Put your ‘cognitive surplus’ to work in the community
A year and a half since launching Tenth to the Fraser, we are often asked, “Where do you find the time?” In truth, sometimes we don’t. Regular readers may notice we sometimes go days, or even weeks without an original blog post (though we do have an almost-daily stream of New West links & updates via Facebook and Twitter) because, well, life gets in the way. But considering we are juggling work, family life with a preschooler and an infant, a dog who needs walking and a number of extra-curricular activities including Royal City Farmers Market meetings and the occasional Tweetup, Residents’ Association meeting or Historical Society presentation … we do pretty well I think.
But back to the question. My pat answer to, “Where do you find the time,” is that we don’t have cable television. As Seth Godin said in his post today about why he doesn’t watch (any!) TV: “there are so many other things on the buffet that I prefer.”
Really, it’s all about priorities. If you don’t think you have the time for something you value, then you need to take a step back and re-evaluate how you’re spending the time you have. Before cutting our cable, I often felt like television just wasn’t good enough to warrant the time I spent on it. But still I watched out of habit.
Television sedates the restlessness I feel inside that motivates me to act on my dreams. When we cut our cable, it freed me to make better use of my time. Sometimes I read. Sometimes I blog. These days, I often spend my nights trying to soothe one or both children to sleep. And now and then we do watch a movie or a TV show via DVD or streaming video on the computer. But when we do it’s a clear choice, not just a lazy default.
Godin links to a 2008 speech from Clay Shirky about an idea he calls the “cognitive surplus.”
Starting with the Second World War a whole series of things happened–rising GDP per capita, rising educational attainment, rising life expectancy and, critically, a rising number of people who were working five-day work weeks. 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.
And it’s only now, as we’re waking up from that collective bender, that we’re starting to see the cognitive surplus as an asset rather than as a crisis. We’re seeing things being designed to take advantage of that surplus, to deploy it in ways more engaging than just having a TV in everybody’s basement.
Shirky points out that redirecting even 1% of the time most of us squander on bad TV could power 100 Wikipedia-sized projects a year.
Here’s the question I’d like you to ponder: what could you do in your community if you took 10% of the time you now spend watching TV and put it towards accomplishing the changes you wish to see? Pretty much anything you could do would be more likely to build relationships with others in our community than losing another hour of your life to a show you don’t even like all that much.
Here are some ideas:
- Write a guest post for a blog
- Start your own blog
- Volunteer with a community organization
- Start a new community event
- Start or improve your own business
- Start a vegetable garden in your yard
- Join or start a community garden
- Offer to help a neighbour
- Pick up garbage in your neighbourhood
- Take a walk
- Learn a new skill
- Improve your home
- Go to a community event
- Have your neighbours over for dinner
- Organize a games night
- Go to the gym
- Cook a really good meal
- Write your financial plan
- Read a book
- Take up a hobby
Etc., etc. There is so much in this world to experience. Instead of escaping into sitcoms and soap operas about life in New York, Chicago, LA or other places far away, carve out a little time for the life you live here.