Television and Cognitive Surplus of America

After a Friday night out at the bar with a couple friends and some Tangueray and Tonics, I spent most of my Saturday  cleaning and watching TV. No, I wasn’t watching Saturday morning cartoons. Call me a dork, but I watched two episodes of The Universe on the History Channel, followed by 100 Greatest Discoveries on the Science Channel. There was a lot about Light; its properties, the fact that it is the speed limit and constant of the universe, and if us humans would ever be able to develop anything to travel as fast as it. Of course, along with this discussion comes cool things like time travel. I learned some things, and it was a pretty interesting time.

This isn’t uncommon for me though. Whether it was decline of quality network TV programming (with some exceptions) over the years, or the fact that I’ve grown up and learned to think and reason, I’ve turned to some other options. I pretty much only watch espn, comedy central, and the history, science, and discovery channel. It gives me pretty much everything I need; sports news, funny stuff, and an education. Ok, maybe watching overpaid college dropouts half-assing it isn’t always quality TV, but hey, I have my vices too.

10 years ago I would never had said that I enjoy learning, but I do now. I really, really do.  I wouldn’ve said it, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the case. I was the kid who claimed to hate school, then I would go home and catch some Bill Nye the Science Guy, or The Magic School Bus. Cleverly disguised programs for kids that educated and entertained. The thing was, they were found mostly on the ‘not-cool’ channels such as PBS. Do these exist today? Kids need to watch more Morgan Freeman-narrated series about space, and less

I think about the topic of Cognitive Surplus, which I’ve seen in the news recently. This basically deals with what us Americans do with our free time. Do we read, have hobbies, invent things, write blogs, or sit on our thumbs and twirl? Unfourtunately, the studies suggest we watch TV, something like 200 billion hours of cognitive surplus a year are wasted sitting on the couch watching presumably network televesion, aka garabge.

The idea is that, with the help of the internet, Americans’ cognitive surplus is at least beginning to be used for more intelligent purposes. The prime example is Wikipedia, which is basically people using their free time to publish accuarte (mostly) information about people and things, from Daniel Tosh to String Theory. This is much more productive than sitting in front of your TV, and MUCH more productive than sitting behind your TV. They say WIkipedia, in it’s now pretty much comeplete form (with the exception of updates here and there) took about 100 million hours of cognitive surplus to create. Even something like updating yourTwitter and Facebook statuses is slightly more useful than not doing so. At least it gets you thinking.

I hope it’s at least a growing trend. If you compare the 100 million hours to create something like Wikipedia to the 200 billion hours we spend watching TV, who knows what is actually possible if we would stop being lazy assholes. I belive that blogging (even mine) is a step in the right direction. I dont have to be here on wordpress writing about my thoughts, but I choose to. An even though my articles may not ever be as popular as something like Wikipedia, at least I am thinking. I would think regardless, but forcing myelf to write about my thoughts helps to develop them more fully, all while working on my writing skills. I may even start researching things a little more instead of just working off of memory.

On the other hand, TV could really be a great use of our collective cognitive surplus if it was ever used properly. If the oh-so-ominous ‘They’ ever got their shit together, realized the impact they have on society, took some responsibility for their actions, and developed TV programs that actually educate, engage, and inform, who knows what would be possible.

The people at the Science, History, and Discovery Channels seem to know this. One can watch these programs, as I have been, and legitimately learn things. Really interesting things. You might actually think while watching programs on these channels. Imagine if it didn’t take kids until college to realize this (maybe). What if kids came home from elementary school and watched programs directed at their intelligence level, so they can learn even more than they may or may not have learned in school. What if kids could continue to learn at home, and actually want to do so. With dumb-ass initiatves such as No Child Left Behind holding back the majority of kids from learning more in order to accomodate one or two slow kids, what if they could make up for it at home?

Sadly, the ass-tards in control of basic cable networks like ABC, NBC, CBS will probably never realize this, especially in a capitalistic society where idiotic programming gets ratings, sells ads, and makes profit. It says something very, very sad about our culture when channels that play reality TV shows like The Bachelor are provided at no charge, while real reality TV programming that will teach you and help to develop you as a person will cost you extra.

So far, all signs point to a future as seen in the movie, Idiocracy.

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