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July 02, 2010

Now don't tell me I've nothin' to do


Clay Shirky gave a polished performance at the Watershed in Bristol the other night for his talk, Our Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age, given as part of the Bristol Festival of Ideas. One would expect nothing less of course.

The basic premise of the talk was that a combination of free time, talent, goodwill (our 'cognitive surplus') and the social Web are now allowing things to happen in ways that were previously not possible. The talk was peppered with anecdotal evidence for the kinds of changes being wrought by new technology and social media, from struggles for women's rights in India thru to changes of government policy on the environment (specifically car-sharing) in Canada and, yes, even to our use of Lolcats.

The individual examples were all new to me, though I've seen the general theme being covered several times before, using different examples of much the same thing. For me, there was a certain sense of, "Well, yes... but so what?" - perhaps I missed something? - though, oddly, that didn't detract from a very enjoyable evening.

Listening to the talk though did cause me to question my own use of social networks, something that I actually find quite hard to justify in any rational sense.

Here's an example...

For the last 574 days I have taken a photograph every day and put it on Blipfoto.com along with a few words of text. Blipfoto is a photo-blogging site - a social network, at least at the level of the number of "Wow... nice image" type comments that get exchanged, though it probably comes closer to the Lolcats end of the spectrum than the 'changing the planet' end. I probably spend somewhere between 30 minutes and an hour and a half on each photo - by the time I've taken the photo, editied it, uploaded it, written some text and so on. That probably represents something like 400 hours of my life over the last couple of years. Boggle!

To which one might sensibly ask, "Why?". And I don't think I'd be able to give you a coherent answer to such a question.

It's the closest thing I have to an artistic outlet I guess - which is certainly not a bad thing. My photography is getting better... maybe? There's a slight competetive element to it, both in the sense of forcing oneself to do something every day and in the sense of getting good comments and ratings. And there's the "Woo hoo... this is me... I'm over here" type of thing going on as well I suppose (something that is present in all social networks). But beyond that I'm not sure I can offer any rationalisation that will convince either you or me about why I am doing it? I'm certainly not making the world a better place with my time, whereas I could be. I could use that time to be a governor of a school again. Or use it to edit Wikipedia. Or to spend additional time working on my local school's website. Or to campaign on environmental issues. Or any number of other things. I could even do some private consultancy and make some money!

But I don't do any of those things... instead, I spend my time faffing around with a camera and a website in the vain hope of getting one or two positive comments from people that I've never met and who I will probably never meet.

Or as the Statler Brothers put it:

Countin' flowers on the wall
That don't bother me at all
Playin' solitaire till dawn with a deck of fifty-one
Smokin' cigarettes and watchin' Captain Kangaroo
Now don't tell me I've nothin' to do
[Photo created using Autostitch on an iPhone 3G]


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