wasting our time

i saw an excellent article by clay shirky comparing modern television with gin during the industrial revolution

the gist of it is that society encountered a new situation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  a smaller portion of the population could produce a surplus of food, so people moved to cities where “the work” was.  gin gave people a release from the new social pressures of so many people compressed together in the new industrial work environments.  over time, patterns of relationship and behavior adapted to the new situation and the collective binge came to an end.

the late 20th, early 21st century has its own challenge.  we have too much time.  “pshaw”, you say, “i don’t have any extra time.”  but that’s a result of the cure, not of the disease. 

try to wrap your mind around this statistic.  shirky states that in the u.s. alone, we spend 200 billion hours a year watching television.  that’s about 313,000 75-year lifetimes of 24×7 television.  his idea is that we “needed” tv to soak up our excess time just like 100 years ago they “needed” gin.

in addition to television hours i’d add the hours of videos, spectator sports, gaming – all the things that generally fit in the “entertainment” bucket.  in fact, we’ve become a culture obsessed with – what former generations would call – wasting our time.


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