Saturday, April 26, 2008

OK Kid, Get Off The Couch and Learn iMovie Already

Clay Shirky spoke recently about something I have pondered - the tragic waste of mental energy that's sunk into TV watching. Rather than suggest Nuremburg-type Trials for TV producers, as I did, Mr. Shirky has a much brighter and optimistic outlook, predicting a future where the people who once sat on the couch watching TV get out into the world (or onto the internet, more or less the same thing) and start producing something. We will finally take advantage of what Clay calls a 'cognitive surplus'. Coincidentally, Clay has a book out, 'Here Comes Everybody'.

Clay concludes with a story about a 4-yr-old watching Dora The Explora who, in the middle of the show, gets up and starts 'looking for the mouse'. Sez Clay:
"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, who won't have to go through the trauma that I have to go through of trying to unlearn a childhood spent watching Gilligan's Island, they just assume that media includes consuming, producing and sharing."
I like Clay's ideas, and I hope he's right (love his hair, hope he wins), but as somebody who caught more than enough of a 'My Little Pony' DVD recently, I'm not sure the 4-yr-olds have totally broken free of the cathode-ray chains. Perhaps I am shirking (ow!) my responsibilities as a parent letting her watch that show, but maybe I'm trapped, paralyzed even, trying to keep up with the feeds on my RSS reader (Google Reader), or emails from work, or whatever (you can't blame the blog, though - I only write here when she's asleep or somewhere else).

Further, though I've enjoyed my iPod and am on board with the goodness podcasting brings, I had a disturbing thought recently. If you're on the phone, talking to somebody, listening to music or podcasts or whatever from the minute you get out of bed until you lose consciousness, how would you even know if there were voices in your head? When would they get a word in?

The situation is still undeniably better than it was 50 years ago. For one thing, 50 years ago I did not even exist. There was no MF Doom, or even Ghostface Killah, and yogurt was still disgusting and fit for consumption only by Greenlanders living in the 1300s. Today the potential is there to do many a worthwhile or interesting or at least participatory or engaging thing (as Shirky points out, the biggest loser sitting in his basement in his underwear pretending to be an elf is still exercising better judgement about what to do with his free time than the middle manager sitting on a really nice couch watching 'The Biggest Loser'.) Even writing this entry which nobody is gonna read or firing off <140 character 'tweets' that scroll up a couple of follower's twitterific windows is better than sitting in a chair smoking a pipe or whatever it was Mr. Cleaver did between dinner and hopping into his twin bed next to June's twin bed. It's just that sometimes I feel overwhelmed by choice. Maybe televised trials of sweating big-media executives would ease the pain a bit and provide a nice distraction for all us poor schlubs after all.

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