In an amazing article, "Gin, Television, and Social Surplus", Clay Shirky talks about how our culture is evolving in the way we spend our spare time.
It starts with the fact that over the last century, people have gained "free time"; before industrialization, most folks just struggled to survive. About the same time, TV came around - so what did most people do when they were not working? Of course, we watched TV.
But along comes the Internet, and people started spending time there, too. And now, Web 2.0 has started a trend of interaction, as opposed to the static "just throw it at me" of web 1.0.
He charts the time of people's television habits of the last century (couch potatoes!), and compares it to the "consume,... produce..., share..." mindset of today's average internet user. And then goes on to challenge traditional media to say why this change would not be beneficial.
He ends the article with something that reminds me of my own childen:
I was having dinner with a group of friends about a month ago, and one of them was talking about sitting with his four-year-old daughter watching a DVD. And in the middle of the movie, apropos nothing, she jumps up off the couch and runs around behind the screen. That seems like a cute moment. Maybe she's going back there to see if Dora is really back there or whatever. But that wasn't what she was doing. She started rooting around in the cables. And her dad said, "What you doing?" And she stuck her head out from behind the screen and said, "Looking for the mouse."
Here's something four-year-olds know: A screen that ships without a mouse ships broken. Here's something four-year-olds know: Media that's targeted at you but doesn't include you may not be worth sitting still for. Those are things that make me believe that this is a one-way change. Because four year olds, the people who are soaking most deeply in the current environment.... just assume that media includes consuming, producing and sharing.
It is true that while I grew up with the Jetsons and Star Trek (one way media), and keep waiting for all those cool innovations to come along, my sons are experiencing some of them now! And like the girl in Clay's article, they are not just content to sit and wait to see what the TV will throw at them. Case in point: My three and a half year old runs into the room where he knows I'm working. He waves the little dinosaur toy he has been playing with at me and says, "Mama, what is the name of this one? Can we look it up on the Internet?" So, I use up some of my "spare time" to do as he requests. The answer? A Dimetredon. Now, I've even learned something!
Photo Credit, Floresita.