At the Web 2.0 conference, Clay Shirky gave a talk called Gin, Television, and Social Surplus. In it, he argues that the “social surplus” soaked up in the latter half of the 20th century by television is now being put to better use on the internet.
For the first time, society forced onto an enormous number of its citizens the requirement to manage something they had never had to manage before—free time. And what did we do with that free time? Well, mostly we spent it watching TV. We did that for decades. We watched I Love Lucy. We watched Gilligan’s Island. We watch Malcolm in the Middle. We watch Desperate Housewives. Desperate Housewives essentially functioned as a kind of cognitive heat sink, dissipating thinking that might otherwise have built up and caused society to overheat.
But maybe it’s possible that the internet is a slightly more sophisticated (or slightly more cognitive) cognitive heat sink?