media. To me, news sources without a way to click on links and find
more information ship broken.

#123 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 02:59 PM:

As far as the sitcom is concerned, (a) it's age-old, as various
people have pointed out, and (b) the swing between one-off and
continuity-based writing is probably more of reflection of how badly
conventional wisdom dominates the decision makers in the entertainment
industry than it is of any actual innovation. I am inclined to predict
that soon enough the current fashion/rut/tedium of cynically ironic
comedies will fade when someone puts out a comedy which is decidedly
not in that mold and which is wildly successful; at that point the
execs will jump on that bandwagon and the presently popular formats
will be abandoned.

The bigger hole in the thesis, though, is in the implication that
the people who are now doing these constructive/productive amusements
are drawn from people who formerly watched, well, sitcoms. I think
that's very dubious. I suspect that perhaps the majority are drawn from
people who in the past were doing different constructive
hobbies. Take my family: I come from a whole line of, well, sparks. My
brothers and sister and I built everything under the sun, from Erector
sets to plastic models to model rockets and on and on. My father, if
anything, is worse: he went from finishing the basement of his house to
making Wimshurst machines and Van de Graaf generators to making
guitars. (He is working on a ukulele now.) Some people are driven to
tinker and construct, and it's well nigh unto impossible to contain it.

I think that's the point at which "Where do they find the time?"
makes its appearance. It seems to me to represent two sentiments: a
doubt that arguing about the status of Pluto is useful, and a larger
sense that people who would be engaged in such arguments would
otherwise be engaged in other "constructive" or at least necessary
activity.

As far as gin is concerned, his technology is out of joint. The big
bloom in gin production was produced by easing government regulation,
not by technology. The Coffey still didn't come along until the 1830s;
gin displaced beer in the middle 1700s, and it was made the
old-fashioned way, in the pot still. People seek entertainment for
stimulus, but they also seek it for anesthesia.

#124 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 03:03 PM:

#75:

helpy, not helpful

Glad to see I'm not the only one to come up with that word!

#125 ::: Bob Rossney ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 03:05 PM:

heresiarch @117 I don't doubt that anime is at least as significant as Restoration drama. But Wikipedia's article on Congreve's The Way of the World is not noticeably longer or more detailed than its article on Bible Black. Bible Black is a pornographic videogame, and not an especially good one.

I worry about the visibility of what we're all doing. I think that a
lot of failures aren't, as Shirky put it, skulls on pikes marking the
way. They're more like the USS Scorpion, the nuclear submarine that
sank off the Azores in 1968 because...well, nobody really knows why,
because it's under 17,000 feet of water and nobody who was there at the
time can tell us what went wrong. There are some pretty good working
theories, but coming up with them required a lot of analysis of very
scanty evidence.

To pick an online obvious example, before you can learn anything
from the failure of GEnie, you have to know that there was such a thing
as GEnie. It didn't leave a lot of traces when it went.

One of the things I've learned from my friends in the computer-game business is that they often have no idea
of how people are using their product. They once developed a Justice
League of America fighting game (I think it was for the SNES) in which
one player could be Superman and another Wonder Woman. Then they'd
fight. (It turns out that the answer to the eternal question "who'd win
in a fight between Superman and Wonder Woman?" is "Who cares, now that
Superman's been nerfed?")

Months after the game came out, my friends discovered, quite by
accident, that their users had discovered something they hadn't known
they'd put in there. If both players were Wonder Woman, one would throw
her boomerang at the other, who'd deflect it back with her wristbands.
And the first player would do the same. And all of a sudden they
weren't fighting anymore; they were playing a really elaborate game of
Pong.

People are doing this sort of thing all the time. Figuring
out how big a human pyramid they can make in Halo. Choreographing
dances in World of Warcraft. (See the video for Jonathan Coulton's "Re:
Your Brains" on youtube, if you haven't.) There are people who use
their PDA to track every single board game they play, and upload the
results to boardgamegeek.com, where other people mine to figure out
arcane statistics about what kinds of games are popular over time.

But if you don't know where things like this are happening, it's
very hard to find them. It's hard to even know how to look for them.

#126 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 03:16 PM:

albatross #122:

Of course, as soon as you start being able to sell *cheap* DVDs of entire seasons ... everything can turn into B5.

#127 ::: Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 03:29 PM:

@35: However, my feeling is that the speaker was overlooking a
key fact: even provided with superior tools, the vast majority of
people will never attempt to build anything.

The hell they won't. Americans spend more than $2.5 billion a year on scrapbooking supplies. The largest arts & crafts chain in th U.S., Michael's, had $3.39 billion in sales in 2004.

People garden, coax along the perfect suburban lawn, crochet, knit,
decorate cakes to look like other things that aren't cakes, do their
own home renovations, quilt, putter in basement workshops, direct
Sunday School pageants, design cutesy insipid "blinkies," banners, and
avatars that other people can use in their message board .sigs, make
Halloween costumes for their kids, put together webpages to honor their
miscarried or stillborn babies, sing in church choirs, carve duck
decoys, write awful self-published romances, hand-paint sweatshirts...

And that's just some of the creative output of the
middle-class middlebrow white suburbanite, a demographic I chose
because they are widely considered by geeks to be the least creative
and most intellectually bankrupt segment of the population.

Now, are they creating anything you'd want to see? That's a different question.

#128 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 03:45 PM:

re 116: Well, one of the costs we're paying in going to Real Publishers for our books is having them pick the diamonds out of the doo.

As far as Wikipedia is concerned, it suffers greatly from "those who
can't, do anyway." Shirky rubs up against the factor that technology
lowers the bar to contributing, but he doesn't touch the issue of
whether it makes people more competent to do so. One could argue that
the internet has proven conclusively that it doesn't.

#129 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 03:58 PM:

C. Wingate #128: I wonder if a similar complaint couldn't have been
made about the printing press. After all, printing made it much easier
to disseminate all sorts of people's ideas and writings, and helped to
democratise literacy. Look at the kinds of political debates that
erupted in seventeenth century England and Holland; they wouldn't have
been possible without cheap printing, which enabled every man jack (and
jill) who could read (and many who couldn't) to gain access to ideas
and concepts that were previously either inaccessible or difficult of
access. That meant that all sorts of crud got printed, but it also
meant that the powers that be were obliged to defend their status, not
merely assert it.

#130 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 04:17 PM:

Ugh, I see now that I posted substantially the same comment here twice. I apologize for the error.

#131 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 04:31 PM:

Several comments I'm going to toss in here quickly, and apologies if others already said them and I missed it.

Alter @ #36:

Despite your having quoted several passages verbatim, what you got
from them doesn't seem to be there to most of the readers of those same
passages. I think the superficial reason why we differ on their meaning
is simple: you're inferring that obviously "watching Gilligan's Island"
== "reading novels" == "all narrative pastimes" (whether to Clay or in
general, I'm not sure) and other readers are finding it equally obvious
that they're not.

Perhaps it's worth delving into why we're thinking differently about this?

Personally, I spent enough hours watching Gilligan as a kid (I
really liked the episode where he louses everything up and then the
Skipper hits him with his hat ;-) ) that I feel comfortable saying most
of it was a waste of time for me. I disagree with the notion that
reading John Crowley's Aegypt tetralogy is a waste of my time,
however non-interactive, and there are a whole spectrum of activities
in between which I may feel are or aren't a waste of time to varying
degrees.

This is also different from thinking it's compulsory to be creative or productive every second of every day.

(For example, I've noticed though they're both non-collaborative and non-productive, playing Civ
feels like less a waste of time than playing solitaire, especially as
my son finds the former fascinating, and a jumping-off point for
drawings and for all kinds of interesting questions.)

That NYT article mentioned in #18, #110, and passim:

It didn't seem to me quite sure what it was trying to say, and to be
wavering back and forth. However, especially when you factor in its
last line about noise with music in it, it seemed to me to be saying
more "OMG what a lot of stuff!" and "panic! How are
collective-we ever going to find the good bits in all of this?" vs.
coming down firmly on the "You should all just shut up" side.

To the conversation at large:

I get a lot of interesting ideas from this transcript, but one of
the most interesting thing I get from it is the same thing as #93, the
notion that perhaps Wikipedia has been a success despite being a failure.

I'm sure many of the readers here have read the discussions on ML
and elsewhere about all the problems with Wikipedia, its mismanagement,
its bad policies, and their consequences in how good info gets polluted
with garbage over and over again.... and yet it has amassed a vast
amount of useful information harnessing a fraction of that "cognitive
surplus" as he said. Maybe WP is a success in spite of itself, just
because it found itself suddenly sitting on top of this vast untapped
resource. (Like a city at the outset of the industrial revolution which
happens to find it adjoins a vast coal-field.)

This suggests to me that perhaps future projects which are better
organized than WP - which do a better job utilizing random people's
energies, preserving the best work instead of merely the most recent,
and making people feel highly appreciated and rewarded for exceptional
work - could be successes on a scale far beyond WP and beyond anything
we've imagined so far. That's a very encouraging prospect. (Example:
Jo's anecdote about Sasha. Very cool.)

Discuss. (Or don't, as you please.)

#132 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 05:36 PM:

Heresiarch @117: [..]you do realize, don't you, that in a generation or two today's anime will be just as highly regarded as Restoration drama?

What do you mean, "in a generation or two"? Isn't the size of
Wikipedia's coverage indicative that it is already so regarded? Or did
you mean, in the NYT's art pages and suchlike?

#133 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 05:38 PM:

I wouldn't call what I said a "complaint", or for that matter even a
problem. There's a degree to which the kind of enabling technologies
which we have been discussing (e.g. printing presses and the internet)
amplify all signals, good or bad. Maybe it's good that the internet
allows a lot of "alternative" discourse to promulgate, and maybe it's
bad that it makes it easier to pass stupid rumors and party shibboleths
around. The point is that maybe it wasn't such a bad thing that people
who couldn't really discuss politics intelligently were not encouraged
to do so before the internet came along; more opportunity for
discussion need not make for better discussion.

#134 ::: Sajia Kabir ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 05:52 PM:

133# : And maybe having people who can't discuss politics
intelligently be put at the tender mercies of people who have thought
about politics seriously will force them to learn how to think
critically. It's like with self-published work; now writers can find
beta readers over the internet if they can't find them in their
neighbourhood.

#135 ::: Tim O'Brien ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 06:11 PM:

Ah... what happened to Tom Hanks? He's giving a keynote speech at
the Web 2.0 Expo. Well, not really, but anyone else note the likeness?

#136 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 06:29 PM:

joann@126

Also, I think the tendency is to air reruns more or less in sequence anyway.

#137 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 06:48 PM:

Heresiarch, #92: Actually, I was surprised at how hard it was for me
to find anyone in my local group of friends who was (1) really into
BTVS and (2) willing to discuss it with me at length! I swear, it would
have been easier if I'd been wanting to talk about Monday Night
Football around the water cooler. And I couldn't just go online to BTVS
fora, because all of those were based around the assumption that if you
were reading them, you were already up to speed.

I'm having the same difficulty of finding local fans right now with Bones; the difference is that since I am caught up on that one, I can go hang out in the online groups if I just want to discuss and analyze it.

Julie, #97: I think that getting heavily involved in a new fandom is in fact very
similar to the initial stages of a new relationship, and have been
known to refer to it as NRE. The expression of it may be different, but
the internal experience is much the same.

Lila, #106: My partner says that the apostrophe character on his
cellphone is hidden, that it's on either the 1, #, or * key (we don't
text, so he doesn't remember which), but far down in the rotation. If
you haven't looked there, you might try.

Cat, #110: Outstanding point with the basketball thing! And also the
observation that the audience is an important component -- this is
something I have to explain to people as a filker, that it doesn't matter whether they can play or sing, it's okay if they just want to listen.

Faren, #115: Your comment about baseball sparked a rumination. The
last time I went to see a baseball game (minor-league, in Chicago, with
several friends who are baseball fans), I was OMG BORED, and eventually
went back to sit in the car in the parking lot and read a book. Now I
wonder if a large part of that boredom wasn't that I didn't consider
the game to be a social activity. If I'd had the option of treating it
like a con -- I'm really here to hang out with my friends, I might
watch some programming if it's interesting, but otherwise that's just
the background -- it would probably have been much more enjoyable. But
I didn't know anyone except the people I was with, and my mental frame
said that we were here to watch the game... and for periods of
up to half an hour at a time, there was no "game" going on to watch,
because everyone was just standing around on the field. (Also, it was friggin' cold,
and the game excursion had been sprung on me after I arrived, so I
didn't have suitable clothing for sitting out in the weather for hours
on end.) That event had left a pretty sour taste in my mouth for years,
but I think you've just given me a different slant on it. Thanks!

Avram, #121: I'm also waiting to see what kind of Biblical
textual analysis emerges from a generation that's grown up reading (and
writing) fanfic.

WHOA. Now that's a thought! I'm not sure whether to be terrified or ask where I can buy tickets, but it's absolutely sure to be interesting, in one or another sense of the word.

C. Wingate, #123: Tangentially, does anyone else ever find
themselves using the phrase "someone has WAY too much time on their
hands" in a sense that's partly admiration? For example, when looking
at something like the Blue Ball Machine (warning: has sound)?

#138 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 06:49 PM:

Clifton Royston @ 131.. I really liked the episode where he louses everything up and then the Skipper hits him with his hat

Remember the episode where a Mad Scientist moves to Gilligan's
Island with his henchman and, next thing you know, the gang has gone
thru multiple mind transfers and the Skipper's body becomes the host to
Mrs. Howell's mind(?).

#139 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 07:33 PM:

Two more thoughts:

First, while people have long had all sorts of odd
creative/productive hobbies, one factor the Internet changed is that
it's now vastly more feasible for them to coordinate, organize, and
collaborate on them.

To invent a silly example, whereas before you might have had 5000
people across the country carving or painting duck decoys according to
their individual whims, you now have the potential for 1000 of them to
suddenly decide to work together to create a 50-foot tall surrealist
duck decoy, if that's their thing. And if I can contort the metaphor a
bit more, such 50-foot tall ducks are a lot harder for people to miss
than the stuff shoved in the back shelves of their neighbors garages.

Of course this is 10-fold truer if whatever quirk or whimsy they're
trying to create is in digital form and they can collaborate on it
digitally.

Second, thinking about all this is inspiring enough that I might
actually start work on the web software idea I had a few weeks ago.
This is on one hand vaguely related to these particular Big Ideas about
interactivity and people's lives, but sort of flips them around the
other way. If and when I get to the point I have a proto to play with,
I'll let you all know.

#140 ::: Laurence ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 07:43 PM:

I once remarked to a (musician) friend of mine, "Before radio and
gramophones existed, if you wanted to listen to any music you had to
either learn how to play it yourself or go find someone who knew how to
play it."

Similarly, before books and literacy became widespread, if you
wanted to hear a story you had to either tell one to yourself or else
go find someone who could read, remember, or make up stories.

It seems like under those conditions, individuals would have had a
lot more opportunity to create their own fun, and now we're seeing it
again. Maybe the 20th century was anomalous in its centralized,
essentially passive entertainment.

#141 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 08:00 PM:

Lee @ 137: "...the Blue Ball Machine"

The blue ball machines (there have been a few) are an excellent
example of what Clifton Royston is talking about @139. They were
created in small segments by hundreds of people at Something Awful.
IIRC, each was started by one person posting a segment then other
people animated segments that started where a ball left the previous
segment.

On a more serious note, the Anonymous movement against Scientology
is doing amazing things with cognitive surplus and no central
organization.

#142 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 08:07 PM:

C. Wingate (#123): I am inclined to predict that soon enough the current fashion/rut/tedium of cynically ironic comedies will fade...

I'd say neither The Office, My Name Is Earl, nor especially How I Met Your Mother are cynically ironic.

Indeed, one of the charms of How I Met Your Mother is that,
for the first time in what seems like a long time, it's a show about a
bunch of decent, intelligent people who you'd actually want to have as
your friends in real life.

The bigger hole in the thesis, though, is in the implication that
the people who are now doing these constructive/productive amusements
are drawn from people who formerly watched, well, sitcoms. I think
that's very dubious. I suspect that perhaps the majority are drawn from
people who in the past were doing
different constructive hobbies.

I'm a datapoint to the contrary; I blog, I Second Life, I Twitter, I
FriendFeed, I post photos to Flickr, I participate in online
discussions (like this one), and I grew up on a steady diet of sitcoms:
Gilligan's Island, The Brady Bunch, I Dream of Jeannie, Get Smart,
The Odd Couple, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newhart Show,
-- the full sitcom menu for people of my age (tweeners), social class (middle) and geography (the American suburbs).

Bob Rossney (#125): To pick an online obvious example, before you
can learn anything from the failure of GEnie, you have to know that
there was such a thing as GEnie. It didn't leave a lot of traces when
it went.

The lessons of GEnie: Listen to your customers, and if you can't
listen to them, don't insult them and piss them off while throwing the
doors open for the orders of magnitude greater number of customers who
are going to flock to your service once you've put in place all the
changes that have pissed off and driven away all your existing
customers. Because if you do that, those new customers are going to go
to your competitors.

Lee (#137): The last time I went to see a baseball game
(minor-league, in Chicago, with several friends who are baseball fans),
I was OMG BORED, and eventually went back to sit in the car in the
parking lot and read a book. Now I wonder if a large part of that
boredom wasn't that I didn't consider the game to be a social activity.
If I'd had the option of treating it like a con -- I'm really here to
hang out with my friends, I might watch some programming if it's
interesting, but otherwise that's just the background

My youngest brother, who has a normal American male's interest in sports, says that's exactly
what sports is all about, in particular baseball, which is a
slow-moving game with plenty of time to sit and talk. If you've ever
seen the baseball scene in When Harry Met Sally, ("You made a woman MEOW?"), that's like real life.

#143 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 08:20 PM:

My favorite part was the 4-year-old looking for the TV mouse.

That having been said, I think his cognitive surplus argument gives
buzz-words to something that I've been thinking about more formlessly.
But Internet time-sinks aren't just a replacement for time formerly
spent watching TV; rather they also substitute for time formerly spent
interacting with live human beings in social situations. Contemporary
suburbia (at least New York style) provides many fewer opportunities
for interacting with people you will see again and who will remember
you (and indeed who will care if you do see them again and they do
remember you; mostly suburbanites don't). People move to places like
Westchester County because they want something like "privacy" which
translates to them wanting their kids to be free of the burdens of
casual conversation that they grew up with.

Enter the Internet: Wikipedia and its relatives provide endless
opportunities for non-nutritive social interaction, opportunities that
feel superfically like old-fashioned conversation with the neighbors
but lack what I've been thinking of as social nutrition.

So I'd say he's basically right, but the answer is not so pat. TV is
not obsolete; rather TV can't meet the emotional needs of a growing and
increasingly cacooned suburban population. To some extent, online
interaction can appear to fill the gap. Some of it is more nourishing
and nurturing than others. Some kinds of activities are more socially
beneficial than others.

Nonetheless he's onto something good. I think I'll buy his book and see what else he has to say.

#144 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 08:44 PM:

Lee @ #137, I'll poke around, but it's not on the 1 key with all the other punctuation marks (.,!?-and @).

#145 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 08:51 PM:

Apropos of Shirky's friend's kid "looking for the mouse," today I
received a regular promotional e-mail from Tivo, and it featured fan
mail from John K, of Warrington, Pennsylvania:



My oldest daughter, Jessica, has learned how to use the "peanut" for
more then just pausing the TV when she needs to go potty. Ever since I
hooked up the TiVo, she has been asking me letter questions all the
time: "What does 'Super Why' start with?" or, "'Word World' starts with
'W,' right?"
Thanks
to TiVo, my daughter now knows what letters her favorite shows begin
with, and she can now work the TiVo to find them all by herself! I was
putting her sister to bed the other night and left 'Elmo's World' on
for her. When I came back to get her ready for bed, to my amazement I
noticed that she was now watching 'Little Einsteins.'

TiVo isn't just keeping my girls safe
from watching bad shows (big thanks to TiVo KidZone): It is now helping
my daughter to learn her letters so that she can watch her shows
without any help, and that gave her a sense of pride and
accomplishment. I don't think she would be on such a mission to learn
the alphabet without TiVo.

#146 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 08:59 PM:

NelC @132: [wrt the artistic respectability of anime] Isn't the
size of Wikipedia's coverage indicative that it is already so regarded?
Or did you mean, in the NYT's art pages and suchlike?

FWIW, yesterday on NPR's "Fresh Air", there was a gushing review of
the anime series "Death Note", with excerpts from Cartoon Network's
dubbed version; linkage here.

#147 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 09:16 PM:

Lila @106, 144 - what brand & model phone is it? But if it's not with the other punctuation, that's a bad sign.

#148 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 10:55 PM:

My phone doesn't seem to have an apostrophe - I'm looking at the
manual! 1, 0 and punctuation are on the 1 key. Letters and the other
numbers are on 2-9. 0 seems to be 'shift'. (Um, okay, I guess we don't
do apostrophes on phones. Thanks ever so.) It's a Motorola/Verizon.

#149 ::: Paul Duncanson ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 11:27 PM:

My Sony Ericsson phone has an apostrophe. As well as being
accessible via the 1 key I can add one via an 'Add Symbol' menu option.
It also has semi-colons. Several people think I'm weird for using them
while texting.

#150 ::: Morry ::: (view all by) ::: April 29, 2008, 11:55 PM:

great speech (well, I read the transcript), but I'm afraid you might
need to get a new supporting story. My 4 year old daughter used to be a
major Dora fan, and as a father I felt it was my duty to watch it a few
times to see if was appropriate.

The earlier episodes of Dora encouraged the idea that you were
watching an interactive computer game. The beginning credits are
"blocky" as if an older computer game. Sometimes, through the episode,
Dora will ask the viewer to "find something", and pause. After a few
seconds, a arrow pointer (exactly the same as your windows pointer)
will appear and "click" on the item, with the resulting beep and other
sound effects. The end credits really emphasize this concept. Some
character from the episode hides and dodges while the mouse pointer
tries to catch him and the credits end when it catches them and clicks,
again with the beep.

Newer episodes don't seem to emphasize that so much, and tend to
request more physical and verbal interactions. But my point is that the
search for the mouse was because of the format of Dora the Explorer,
not because of the expectation of all screens being more than passive
broadcasters.

#151 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 12:19 AM:

See, we would have been able to take the cognitive surplus all the
way to the Singularity, except we won't be able to punctuate it
correctly.

I don't think it's a cognitive surplus, actually; I think anyone who
thinks now probably thought without the 'net. I think we have a
*communications* surplus. *Perhaps* many many individual communication
surpluses turn into a collective sentience... but it also used to be
obvious that once everyone could hear great music at will, we would be
peaceful and generous and just.

#152 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 01:26 AM:

albatross @ 122: "It seemed to me that most of the historical statements Shirkey made were obviously and badly wrong,"

I'd really like someone to take Shirky's claims and figure out if
his account of, say, the drunken lives of the first generation of urban
dwellers is in any way accurate. I really don't have the knowledge to
say any more than, "Well, it seems vaguely plausible, but who knows?"

C. Wingate @ 123: "The bigger hole in the thesis, though,
is in the implication that the people who are now doing these
constructive/productive amusements are drawn from people who formerly
watched, well, sitcoms."

How hard is it to imagine that, as entry barriers to different
activities get lower, more people will do them? It used to be really
hard to make your own films. Not very many people did it. Now it's
really easy. A lot of people do it. With all due respect to your family
of tinkerers, you're way out there on the bell curve. There are a lot
of people who would have been terribly interested in doing the same
stuff, if it was just a little easier. The internet is making it easier
to transcend that gap between "Gee, I'd really love to do X" and
actually doing it.

There are some people who will create, no matter how hard it is.
There are others who will never create, no matter how easy. The vast
majority, however, fall somewhere in between.

"As far as gin is concerned, his technology is out of joint. The
big bloom in gin production was produced by easing government
regulation, not by technology."

His point about gin had nothing to do with the technology that was
needed to produce it, and everything to do with demand. The first urban
population needed huge amounts of gin to lubricate their transition
from rural life, but that doesn't imply that it was some breakthrough
in gin-making tech that enabled the urban boom. Rather, a pre-existing
technology was used in a new application. This actually plays into his
argument quite well--if there was a huge boom in gin consumption around
the same time that cities really got going, it definitely suggests that
the higher consumption was driven by increased demand, not by increased
supply or lower prices.

#153 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 01:35 AM:

It's been pretty much universally accepted in Western culture for a
long time that art, writing, and other "intellectual" activities are
done by a small part of the population, admired by a somewhat larger
part, and a distant, occasional part of the cultural background for
most. There are cultures where it's not that way; Bali for instance,
where it's expected that everyone has some artistic impulse and outlet.

I think part of the shift we're seeing now in the use of leisure
time is a change in that attitude. And that runs exactly counter to the
"OMG! Most of it is crap!" view. It's only since the decentralization
of communications that began with network radio broadcasting that the
average person has had to (and thought it necessary to) compare their
own abilities with the best performers and creators available. Maybe
now that it's so much easier to create something polished and
well-crafted* people are more willing to submit their own work to
others' view, even knowing it's not "professional" quality.

* In some fields; writing has resisted the encroachment of
technological tools, but even there we have spelling and grammar
checkers that allow a bad writer to pass the coarse screening that used
to catch so many entries on the slushpile a generation ago. Some of the
standard cues are gone now; editors and editorial assistants, how long
has it been since you've seen something typed with a green or purple
ribbon?

#154 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 02:20 AM:

Bob Rossney @ 125: "I worry about the visibility of what
we're all doing. I think that a lot of failures aren't, as Shirky put
it, skulls on pikes marking the way. They're more like the USS
Scorpion, the nuclear submarine that sank off the Azores in 1968
because...well, nobody really knows why, because it's under 17,000 feet
of water and nobody who was there at the time can tell us what went
wrong."

Figuring out why your failures failed is really helpful, no doubt.
But it isn't necessary for success. In fact, the idea of learning from
mistakes is quite new, when you get right down to it. All life on earth
is the result of an evolutionary process that is incapable of learning
from mistakes. It only responds to positive reinforcement--take the
best, scramble them a bit, and keep going forward. I definitely agree
that learning from your failures and your successes is probably a faster method, but it isn't the only way to do things.

Ultimately, the failure of any given enterprise isn't as important
as the success of one of them. That's part of the reason you've got to
have a lot of different projects going all at once, so you can afford a
high failure rate.

Clifton Royston @ 131: "Maybe WP is a success in spite of itself, just because it found itself suddenly sitting on top of this vast untapped resource."

As much as Wikipedia's problems frustrate me, Wikipedia has
nonetheless accomplished an amazing amount. It's still the place where
I go to find out about, well, just about anything. I think Wikipedia
will be (and already has been) the basic model that people will look at
when they're trying to design the collaborative projects of the future.
It's like a really primitive boiler: because it's prone to explosions,
people tend to overlook how amazing it is that it works at all.

@ 139: "First, while people have long had all sorts of odd
creative/productive hobbies, one factor the Internet changed is that
it's now vastly more feasible for them to coordinate, organize, and
collaborate on them."

Even more neat, I think, is that now they are all learning
from each other. That neat trick that that one guy figured out can be
spread across the entire (world-wide!) community, instead of dying with
its inventor, or staying local to one clique. Building from the
foundation that others have already laid gives people time to try new
ideas and techniques--add to the pool of knowledge, rather than
duplicate. Freed from this cognitive redundancy, progress is going to
accelerate.

#155 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 02:25 AM:

(last post for the day, I promise!)

Rivka @ 127: "And that's just some of the creative output
of the middle-class middlebrow white suburbanite, a demographic I chose
because they are widely considered by geeks to be the least creative
and most intellectually bankrupt segment of the population."

Word. The idea that creation is the realm of the select is itself a
cultural artifact of an era with pervasive, high-quality passive
entertainment.

C. Wingate @ 128: "Shirky rubs up against the factor that
technology lowers the bar to contributing, but he doesn't touch the
issue of whether it makes people more competent to do so. One could
argue that the internet has proven conclusively that it doesn't."

One could draw all sorts of conclusions from a world-wide social
experiment that is still in its birthing throes, but one probably
oughtn't.

NelC @ 132: "What do you mean, "in a generation or two"?
Isn't the size of Wikipedia's coverage indicative that it is already so
regarded? Or did you mean, in the NYT's art pages and suchlike?"

My mental vision is of people saying "It's so disappointing that
today's young people waste all their time on holographic
choose-your-own movies instead of watching anime," while shaking their
heads sadly. And yes, NYT art pages and stuff.

Lee @ 137: "Actually, I was surprised at how hard it was
for me to find anyone in my local group of friends who was (1) really
into BTVS and (2) willing to discuss it with me at length!"

Imagine how much harder it would have been if you'd been trying to
get into a show that wasn't as popular and fannishly-followed as BTVS.
It was hard as it was; I doubt it would have even been possible without
the fannish infrastructure.

#156 ::: Bob Rossney ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 02:52 AM:

Kathryn Cramer @ 143: But Internet time-sinks
aren't just a replacement for time formerly spent watching TV; rather
they also substitute for time formerly spent interacting with live
human beings in social situations.

Not to put too fine a point on it, but the really attractive Internet time-sinks are time spent interacting with live human beings in social situations.

#157 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 03:09 AM:

Telephone Apostrophes - mine is on the 0 (zero), but I can
get to it with the Symbol Mode, too. Not that I text -- too expensive.
(My manual is still on the top of the manual stack in the cabinet
because I had to look up how to make + stick in front of a number to be
sure I could call Charlie when he & Feorag were here.)

#158 ::: Vlad ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 03:21 AM:

This guy doesn't know what he is talking about

only after the industrial revolution did we have libraries, public
education, elected officials...? Oh come on. If you are going to begin
your argument with a historical basis then read up on your history.

#159 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 03:51 AM:

Paul @141: On a more serious note, the Anonymous movement
against Scientology is doing amazing things with cognitive surplus and
no central organization.

If you thought Anonymous was groovy, wait until these folks
start using the same technology enablers. (Or their Christian
equivalents; I am sure there are at least as many Americans who would
join an Anonymous-style flash protest outside an abortion clinic as
there are who would join one outside a Scientology office.)

Be careful what you wish for: the only reason Anonymous doesn't fill us with alarm and dread is the nature of their target.

For an example of what I'm scared of, consider the Google crime map
Bruce refers to in @37. Now combine it with Anonymous-style campaigning
as a target map, and replace the Scientologists in the frame
with anyone-you-disapprove-of -- families who don't go to church
regularly, women who don't wear hijab, political activists for the
wrong party ...

A misdirected or misapplied attention surplus can be a very bad thing indeed.

#160 ::: Niall McAuley ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 04:48 AM:

Charlie at #159 writes: A misdirected or misapplied attention surplus can be a very bad thing indeed.

You only have to look at wikipedia again for examples, where the
people with the greatest and most focussed attention surplus are often
the people you'd least want to be editing anything.

Now turn their attention to tracking every paediatrician in the country...

#161 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 06:05 AM:

Charlie @ 159

ISTM there's always been a segment of any population, mostly young
and male, I believe*, that's had plenty of time for that sort of hobby.
You meet a lot of them at demonstrations, marches, and picket lines.
What makes Anonymous and their ilk different isn't the amount of free
time they have, it's the technology they have to coordinate their
actions.

Successful police tactics for dealing with potential civil unrest at
demonstrations and such have in the past been based on knowing in
advance that something was scheduled to happen, and being on the spot
with sufficient force to deter the action, or to break the advance of a
group and scatter them. You don't get that advance notice of a flash
mob, and you can't tell if the action you are reacting to is a feint or
the real thing. With a little planning, a group with good texting
discipline could scatter the cops all over town, then hit their target
with anything they pleased, and melt away leaving no trail.

But even that sort of activity is fairly crude. What really scares
me is what I think you once called "hobby terrorists", Charlie.
Saboteurs with a work ethic and the perfectionism of the true amateur.
A dozen such, without even having any political agenda, could shut down
a city given modern technology and communications. And you can't shut
down a modern city without having some people die for lack of
electricity, heat, medicine, or food**.

* No offense intended here, but this seems like the right
demographics just based on my experience. Does anyone have any
scientific data on the subject?

** Last I heard, some years ago, Manhattan had about 2 days of food
supply at any time. I wouldn't be surprised if it was less now. Shut
down all the tunnels and bridges and things would get nasty.

#162 ::: Emily H. ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 07:29 AM:

Clifton @ 139: The power of communal knitting is astonishing.
I have a lace scarf and a pair of wristwarmers on my dresser that come
directly from that cognitive surplus: Ravelry, the big online fiber
arts community, helped me find the free patterns, choose yarns, get
help when I needed it, and now I have a little knowledge to pass on
myself.

#163 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 07:56 AM:

Kathryn Cramer @ 143... People move to places like Westchester County because they want something like "privacy"

...especially if they are students at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters.

As for time spent on the internet being time not spent
socializing... I disagree. Thanks to the internet, there are some
friendships in my life that would never have happened otherwise. Some
of those friends I may never meet in the flesh, but that doesn't make
them friends any less.

#164 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 09:18 AM:

Bruce #161: Yes. It's important to recognize that the internet
allows access to lots of information and contact with new people and
ideas, but it's morally neutral in terms of content. If I want to learn
a lot about immunology or number theory,
there are fantastic free online books out there, great web sources for
more information, etc. But if I want to learn how to build bombs in my
basement without scoring an "own goal"[1], or how to put together a
really effective and hard-to-detect poison to knock off my rich uncle,
I can probably find that information, too[2]. Similarly, if I want to
find a bunch of people with an interest in cryptography or evolutionary
biology, I can do that, and it's great. But I can also find a bunch of
people with an interest in kiddie-porn or white supremacist politics.
All these tools are neutral with respect to the kind of content we're
making. Alice uses the new tools to join a fanfic community and write
amateur stories, draw pictures, photoshop stuff together for Star Trek
or Gatchaman fanfic. Bob uses them to join a kiddie-porn/child molester
community and write amateur stories, draw pictures, and photoshop stuff
along those lines. The tools don't care, they're just tools.

Although he's rather big on self-promotion and overstates his case some, I find John Robb's discussions of some of these issues ("Open Source warfare" in particular) quite interesting.

Another interesting and creepy example of how the internet makes
widespread collaboration and new markets come into being is the way
that online crime has become more and more professional and
market-driven. Some pretty good coverage of that progression day to day
can be found on the F-Secure weblog, among many other places. A nice snapshot of one part of this is in a very accessible paper here.

[1] AKA blowing yourself up while making or carrying the bomb.

[2] I don't know any links for this stuff, and probably wouldn't post good ones if I knew them.

#165 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 09:24 AM:

Morry @ 150 - I know what you're saying about Dora; the first time I
saw it, *I* was annoyed that there was no mouse. I think the larger
point is that the 4-year-old is noticing it; would you have been
looking for a mouse on your tv when you were 4?

#166 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 09:42 AM:

Rivka #127 and many others:

I like the point about personal hobbies. It seems clear that the
internet and related computer technology expands the range of available
hobbies, lets you learn about and get support for doing them when you
don't personally know anyone who does them, and will inevitably lead to
a lot of pretty low-quality amateur work. Those amateurs will enjoy
themselves, though, and will produce stuff that's meaningful to them.
And a few of them will become better and better through the years, till
they start producing very, very good stuff.

An example of this phenomenon is programming. For most of human
history, there wasn't any such thing, though you could kind-of touch on
similar ways of thinking in some areas of math and engineering. Then,
in the early years of computing, it took luck and patience and valuable
skills to even get access to a computer. And then it got easier, and
easier. And as it got easier, millions of people were exposed to
programming, and it turned out that some of them, including many people
who probably would never have gone down a path in college that would
have led them to programming classes in 1960, were really quite good
at it. Some of those hobbyists went professional, some made
professional-quality products that they gave away as a hobby project
while working some less interesting day job, and many millions of
people developed simple programs (often just macros in Lotus 123 or
something) that solved their own problems, even if they weren't all
that useful for anyone else. Now, most people aren't going to create
Linux or Python on their own time, for fun. But some people will, and
there's no gatekeeper we can construct which will do a very good job of
choosing those people in advance. Instead, giving millions of people
access to programming tools and letting them do what they like with
them gets powerful programming tools into the hands of millions of
folks who'll never write a program anyone else would want, and also a
few people who will write Linux or Python.

IMO, this is the most exciting (and potentially scary) aspect to the
internet. In thousands of different areas, all kinds of wonderful tools
are being placed in the hands of anyone who wants them. It's like
offering every smart, curious 18th century studious young man a slot on
the HMS Beagle, just in the hopes that a few of them will
turn out to be Darwins. I keep thinking that you can almost predict
which fields will advance quickly and which will not, based on the
extent to which some gatekeeper keeps people out of the field. For
example, computing and biotech are fields in which, while there's a
substantial barrier to entry in the sense of learning about the field
enough to do useful work, there aren't huge barriers to entry, and so
instead of some gatekeepers deciding which 100 of the most promising
researchers will be given access to the insanely expensive equipment
needed to do work in those fields, many thousands of people can get in
and do interesting work. Fields that require hugely expensive and rare
equipment, or are bound up in secrecy or security clearance
requirements, or that just take many years of training to reach an edge
from which progress is possible, tend to have much slower progress.
Most processes that filter people are good at excluding people who are
obviously too dumb to do the work, but not at all good at
distinguishing reasonably bright and dilligent people who fit in well
from brilliant folks who don't fit in all that well and are kind-of
sloppy.

#167 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 09:44 AM:

Bruce #161: Would the unabomber be a good example of a diligent
"hobbyist terrorist?" He's the first example that comes to mind.

#168 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 10:52 AM:

The one downside to the intense interconnectedness of hobbyists,
artists and crafters across the web is that you are measuring yourself
against a larger pool of people.

For instance, I'm a bookbinder in my spare time. The internet has
given me access to instruction, information and suppliers that I would
not have had ten years earlier. It's allowed me to teach people I've
never met, and to show them what I've done. That's great.

But it's also shown me the work of many binders who are much, much
better than me. I may be the best binder in my village, and one of the
better binders in my district, but I am not the best binder on the net.
And sometimes that can be offputting or discouraging.

It's like the difference between being the best singer in your community and finding yourself in comparison with The Soggy Bottom Boys The Wisdom Sisters after you buy a phonograph.

#169 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 10:54 AM:

Cellphone apostrophe update: my phone does indeed have an apostrophe
in its symbol list; takes 4 keystrokes to get to it from the text
message input screen. Will search online manual to see if there's a way
to add it to the shortlist of punctuation marks.

#170 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 11:02 AM:

Serge (#163): :Thanks to the internet, there are some friendships
in my life that would never have happened otherwise. Some of those
friends I may never meet in the flesh, but that doesn't make them
friends any less.
Same here! And for an introverted only child whose old friends have scattered to the four winds, it's vital.

Baseball update: the AZ team lost last night, due to an incompetent
starting pitcher, but the kid who replaced him had a remarkable debut:
sent down 13 in a row, including 7 strike-outs. (As the
statistics-crazed announcers mentioned, that hadn't been done since
1956.) More drama, more fun. I guess all sports require patience from
the viewer, and for me (raised on the '60s Giants and the '70s
Athletics), this one is not a grind but most others are.

If we took a poll, I expect that 3/4 of us here in the Fluorosphere
would be bored silly by *some* of the others' favorite shows, sports,
hobbies, etc. It's as readers that we stand united.

#171 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 11:10 AM:

Faren @ 170... Indeed. And there are friends one may have lost track of who are found again because of the internet.

#172 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 11:14 AM:

Faren #170: I recall Thomas Sowell making the point, in some offhand
comment somewhere, that when a real baseball fan and a random person
are sitting together in the stadium watching a game, they're really at
two completely different events. The expert just sees all kinds of
completely different stuff that matters and makes sense and combines in
interesting ways, he knows enough history to laugh when something funny
happens or groan when someone does some dumb thing he always does or
whatever. And an outsider just flat doesn't get it.

Related to this, the two biggest crypto conferences (Crypto and
Eurocrypt) have something called a "rump session," an informal session
for new results and also for various joke presentations and
announcements of varying levels of seriousness. It's very common to see
a rump session talk which would look plausibly to an outsider like a
real, technical result being presented, except that the audience is howling
with laughter for reasons that simply make no sense to someone outside
the field. These conferences always seem to have students helping out
with the AV and such, and they're presumably just completely baffled,
because the jokes often involve either pretty complicated technical
details or known conflicts/personalities/organizations in the field or
both. It must be like reading XKCD with no knowledge of science, math,
computers, or SF.

#173 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 11:18 AM:

abi @ 168... One key to my greater happiness was when I
surrendered to the realization that there is always someone who's going
to be better at what I'm good at. That doesn't mean that I lowered my
own standards about what I do. But YMMV.

#174 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 11:35 AM:

P J 148: On my Verizon/Motorola Razr, you press the left-hand
function button way at the top of the keypad, then select "6. Symbols"
for the special characters. Apostrophe is #9 on the default page, so
"left-6-9" is a key sequence I press a lot.

Charlie 159: Anonymous was recently blamed for an attack on a site
for epileptics, where someone inserted bright flickering images on key
pages. I think there's some doubt they were actually responsible, but
since anyone can be "Anonymous" it's hard to say. That was an act of
cyberterrorism, pure and simple, unless you think epileptics are just
whiny and should learn to control themselves.

#175 ::: Carrie S. ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 11:45 AM:

The expert just sees all kinds of completely different stuff
that matters and makes sense and combines in interesting ways, he knows
enough history to laugh when something funny happens or groan when
someone does some dumb thing he always does or whatever. And an
outsider just flat doesn't get it.

I count as an outsider from that point of view, in that I know very
little about the technical aspects of baseball. Nonetheless I enjoy
going to games with my dad--we eat hotdogs and peanuts (but not, in
general, Crackerjack) and keep a box score and clap and it's all in
good fun. Even if the Pirates suck, which they generally do.

#176 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 12:40 PM:

168: but, on the other hand, you'd presumably have known that - or
at least guessed it to be probably true - even without the Net. And
being a bookbinder, you're in a better position than a singer. In an
interconnected age, everyone can hear Willard White singing for free.
But you can't download a book bound by the best binder in the world.

Also, you personally are a better bookbinder because of the Net, presumably...

#177 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 01:32 PM:

#156 Bob Rossney: My argument is that a good portion of online experience that feels
like you are getting real social interaction in real social situations
is what I think of as empty social calories. Not only is some of it
inauthentic in the sense that many of the people you interact with are
either not who they say they are of not who you think they are, but
also there are large parts of social discourse missing. It's like
having a glucose IV drip instead of a meal: the IV may keep you alive
for a while, but but it is no substitute for real food.

#178 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 02:03 PM:

Kathryn Cramer @177 -- hmm. I understand what you mean[1],
but I hesitate to put a value judgment on the quality of online
interactions. Yes, people often present themselves differently online
than they probably would in meatspace[2] -- but is that necessarily
bad? Maybe it's a lazy substitute for more challenging or ultimately
fulfilling encounters. But who's to judge what's fulfilling or
challenging? And removing the internet wouldn't necessarily channel
introverts into more personal encounters, desirable though that could
be.

As for authenticity, people have so many different facets -- things they are, things they want to be. The internet is one way to show and explore various sides of one's personality.

And yes, there are important parts of social discourse that are
missing, which is why flamewars blaze, and why trolls rampage. But
non-internet life is also fraught with plenty of communication
problems. Mobbing, gossip, to name just two.

[1]And here's the pertinent Lolcat

[2]Eew. But it fits.

#179 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 02:07 PM:

Kathryn Cramer @ 177... many of the people you interact with are either not who they say they are of not who you think they are

That situation exists in the flesh world too. Why then would the
flesh world have more real calories to it? (I will refrain from Soylent Green jokes.)

#180 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 03:01 PM:

How at least some Europeans spend their time (and money).

#181 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 03:10 PM:

abi @#168:

This is exactly right. In my regular life, I'm a pretty good writer.
People even pay me to write stuff occasionally. Here on ML, however,
I'm an amateur at best. Same goes for my art--I draw better than most
people I know in the flesh, but thanks to the internet, I know various
real artists, and I'm not in their league.

It's worth taking the ego hit, because I learn so much by
associating with people more accomplished than myself, but my creative
projects sometimes go better if I sequester myself from online life for
a bit while I'm working on them, so I can just measure myself against
myself.

#182 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 03:21 PM:

albatross (#172):

It's very common to see a rump session talk which would look plausibly to an outsider like a real, technical result being presented, except that the audience is howling with laughter for reasons that simply make no sense to someone outside the field.

Four weeks after I started at my first computer trade press job --
which is to say, four weeks after I got involved in the computer
industry in May 1989 -- I was sent to cover a Usenix conference. I
attended a keynote session where one of the attendees shouted out a
comment from the audience that got big laughs. I don't remember who the
speaker was, or what he said, but I remember the joke. It was this:
"OS/2!" I was able to pick up from context why it was funny, but I felt
like a Vulcan at a stand-up comedian conference.

Kathryn Cramer (#177):

My argument is that a good portion of online experience that feels like you are getting real social interaction in real social situations is what I think of as empty social calories. Not only is some of it inauthentic in the sense that many of the people you interact with are either not who they say they are of not who you think they are, but also there are large parts of social discourse missing.

Well, I can see both sides of this argument and fall somewhere in the middle.

On the one hand, we are just big bags of meat, and we need
face-to-face interaction with people in the real world. We're wired
that way. Now, virtual worlds research is working on some fancy-shmancy
technology that will bring more realistic nonverbal cues to virtual
worlds, and some of that research is amazingly advanced -- it's
surprising how video-analysis has become, and I expect within five
years we'll be able to navigate in virtual worlds through gesture
interfaces, and our avatars will be puppeted to synch with our
real-life facial expressions and gestures, using technology descended
from the software used to animate Gollum in the Lord of the Rings movies. But we have not reached that point today -- and even when we do reach that point, we might still require face-to-face interaction.

One of my most memorable experiences with online interaction -- and
I don't mean this in a good way -- was when I first met a big-name
celebrity within our community, someone who has a shelf-full of Hugo
and Nebula awards. We'd been interacting in the same online forums for
years, and I thought of him as a friend, and when he came to a local
con I introduced myself to him excitedly. He looked at me coolly, like
a complete stranger. I could see the wheels turning in his head - "Who
is this crazy person? Why is he acting like he knows me?" Then he
remembered urgent business elsewhere.

I was really quite hurt by his behavior, so much so that I left the
con soon afterwards, went home, and took to bed for about four hours.

But I came to see things from his point of view: I hung on
every word he wrote, in part because he is a celebrity in our little
field of sf, in part because we have mutual friends -- real-life
friends -- and in part because he's a very entertaining writer online.
But who was I to him? Barely anybody -- just another name who
occasionally posted in some of the forums he frequents.

Since then, I don't assume that any of my online friends are real
friends, unless we've spent some time together in real life, or I've
gotten some other one-on-one reassurance that they even know who the
heck I am.

It's dangerous, especially when reading a personal blog. Some of the
posts are so intimate that you think you're friends with the person
writing. But, from their perspective, you're just one of thousands of
people who read the blog every day.

On the other hand, the interactions we have online are real. Have
you never been cheered up by a kind word from an online friend you've
never met in real life? Or the alternative -- been angered or even made
afraid by a troll? Those emotions are real, they're not "empty social
calories."

As to people online not being who they say they are: Often that kind of misrepresentation is done maliciously, but often it's not. Often it's just part of the rules of the world.

In Second Life, one of the first things that newcomers struggle with
is the idea that people may be differently gendered in real life than
they are in Second Life. I know about a half-dozen RL men who present
as women in SL. Of these, several are just doing it because they think
it's more fun, one or two are transgendered men in RL -- biologically
male who identify as women. Some are open about it, others keep it
quiet. I struggled with whether that's a problem -- and finally decided
it just doesn't matter to my interactions with them. If they present as
women in Second Life, and I don't know their RL gender, I just think of
them as women and move on.

#183 ::: Bill Higgins-- Beam Jockey ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 03:37 PM:

In #130 Mitch Wagner writes:

Ugh, I see now that I posted substantially the same comment here twice. I apologize for the error.

Don't be concerned. Too much Mitch Wagner is better than not enough Mitch Wagner.

#184 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 03:51 PM:

Thanks, Bill Higgins. But my doctor disagrees with you - he says I need to lose 100 pounds.

#185 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 03:54 PM:

So there are too many real Mitch Wagner calories, but we're happy with a greater quantity of empty Mitch Wagner calories.

Check.

#186 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 04:04 PM:

I have many good friends on the web, for values of friendship that include (but are not limited to):

- good conversation

- support during unhappy times

- celebration during happy times

- a chance to support people and celebrate their victories

- recommendations that work out more often than not once our tastes synch

- mutual trust

- a web of relationships around me that give me a sense of where I stand (community)

These are not empty calories, socially speaking. They may not be a balanced diet in themselves, but that is not the same thing.

We are still monkeys, and need to be able to shake hands and see
faces every day or we fester. But I have found, for instance, that I
don't feel lonely and isolated after moving to a strange country,
because I have brought my social context with me.

#187 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 04:58 PM:

abi #186 & Mitch Wagner #182: I think that the issue is that the
nature of the way we view social relationships has not yet caught up to
the reality of how we construct said relationships. The emotions we
experience as a result of viewed words on a screen are real, but we
lack some parts of the affect because we have not had the face to face
contact* or some parts of the face to face contact that has been normal
and normative for animals of our sort until now. But human beings have
also established true and close friendships by correspondence in the
past, without ever meeting, so this isn't anything new either. All that
we're doing is giving speed (or instantaneity) to something that
existed (or existed in potential) in the past (and not in the recent
past either).

Human beings are capable of constructing relationships of various
kinds at a distance, and having those relationships be no less intense
and no less real than those conducted close up and face to face. We
endow events and processes with meaning. The problem, of course, lies
in that word 'we', since human beings, being individuals, do not endow
things identically with meaning, and each of us brings different
meanings to the same processes and events.



* I met someone for the first time at a con a few months ago, he
insisted that we had first met twenty years earlier at a con in
Atlanta. As this was only the second con I'd ever been to, and I'd
first been to Atlanta in 1996, this was, shall we say, moderately
unlikely.

#189 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 05:45 PM:

Baseball: The cogniscenti see a different game from the afficianado
who see a different game from the casual watcher who see a differnt
game from the person who gets dragged along who sees a different game
from the cricket fan. :)

It's true of everything. I see my photos differently from those who
aren't photographers. I see others photos through that lens as well.

I noodle on the pennywhistle, Paddy Maloney makes me look as one who can barely pick it up.

I used to play with poetry more. abi plays with it as I play with
delicate invective (which is to say we are both pretty good at it, but
we don't do it all the time)

None of this detracts from my enjoyment of photos, whistle mucic, poetry; or delicate invective.

So long as we are appreciating things as best we can (see Teresa on
living with narcolepsy), we are going to have a good time at it.

#190 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 05:53 PM:

Terry Karney @ 189... None of this detracts from my enjoyment of (...) delicate invective

You hear a lot of that in the army?

#191 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 06:04 PM:

Bruce, #153: It's still quite possible to produce a document that looks
as though it was typed with a green or purple ribbon; most word
processors have options for changing the color of selected text. I
don't know if there's a way to change the default color of your text, but I know someone I could ask...

Heresiarch, #154: Wikipedia is in fact quite useful for "dry" facts
-- things like names and dates, or things that no one wants to dispute.
I find that I have a definite sense of what can be trusted on Wikipedia
and what needs to be confirmed by (preferably several) other sources
first.

And at #155: I'm not making my point clearly. The reason I was surprised is that my local group of friends is
primarily fannish, and most of them watch a LOT more TV than I do! If
I'd been looking to catch up with a mainstream-popular show such as Friends, I could have expanded my search outward into less-fannish acquaintances and probably had a much easier time.

Serge, #163 and Faren, #170: Hear, hear! I met my current partner in
an online social group, and there are a number of people who have
either moved from that social group into being FTF friends (because
they live nearby) or whose opinions and interactions I value every bit*
as much as those of someone I can have lunch with once a week. I wonder
how many of us here can say much the same?

Kathryn, #177: Not only is some of it inauthentic in the sense
that many of the people you interact with are either not who they say
they are of not who you think they are, but also there are large parts
of social discourse missing.

Well... yes and no. I can't speak for online social groups as a
whole, but for the ones in which I routinely participate or have
participated (of which you can take ML as an exemplar):

1) I think it's really difficult for someone to play "on the
Internet, no one knows you're a dog" for very long. For one thing,
people start making FTF connections based on the group; we had a thread
a while back in which a lot of the regular posters here talked about
which of the other regular posters they knew or had met. That
kind of backup interaction militates heavily against false personae.
Not saying it's impossible, but I don't think it's any more likely than, say, finding out that one of your co-workers is a pedophile.

2) In any long-standing group, compensation tactics develop to
replace those aspects of FTF social discourse that go missing online.
Emoticons, of course, but also in-group conventions, jargon and code
phrases, references to shared resources, etc.

IMO, automatically privileging FTF contact over online social
interaction is the same kind of mistake as automatically privileging
hard-copy books over e-books... or interactive over passive
entertainment. True sometimes, not always.

I should also note, in passing, that one of those online social groups did a lot
to keep me on an even keel during the disintegration of my marriage.
There was no way that FTF interaction would have accomplished the same
thing -- I would have been the too-needy one who drove all my friends
away. That neediness, spread around among the much larger online group
(and with any one person who got tired of it having the option of
backing off), wasn't as stressful for the other people involved.

Mitch, #182: The experience you describe isn't limited to online
communities. TV stars, in particular, have that sort of thing happen to
them all the time -- people who watch their show every week and
come to think of the actor as if s/he were (1) the character and (2)
their personal friend.

Since then, I don't assume that any of my online friends are real
friends, unless we've spent some time together in real life, or I've
gotten some other one-on-one reassurance that they even know who the
heck I am.

That's valid for people who qualify as some value of "celebrity",
like the author you mention or a TV star. OTOH, if you've actually
interacted with someone significantly online, and then they pull that
"who is this guy?" thing when you meet them FTF, I don't think the
issue is necessarily with you, IYKWIM.

For example, I've met Teresa at a con, but that was before I started
posting here. If we meet again, I still don't expect her to treat me
like an intimate -- but I would expect that I could introduce
myself as "Lee from ML" and this would give me an upgrade from "J.
Random Person" to "casual acquaintance". OTOH, if I were to encounter
Xopher FTF, he would immediately fall into my "casual friend" category,
because we've interacted enough here to pass the level of acquaintance
(at least from my POV).

* Pun not intentional, but well worth keeping once noticed!

#192 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 06:05 PM:

I'm sounding more negative than I really want to. But it seems to me
that Shirpy's tone towards sitcom-watching is somewhat deprecatory.

Anyway, it also occurs to me that one of the reasons that a TV
producer in particular might say "Where do they find the time?" is that
for her, watching the TV is work. But it also occurs to me that what
she really meant was that arguing about the status of Pluto to was (in
her view) as much a waste of time as watching '60s sitcoms.

#193 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 06:07 PM:

This thread is self-referential. Bill Sutherland's and abi's comments made me feel good. These were not empty calories.

No, they did not make me feel *as* good as the time I was in New
York and visited my brother's family in Westchester and my
then-two-year-old nephew was playing in the backyard and saw me get out
of the car and RAN across the front yard as fast as he could to greet
me, grinning and shouting, "UNCLE MITCH! UNCLE MITCH!"

But that doesn't make Bill and abi's comments any less real - even
if I haven't met either of them, and can't swear that one or both of
them is not a giant hamster pretending to be human.

#194 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 06:11 PM:

Mitch @193:

I haven't met either of them, and can't swear that one or both of them is not a giant hamster pretending to be human.

Well, I am, actually, but if you tell anyone, I'll stuff cedar shavings in your ears when you sleep.

#195 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 06:12 PM:

Lee @ 191... You do know that you need a license before you can make puns, intentionally or not, right?

My wife and I met thru one writer's fan group. Our correspondance
was fast & furious for a whole year, with some phonecalls thrown
in, as this happened in the pre-Internet days. Things got cemented when
we drove together to LAcon. Were this happening today, the situation
and its outcome would have been the same, only cheaper because, during
the days of Prehistory, we shelled out quite a bit of money to make
sure we received each other's snailmail fast.

#196 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 06:15 PM:

Mitch Wagner @ 193... can't swear that one or both of them is not a giant hamster pretending to be human

Meanwhile, in Hamsterdam...Meanwhile, in Hamsterdam...

#197 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 06:33 PM:

Start talking about pun licences, and the next thing you know, we're in a pun control debate....

#198 ::: Keir ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 06:57 PM:

Successful police tactics for dealing with potential civil unrest
at demonstrations and such have in the past been based on knowing in
advance that something was scheduled to happen, and being on the spot
with sufficient force to deter the action, or to break the advance of a
group and scatter them. You don't get that advance notice of a flash
mob, and you can't tell if the action you are reacting to is a feint or
the real thing. With a little planning, a group with good texting
discipline could scatter the cops all over town, then hit their target
with anything they pleased, and melt away leaving no trail.

See the Cronulla riots, maybe?

You can already do this with good public transport and good
organisational abilities. There's one guy knows where the sit-in will
be going today, and everyone else just follows him. One or two quick
interchanges on public transport, and the police can't respond in force
quickly enough if you pull it off right.

In France protesters will, apparently, get a bit miffed if the riot
police don't turn up, because they show you're being taken seriously.

The reason most demonstrations don't turn violent is that most demonstrators don't want violence any more than the cops do.

Likewise, why wouldn't you want to leave a trail? That trail's your advert for next week's demo.

(Unless, of course, you've a purely terrorist interest in the whole
thing, at which point the cops have never had advance warning of such.)

#199 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: April 30, 2008, 10:59 PM:

Mitch @ 182: I've had similar experiences. On the other hand, when I
got to meet Teresa face-to-face last week, I had just the opposite
experience. From experience, I did make sure to let her know who I was
and where she knew me from. (Carrying my wife's copy of Making Book for an autograph didn't hurt.) Even though she was there on business, she kindly made time to chat with me.

I have had the "You know me, but do I know you?" look from people
many times, and I've learned to shrug it off on much the same grounds
that you have. Kevin Marks (hi, Kevin!) was in that conversation with
Teresa. I remembered meeting him four years ago, and I'm fairly certain
he didn't remember me. If he had, I'd've been complimented (and
amazed), but not hurt if he didn't.

(I didn't bring it up, because I didn't think it worth mentioning,
thinking that many people [including myself] feel bad when they don't
remember others, even when there's no good reason they should remember
them. In retrospect, I suppose I should've given him the chance to
compliment and amaze me. Sorry, Kevin--it was small of me not to.)

Lee @ 191:

I think it's really difficult for someone to play "on
the Internet, no one knows you're a dog" for very long. For one thing,
people start making FTF connections based on the group...That kind of
backup interaction militates heavily against false personae. Not saying
it's impossible, but I don't think it's any more likely than, say,
finding out that one of your co-workers is a pedophile.

Agreed, but then, that's happened to me twice now.

Keir @ 198: The Seattle 1999 demonstrations showed that type of
organizational ability. I've never tried the public transit trick, but
have used outdoor stairways and downtown malls to similar effect to
evade motorized and mounted police. (I haven't gotten into any real
trouble in a long time. I hope I don't have to any time in the near
future.)

#200 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 01:06 AM:

Lee (#191):

Mitch, #182: The experience you describe isn't limited to online communities. TV stars, in particular, have that sort of thing happen to them all the time -- people who watch their show every week and come to think of the actor as if s/he were (1) the character and (2) their personal friend.

Well, I'm not quite as loony as all that. I had what I thought were
good reasons to believe the guy would know who I was - we participated
in the same online forums. In retrospect, that's obviously no reason to
assume friendship, but it's an order of magnitude different from the
kind of craziness you described.

Also, having been rebuffed, I assimilated the new information and
moved on. I did not move into the guy's house when he was out of town
and claim to be his wife, like those celebrity stalkers occasionally
do.

C. Wingate (#192):

I'm sounding more negative than I really want to. But it seems to me that Shirpy's tone towards sitcom-watching is somewhat deprecatory.

Maybe it is. Maybe Shirky thinks all TV is stupid. He's wrong there
-- but even so, a lot of TV is stupid and people often find themselves
watching it because they have nothing better to do. For the fraction of
the world's population engaged with Web 2.0, now there is something better to do, and that's fraction is growing daily.

(Am I allowed to say "Web 2.0" here or will you all throw mackerel at me if I do?)

Serge (#195):

My wife and I met thru one writer's fan group. Our correspondance was fast & furious for a whole year, with some phonecalls thrown in, as this happened in the pre-Internet days. Things got cemented when we drove together to LAcon.

While you were driving? That's dangerous, even if you do have cruise
control. And the cement sounds weird, but if you're into that kind of
thing, I don't judge.

#201 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 01:12 AM:

albatross @ 177

The unabomber is probably a fringe case; he had a
political/ideological objective, it's just wasn't very rational (he
wasn't unique in that). I was thinking of people who commit acts of
terrorism for fun, not to advance an agenda. Such people are by their
nature completely amoral, even sociopathic, and are difficult to
profile and track down as a result. Also, because it's a hobby, some of
them will be sure to gain access to advanced technology, and some of
them will favor the aesthetic(?) of "maximum bang for minimum effort"
as a measure of the quality of their acts. It's similar, I think, to
the black-hat hacker mentality. I doubt there are many such people,
but, as I said before, a dozen well-equipped people could badly screw
up a city given the will and the resources.

#202 ::: cliff s. ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 03:08 AM:

Re: the nobody knowing you're a dog on the internet thing -- who cares as long as you have a fluffy coat?

I've had sort of the reverse realization, I guess -- that whether
someone "is" authentic isn't that relevant in lots of "real-life" /
meatspace social situations, either, and never really was. If that
makes sense.

The guys I used to go down to the bar with, friends from high
school, buddies at work...not to sound like a feelingless robot but --
to some extent these were/are interchangeable, if I'd grown up
elsewhere/had a different job/etc. it'd be some other people, I'd root
for some other team. The value was in the role they played, what we did
together, not "who they were".

If I was into baseball I imagine I could have fun hanging out with
pretty much a randomly selected group of other fans at the game, minus
social conventions and mammalian group instincts and knowing people's
names. That's sort of what the internet changes: it's easier to connect
with general people for specific reasons.

So, these types of social interactions being "less real" on the
internet? They weren't all that real to begin with, they just seemed
that way because there were bodies attached.

This is of course not to say these things aren't real -- more that
the "it's just in your head"* argument re: the internet does more for
me to expose how much all of it is in our heads to begin with. And
stuff in our heads *is* real, for us. Just more hackable than say
gravity.

Of course real friendships, loyalty, trust("friends help you move,
real friends help you move bodies") -- that's always going to take time
and effort. And someone you know only as a screen name / forum poster /
bugfix contributor / elf wizard vs. someone you grew up with in the
neighborhood, well, yeah, there's a difference in how much you already
know about this "real" person and how much you feel you can trust them
to begin with.

* It's just squiggly little black blobs, not even permanent, and
some clackety thing, it's obviously not "real"...it's "just on the
internet". I mean, well, yeah, obviously, it all does look a bit
ghostly doesn't it? Used to be, I'd tell someone dimes and quarters
were a fungible $25/pound and they'd ask how I knew that and I'd say I
read it on the internet, and they'd say, ohoho, on the INternet, huh
huh. Now I struggle to get these same yahoos to stop forwarding me
stupid jokes and chain letters about Bill Gates & AOL's paid email
experiment, or enlisting my help to make money by "setting up a web".
What's "real" is largely a matter of convention when it comes to all
that social stuff, innit.

#203 ::: Bogdan Bivolaru ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 03:31 AM:

Submitted to FSDaily.com:

http://www.fsdaily.com/Community/Where_do_people_find_the_time

Marvelous talk!

#204 ::: Rob Rusick ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 05:39 AM:

Bruce Cohen @201: Your comments remind me of the anthrax attacks
following 9/11. AFAIK, the perpetrator of those remains unknown.

#205 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 07:33 AM:

Mitch Wagner @ 200... Actually, things became concrete while we were walking around DisneyLand. I blame Goofy.

#206 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 08:07 AM:

Rob #204: Yep, that looked like a pretty rational attack, in the
sense that the attackers did it in such a way as to maximize their
political impact (probably keeping the media and Congressional
decisionmakers scared) at a minimum cost to themselves, and (I don't
know if this was an objective or not) at a relatively low cost in
lives. These weren't people looking to martyr themselves for The Cause,
they were people looking to live to fight (or terrorize) another day.

The net makes both kinds of terrorists more likely, I think.
Propoganda can help recruit both the cold blooded kind of terrorists
and the hot blooded kind, and high-quality instructions can both help
the mail-bomber put together a package that won't blow up in his face,
and help the suicide bomber get his vest or belt or whatever to go off
only when he pulls the cord in the crowded pizza place.

#207 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 10:58 AM:

albatross @ 164: "Yes. It's important to recognize that
the internet allows access to lots of information and contact with new
people and ideas, but it's morally neutral in terms of content."

This is an argument that I hear a lot, and I'm not sure I agree. In
its strong form--that no technology has any moral implications--I think
it's definitely untrue. The invention of nuclear weapons, for example,
is rather more suited to evil ends than to good ones. In more general
terms, morality is subject to economic considerations just like any
other decision. If a technology massively incentivizes selfish, immoral
behavior it is self-evidently a pernicious force in the world.

In its weak form--that the internet is itself neither pernicious nor
beneficial--the argument bears more weight, but I still disagree. I
believe that, on the balance, the internet does more good than bad. The
internet is much more resistant to informational monopoly than, say,
TV. This has had what are to me unquestionably beneficial effects. I'm
sort of a memetic free marketeer: I believe that the more open and free
the debate is, the better solutions emerge. The internet is uniquely
suited to this; more so than any other medium yet invented.

This isn't to say that the internet doesn't have any pernicious
effects. You're absolutely right that it also provides unsavory ideas
the same freedom of expression it provides great ones. But I regard
those as evolutionary dead-ends, doomed to extinction and thus less of
a threat than the great ideas are a boon.

abi @ 168: "But it's also shown me the work of many
binders who are much, much better than me. I may be the best binder in
my village, and one of the better binders in my district, but I am not
the best binder on the net. And sometimes that can be offputting or
discouraging."

Sometimes, though, it's inspiring. I think that the best literature
is the stuff that leaves me thinking, "Wow. I want to go write!"
Sometimes greatness crushes dreams, and sometimes it creates them.

#208 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 11:10 AM:

I've been thinking about Wikipedia, both some of the ways people game the system and some features I wish it had.

First, I think Wikipedia should have a better subversion control
system -- one that doesn't allow Mods to just erase articles or edits
and have them disappear into the ether. (I think Wikipedia is fairly
good about edits -- but not so much about articles).

Second, I really like the way you can look up almost anything on
Wikipedia, but... you're not guaranteed to find anything if you look.
How do you get around that? Well, in Wikipedia, you can set up an
article stub, and hope someone gets around to it sometime. I was
thinking that there should be a way to put a bounty on an article you
really want -- something like the way InnoCentive does with tech
problems.

This was what I came up with (obviously Wikipedia would never
implement this, but some future project might). Everyone who creates an
account gets 100 points, which they can use to place bounties on new
articles, edits, etc.

Once someone writes an article/does an edit with a bounty on it,
everyone who contributed to the bounty gets a msg asking them to vote
on awarding this person the points (except for the editor himself). If,
say, 75% of the pple agree (counting by points), he gets the bounty.

Further points can be purchased (at ~100 points/$1, with the
exchange ratio going up as inflation sets in). The money goes mostly
towards site maintenance. There are a large number of other fillips
I've considered (mostly to patch problems), but this is the basic idea.

What do people think? Please shoot holes in this idea, add things you think could be accomplished by this mechanism, etc.

#209 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 11:17 AM:

Ongoing baseball soap opera update: Yesterday (day game, but I'd
finished my regular work for the month) the AZ team languished for many
innings after Formerly Famous Pitcher gave up 4 runs in the top of the
first inning -- and yes, I did some reading. But they scratched their
way back to within two runs, and in the sixth inning with two out, the
designated hitter came up with a first-pitch home run to tie the game
(which AZ later won).

Soap-operatic element? The DH was one of their pitchers, who had
been out since spraining his ankle while running bases on a game he
pitched last weekend. He limped a bit as he rounded the bases, but
looked very happy. Incidentally, he already has a Silver Slugger award
as a pitcher who can hit, though this was his first home run of the
year.

#210 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 02:55 PM:

I find that online communities are socially analogous to
single-purpose real life communities such as 1. support groups 2. book
clubs 3. knitters circles 4. fan clubs. All of those are useful types
of communities, but they aren't the same as intimate friends, or
families.

There's no reason people from your book club can't become your
intimate friends, however, or join your family; in online life,
distance is the only obstacle, I think. The relative anonymity of
online life might be an obstacle, but a lot of people do wear their
real names out here, and people in support groups often don't share
their full identities. So it's not that different from RL, in my
experience.

#211 ::: C. Wingate ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 05:10 PM:

re 200: Well, may be I can get at this a little better this way: is
Web 2.0 (TM) really "better", or is it simply the next in a series of
addictive things that people do to (accidentally or on purpose) eat up
time? Yes, that's a false dichotomy. But for instance when I put the
1969 B&O/C&O employee rulebook on-line, how much of that was
for the benefit of others, and how much for my benefit, and how much
just to entertain myself? How about when I play World of Warcraft? Or
Blokus?

re 204: I think this is very much the case.

re 207: I think one question that has to be raised is whether the
internet has degraded discourse by lowering the bar in such a way as to
increase the proportion of stupid discourse so as to swamp intelligent
discourse. YMMV, of course, but it seems to me that one of the effects
of the shift from wide open forums, which are severely polluted by
factional rantings and and trolling, is the creation of a lot of quite
close-minded little cells, which act as centers for factional
organization.

Maybe another way to put it is that I'm not that concerned about the
internet as a conduit for "information" (which is to say, knowledge) as
I am about it as a conduit for and shaper of attitudes. Even without
the internet it's easy enough to get information on how to do evil and
destructive things, and on some level a terrorist or mass murderer
killing a couple of people is as bad as one killing a thousand or a
million. I'm therefore much more concerned about their will to do such
things in the first place. Is it worse for people to be getting the
better part of their news (which they may well distrust) from
mainstream media, who on one level are at least trying to do a good
job, than it is for them to be getting it from the websites of cranks?
It's better for me to have the web, but it's better because I'm
educated in the ways of picking apart the sources.

#212 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 05:32 PM:

...how much of that was for the benefit of others, and how much
for my benefit, and how much just to entertain myself? How about when I
play World of Warcraft? Or Blokus?

From Shirkey's talk, I don't think that's the way he's looking at
it. I might be putting up my encyclopedic knowledge of obscure action
figures on Wikipedia solely for my own benefit, but it (potentially)
benefits others as a byproduct. If instead I go downstairs and watch Heroes* or drink gin, only I get the benefit.

We're still using up our free time to suit ourselves, but some of
what we're doing for our own amusment is amusing, and, sometimes,
helping others.

* Which by an astounding coincidence I will be in about 10 minutes

#213 ::: ethan ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 05:59 PM:

I've definitely lost the stuff I was originally going to post at
#40. It was smart, and it was devastating, so I'd appreciate it if
everyone would act suitably impressed and devastated.

This isn't necessarily related, but some part of my brain must see a
connection, because this anecdote has been running through my head
since I first watched Shirky's lecture.

My friend Andy recently told me that he visited his parents' house
while his younger (teenage, still at home) brother was having a party
in the basement. Andy went down into the basement to say hi, and his
brother seemed unexcited to see him, which I guess is unusual. And then
Andy noticed what the "party" consisted of--people sitting around a
table playing cards, each of them listening to different music on
separate iPods, not talking. And while they waited for their turn in
the card game, they would retreat to chairs and play handheld video
games. I have no idea if this is a common type of party for teenagers
nowadays (I'm trying really hard not to say "kids these days"), but it
doesn't seem unlikely.

I guess maybe the connection in my head is that while it may be true
that new technologies are lowering barriers to participation and
creativity, they're simultaneously raising new ones. The idea of
everyone at a party listening to different music is gut-wrenchingly
awful to me, and that's before you consider the fact that they weren't talking to one another at all.

Anyway, um, I'm not really making a point here, because I think
there's still a fundamental difference in the way I interpret what
Shirky's saying and the way a lot of the rest of you have been, but I
thought I'd just throw that in there.

#214 ::: Neil Willcox ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 06:33 PM:

ethan #213 The idea of everyone at a party listening to different
music is gut-wrenchingly awful to me, and that's before you consider
the fact that they weren't talking to one another at all.

One thing I do remember talking about at teenage parties is the
music being played*. But maybe they're texting each other while playing?

Interesting point @40; I don't think I agree but will have to think on it some more.

* "Steve, we've listened to the 12" version of November Rain three times now."

"So?"

"Good point"

#215 ::: miriam beetle ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 06:53 PM:

ethan,

i remember being scandalized the first time (israel, 1999) i saw
someone answer a cell phone at a party, & carry on a long,
non-urgent conversation. then a few months after, i was scandalized the
first time i saw a couple walking together, with one party talking into
his/her cell phone. both of these are now commonplace.

mike hosts a semi-weekly poker night with the boys, & he (&
occasionally other players) will have his ipod on while playing. i
think some professional poker players advise this? for focus or
something. it rubs me the wrong way, but the boys do still converse
pretty constantly around the table.

#216 ::: DavidS ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 07:07 PM:

Malthus 208: "Everyone who creates an account gets 100 points, which they can use to place bounties on new articles, edits, etc.

Once someone writes an article/does an edit with a bounty on it,
everyone who contributed to the bounty gets a msg asking them to vote
on awarding this person the points (except for the editor himself). If,
say, 75% of the pple agree (counting by points), he gets the bounty.

What do people think? Please shoot holes in this idea, add things you think could be accomplished by this mechanism, etc."

One flaw I see is that it is easy for someone to create several
accounts and use them to pay each other bounties. Because each new
account starts with free points, there is an incentive to create
multiple identities.

A technological fix would be to start newcomers at zero, with the initial bounties distributed by the Wikipedia foundation.

Possibly a better fix would for each of us to resolve that, next
time we read a particularly well written Wikipedia article, especially
if it is on an obscure subject, we will write a blog post commending
the editors of that article. Once we establish reputations for doing
this, we can start making requests for new articles.

#217 ::: Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 07:19 PM:

Ha. Shirky's book was delivered by Amazon this afternoon. Now I can see what else he has to say.

#218 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 07:26 PM:

Neil Willcox, I can remember when the music at a teenage party actually prompted a spontaneous change of venue.

Well, I was the one who put the Rocky Horror soundtrack on, but it
was the hostess who noticed that we could still make the midnight show,
and inveigled the boys with drivers' licenses to drive all of us there.

#219 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 08:18 PM:

ethan #213: Well, I was going to comment more on this thread, but
ethan's smart and devastating post #(189 +14i) just kinda said it all.

#220 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 08:47 PM:

Mary Dell, #210: I'd agree, for single-purpose online communities;
they're no different from single-purpose FTF groups. But how would you
categorize ML?

#221 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 10:40 PM:

heresiarch #207:

Yeah, I'd say the internet is broadly a force for good in the world.
But the tools themselves are content-neutral--they differentiate only
along the lines of what kind of communications they can support
(Youtube != Usenet). And I guess it's really hard to say whether the
internet is a force for good or evil until we've seen what becomes of
the world using it in another 50 years or so. (And even then, some
historian still 50 years further in the future will be trying to pick
apart the reasons for the spectacular flowering of art and
science/spectacular coarsening of discourse and ultimate collapse of
first-world societies, with the rise of the internet as only one of
thousands of possible causes.)

I wonder if there are whole areas of science or technology that are
just skewed toward evil. It seems like there are narrow bits of
technology like this (fission bombs, highly addictive drug development,
bioweapon development), but as the field broadens, it has lots of good
and bad applications (nuclear physics, neuropharmacology, genetic
engineering/virology/immunology + whatever part of engineering is
concerned with controlling the propogation of fine dusts). And you can
imagine some really evil uses of even basically benign seeming fields,
like using radio to spread propoganda or to guide bombers/missiles to
enemy cities.

#222 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 11:52 PM:

Caution: This post is pathetic, and I mean that in the literal sense
of being filled with pathos. You can skip it if you want, and I won't
mind.

Kathryn's #177 made me cry. This isn't deeply unusual - "emotional
lability" is a key element in my SSI permanent disability ruling, and
it's been a stressful week, so lots of things drag my mood around.
Nonetheless, it did. I found myself thinking, but how could I convince
a skeptic that the value I think there is in my online friendships is
real?

I've been here before. Transgendered friends of mine tell me that
it's a pretty common experience for them - if someone isn't much
inclined to cut you any slack, there isn't a darned thing you can do to
validate your internal life for them. And at least Kathryn isn't
threatening to cut off my net access, or my medical coverage, for
failing to impress her. And of course I've heard about the travails of
gay parents: how do they prove they're not dangerous perverts to people
not inclined to believe them? There's always somebody willing to tell
you your experience isn't what you think, or doesn't mean what you
think.

Still, though...it's a harsh and uncomfortable place to be in, and I
wish that people who do things I find interesting and important were
slower to push groups I happen to belong to over the edge. How does
someone, particularly someone coming at it with significant physical or
social or psychological disadvantage, convince someone else that
anything that's all in their head nonetheless does exist and mean this
rather than that? And then how do they end up avoiding the "oh, we
didn't mean you, you're a special case" treatment that lets the charge stand for everyone else?

I dunno. I wish I did. I'm tired of being so messed up and
vulnerable and dependent on stuff that's so easily tossed aside by
others, and of having to get geared up once again to make any case for
my life.

#223 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 02:44 AM:

Bruce Baugh: I would tell you that the skeptic doesn't matter to
that. If you, and the folks you hang out with all think it's real; it's
real.

I've been beating my head against a Young Earther at Boing-Boing.
He's unimportant. Someone else might have come in and looked at him,
and had the seeds of doubt sown.

The skeptic was catalyst.

I'm tired, and think I lost the measure of my mind, so I'll leave
you with this, I think my online communications aren't empty calories.

They may be lighter, in some way, than FtF, but I'm not sure of that
either. When Mike, and Gilly died, when I read of the death of some
people on Lj, I was moved, hurt and grieving.

And I knew none of them to say hello to on the street.

#224 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 07:24 AM:

Neither my wife nor I ever met John M. Ford, and all we really knew
of him was what we'd seen here and the five of his books we had, but
when she called me at work to tell me he'd died, she was crying.

Take that for what it's worth, but I'll add this: There's a big gap between pathos and pathetic.

#225 ::: Malthus ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 08:27 AM:

DavidS@217: The multiple identity issue is something of a problem at
Wikipedia as well, and they handle it pretty well via IP logging. You
could add a rule that not only the author of an entry/edit is
prohibited from voting, but so are any other accounts at the same IP.

Furthermore, if you ever buy points for your account, there's a
credit card number tied to the account which provides a further level
of contributor collision checking.

#226 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 08:42 AM:

Lee @#221:

But how would you categorize ML?

Making Light is the equivalent of the semi-regular college house
party that includes members of the Lit, Comp Sci, Music, and
Engineering departments, and to which all of same have brought their
neighbors, friends, or out-of-town visiting relatives. Sometimes
someone who doesn't fit the scene will wander in, and either learn how
to fit in real quick or be shoo'd out of the house.

To extend the metaphor, the various threads are rooms of the house -
some folks will congregate in the kitchen, some around the keg on the
porch, some will go share bong hits in the back yard, and some will
play guitar and sing in the living room.

Some people are even personally known to the hosts, but that's never
essential as long as everyone contributes to the good time.

I miss college. ML is the closest thing I've found since.

#227 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 10:07 AM:

Mary Dell @ 227... I miss college. ML is the closest thing I've found since.

ML is the college-related social life I wish I had had.

#228 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 10:29 AM:

C. Wingate @ 211: "Well, may be I can get at this a little
better this way: is Web 2.0 (TM) really "better", or is it simply the
next in a series of addictive things that people do to (accidentally or
on purpose) eat up time?"

I wonder, how do you classify your interactions on Making Light? Is
it just one of a series of addictive things you do to eat up time? Or
is it something more?

The argument that the internet is nothing more than a big waste of
time is always a little hard for me to deal with, because it is in my
experience so completely untrue. On an average day, I talk to more
people, learn about more new ideas, and get more engaged with the world
via the internet than via the real world. Make fun of the apps on
Facebook all you want, but I've mourned dead friends on that platform.
Don't tell me that isn't real. I assure that it is.

"I think one question that has to be raised is whether the
internet has degraded discourse by lowering the bar in such a way as to
increase the proportion of stupid discourse so as to swamp intelligent
discourse."

I feel like intelligent discourse is flourishing on the net. It's
given room for every voice to speak--if you don't like the discussion
there, then start your own forum, blog, etc. Perhaps it leads to a lot
more stupid (by whatever definition) discussions* than would otherwise
occur, but it doesn't matter. Dumb conversations take nothing from
intelligent ones, except for their dumb contributors (which the smart
conversations wouldn't want anyway.) Essentially, the internet has
greatly lowered the opportunity cost of conversation--there is no
longer a limited amount of conversational space, and having one
conversation need not displace another. One huge constraint on
conversation has been lifted: it is no longer possible for any single
debate to dominate the space.

*I'd also contend that conversations evolve. Even conversations that
start dumb tend to get better over time. Those that don't die out.

"YMMV, of course, but it seems to me that one of the effects of
the shift from wide open forums, which are severely polluted by
factional rantings and and trolling, is the creation of a lot of quite
close-minded little cells, which act as centers for factional
organization."

In my experience, fanatics and assholes have always shown remarkable
skill in finding social groups where their grotesqueries are greeted
with delight. The internet has made that easier, perhaps, but then it
has also made it easier for any isolated individual to find an
accepting community, whether they be gay, punk, feminist, Republican,
or any other variety of weird. For every asshole for whom the internet
reinforced their asshole-ness, there is an isolated kid whom it gave a
reason not to kill her- or himself.

Nor am I convinced that letting people air their insanities makes
them more likely to act on them. None of the shooters I can think of
were egged on by a like-minded social network--in fact, it was their
incredible isolation from the communities around them that drove their
rage. Often, I think, being able to voice one's terrible, anti-social
urges lends one a measure of control. Not always--white power groups
are an obvious exception--but sometimes.

#229 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 10:33 AM:

Serge (#228): Me too.

#230 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 10:46 AM:

ethan @ 213: Wow. I mean...I'll have to think about that.

Bruce Baugh @ 223: Thank you for posting this. It opened my
eyes--I've been trying to defend the internet's potential for emotional
reality without even realizing that here I am, living proof. And you
are living proof. And Serge is, and John is, and Terry Karney is. So is
everyone who has ever been hurt by a flame, or comforted by a *hug*.
Goddamn it, the internet has killed people, and it has married people.
What more do you need, to prove that this is real?

#231 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 11:36 AM:

Heresiarch: That's my feeling about it, and why I've been making
more effort to bring in the emotional side of things as well as my
intellectual responses. (The good ones, too - I think it matters when
something delights me so that I go around smiling every time I think of
it for the rest of the day, or laugh deeply, or whatever.)

#232 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 11:39 AM:

I should note that I met my wife online, fell in love with her
online, courted her online, and have been happily married to her for
four and and half years now.

#233 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 11:49 AM:

Addendum: There's certainly nothing in the net that compels honesty,
and abusers a-plenty; anyone here who didn't already know that would
learn it fast from Teresa and the art of troll whispering. It's just
that there's nothing (I think) innately less honest about the net than
about face-to-face interaction. I think the underlying problems are
about the same, people being people, just with somewhat different
masks. And at its best, the net is good in very much the ways that
phone calls and correspondence can be good, the narrower channels
sometimes actually making it easier to be honest about hard things.
Some things are easier to say when you can pause to compose yourself,
research a point, and so on.

#234 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 11:52 AM:

Fragano @ 233... I met my wife online, fell in love with her online, courted her online

Me, I asked for her hand online. OK, it really was done over the
phone, but I did put one knee on the ground when I popped the question.

#235 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 11:56 AM:

Serge #235: You have style.

#236 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 12:04 PM:

My grandfather proposed to my grandmother by letter. She answered (in the affirmative) by telegram.

Okay, so they originally got to know each other in person. But I'm still seeing parallels.

#237 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 12:41 PM:

#227: Don't forget the quiet people in the corner busily typing away on laptops ...

#238 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 12:59 PM:

Mary Aileen @ 237... Reading that, I feel like I drifted into a steampunk reality.

#240 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 01:22 PM:

Mary Aileen #237:

Sounds like she was quite clear on her priorities.

#241 ::: Bruce Baugh ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 01:52 PM:

There is, I want to add, room for a lot of genuine serious pondering
when it comes to assessing anyone else's interior state, and it's often
sensible to refuse to take another's self-assessment at anything like
face value, even when we have good reason to be confident there's no
deliberate deception. Thomas Friedman comes to mind here - I suspect
that pretty much everyone reading is comfortable saying "No, Tom, the
world isn't at all what you're thinking it is even if those cabbies
actually exist." From there we can stretch to include, oh, Claude
Degler, I guess. The list goes on and on.

I really don't know any good general algorithm for balancing
negative presumptions with positive ones, or any of the rest of
decision-making about it all. Life would be a lot easier for many of us
if we could say "Ah, but this rule tidily sorts out good A from bad B."
So I'm stuck yelping from time to time, which feels like such an
inefficient way to get anywhere.

#242 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 02:03 PM:

Serge (239), joann (241): It was 1928 (1927?), he was in China, she
was in Germany. It took three months for a letter, just a few days for
a two-word telegram ("Yes. Julchen."). Why keep the poor guy in
suspense?

#243 ::: Victoria ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 02:04 PM:

237:

My maternal grandfather proposed to my grandmother via letter and
put the ring in a box of chocolates that was delivered with it. My
great-grandparents put the chocolates in the root cellar so they
wouldn't melt and there was a bit of panic until that got straightened
out.

#244 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 03:03 PM:

Serge, #240: Okay, I just caught a callout that I completely missed
in the original Dark Phoenix storyline -- though this is hardly
surprising, since I'd never even heard of that movie. The character
created by Mastermind to seduce and corrupt Jean Grey is named "Jason
Wyngarde", and he looks exactly like the guy on that cover!

#245 ::: albatross ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 03:09 PM:

Serge #239:

I'm now visualizing the vast banks of electromechanical relays and
teletype machines allowing worldwide IRC chatrooms and MMPGs in a
steampunk world.

Percival sat nervously, smoking a cigar in the dim gaslight of the
room, the constant snapping and popping of relays, the stuttering taps
of the telegraphers, and the deep rippling sound of a page slowly
taking shape on the teletype.

A deep breath. I am being careful enough. Some risks are worth taking.
He repeated it to himself like a mantra, but it no more calmed his
nerves than the cigar, or the somehow shallow voice of the American
woman singing on the Victrola. His heart thumped in his chest as the
boy ran to him with a folded piece of paper. He tipped the boy a penny,
and unfolded the message.

"Oh." He permitted himself no other expression. Again, he reread the paper in horror.

YOU HAVE BEEN EATEN BY A GRUE.



#246 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 03:12 PM:

If we middle-class Americans are too isolated from each other - and
I agree we are - and if the Internet is not a substitute for F2F
contact - and I agree that it's, not (although Internet relationships
are valuable on their own), the solution is not to make an effort to
cut down on the Internet. The solution is, rather, to make an effort to
increase F2F contact.

#247 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 03:19 PM:

Lee @ 245... That's because Peter Wyngarde was the actual
inspiration for 'Jason Wyngarde'. As Paul A once pointed out to me, the
X-men's enemy group, the Hellfire Club, got its name from an episode of
The Avengers in which Peter Wyngarde appeared.

#248 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 03:23 PM:

Albatross @ 246... YOU HAVE BEEN EATEN BY A GRUE

And then some.

#249 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 03:30 PM:

Serge #248:

Not from the original 18th-c. Hellfire Club(s)? (Which of course is where The Avengers got theirs.)

#250 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 02, 2008, 03:54 PM:

joann @ 250... As far as I know, Claremont and Byrne got their Hellfire Club from The Avengers,
but they may have gotten the idea for Jean Grey's 18th Century
illusions from further research about the real Club. (I don't know if
the Club had female members wear corsets as outerwear though.)

#251 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: May 05, 2008, 07:05 PM:

The thread works! Rah!

#252 ::: Paul A. ::: (view all by) ::: May 11, 2008, 03:29 AM:

joann @ #250:

The original historical Hellfire Club may have been an influence, but there are a number of clear references to the Avengers version. The shout-out to Peter Wyngarde is one, and the corsets-as-outwear thing Serge mentions is another: the outfit worn by the Black Queen of the Hellfire Club in the X-Men story is a homage to the outfit worn by the Hellfire Club's Queen of Sin in the Avengers story. (The outfit is not the only thing the respective Queens have in common, either, although I don't know if the other obvious point of resemblance is just a coincidence.)

#253 ::: skip ::: (view all by) ::: May 14, 2008, 05:27 PM:

Hmmm..not a bad piece of video from an entertainment perspective, but as a social critique, I found it thin, masturbatory, self-indulgent and truly lacking in scope in the sense that Shirky so heavily cites post-WW2 TV culture as the defining moment of the spare time glut we now have.

Not a bad first try, dude, but please...do your homework. I'll even give you a hint as to where to start: cheap fossil fuel.

skp

#254 ::: JZ ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2008, 11:10 AM:

Interesting stuff. I will post this to a "cumulative link table" which has alot of interesting links too - http://tinyurl.com/5m5vho and another great link source on knowledge-mapping and techno-democratic stuff is here http://link-bomb.re-configure.org

#255 ::: Jon Meltzer wants four knights to remove this turbulent spam ::: (view all by) ::: May 16, 2008, 11:40 AM:

I'd rather have the Russian any day than this "click on my link" crap.

#256 ::: Kevin St.Onge ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2008, 09:54 AM:

The "cognitive surplus" can be applied to government. All people all over the world can participate collaboratively in a system of truly direct democracy (pure self-governance). Visit mass-collaboration.net and mass-collaboration.net/wiki to help develop this idea so that we can govern ourselves with this cognitive surplus

#257 ::: Serge sees cognitive surplus ::: (view all by) ::: May 19, 2008, 09:57 AM:

Cognitive surplus?

...must... eat... braiiiinnnnnns...

#258 ::: John A Arkansawyer ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2008, 07:27 AM:

Elsewhere, I call bullshit on Clay Shirky. Was he paraphrased correctly? The event was in NYC, so I'm hopeful that someone here was there and can report.

#259 ::: Serge is Sgt. Schultz ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2008, 08:00 AM:

#257 IS spam, right? Or can I really get some cognitive surplus? I know nothing, nothing!!!

#260 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2008, 09:02 AM:

IMHO, #s 257 and 255 are not spam. Exactly. I mean, they're meant to draw in traffic, I suppose, but they're germane to the discussion. They do both have the feeling of a drive-by, but I honestly can't call that spam, it's just an attempt to guide discussion in society as a whole.

What's the opposite of calling shenanigans? Because I think I do that.

#261 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2008, 09:19 AM:

Michael Roberts @ 261... In that case, I stand corrected. I'm really sitting down, but I'm still corrected.

#262 ::: Michael Roberts ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2008, 10:14 AM:

Telegraphing shenanigans?

#263 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: May 20, 2008, 10:28 AM:

"Calling Doctor Shenanigan on line 2, calling Doctor Shenanigan..."

#264 ::: EHL ::: (view all by) ::: June 12, 2008, 11:55 AM:

Isn't it more important to recognise that it seems Shirky wasn't actually making a point at all. He was illustrating the current situation in the growth of social networking/interaction through the internet.

In one place he seems to make a point when he asks 'what is society doing?' but his answer, 'looking for the mouse' seems way off beam. 'Society' is anathema to this discussion as the internet is made of a combination of discrete gorups of people who share an interest. The 'non-line' society is just as fractured. If one looks at 'society' as a human ideal, what is society looking for? Through religion, through gin, through sitcoms, through whatever you may want to call the next 'opiate of the masses', human society has been looking for comfort.

This is why we watch Ricki Lake and Jeremy Kyle, to know that others share the same problems; those same problems are explored through sitcoms, and discussed on the internet. Wikipedia is the exemplar of the 'He Knew He Was Right' mentality. One debate arises in the household, and Wikipedia is there to tell you you were right, to reassure you.

It's not a point about morals, or right and wrong, or who is a loser in a basement with no social network (that's what we call friends)....it's about the fact that people talk to each other. Only now they can do it when they're in different rooms. He's not saying it's bad or it's good, but that it happens.

Isn't that cosy? Isn't it reassuring? If it's not, gin will always be your friend.

#265 ::: leb_girl ::: (view all by) ::: September 04, 2008, 09:50 PM:

I've always been a strong believer in the idea that things should be done in moderation. I think different mediums employ different levels of participant interaction. I wouldnt expect any particularly devastating consequences from soaking in someone else's creative idea(s), as long as it is done in moderation. But then that leaves us with the subjective question of "how much is enough?". I suppose if cognitive surplus can be described in numerical terms, then the hours devoted to different activities each week can be divided equally or there can be more time allocated to more mentally stimulating activities as opposed to ones which are passive.

#266 ::: Bogdan Bivolaru ::: (view all by) ::: October 15, 2008, 08:13 AM:

:: Mary Dell sees spammish comment ::: (view all by) ::: May 01, 2008, 06:04 PM:

#203, Bogdan Bivolaru, first time commenter, is just posting a link back to it/their own site.

I'm sorry it looks like spam - FSDaily.com is just a community news site - like digg - for people interested in free software. When people submit a piece to it usually make a post back to the original author, as I did here.
And although I link to my own post there at FSDaily, it's not my site.

#267 ::: David Harmon sees flattering spam ::: (view all by) ::: September 28, 2010, 05:57 PM:

Which is nevertheless irrelevant.

#269 ::: Stefan Jones sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 12:04 AM:

Get a real job cam girl!

#270 ::: Serge sees SPAM ::: (view all by) ::: December 30, 2010, 12:04 AM:

I agree with myself too.

#271 ::: Carrie S. sees spam ::: (view all by) ::: May 04, 2011, 12:49 PM:

They...really don't get the hint about ML, do they?

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