Hope for the Future: Less TV, More Brainpower!

As with any generation, our kids are our hope for the future. But having just posted over on my private offshore banking blog some more doom and gloom about the wild machinations in the commodities markets and the likelihood of a default on US Treasury bills, I thought I might cheer up Q Wealth blog readers with something more positive!

Our kids might be getting bored with watching TV. That’s good news. I just received the first issue of a thought provoking new newsletter from Vera Verba called Individual Virtue, which describes itself as “The Journal of Courage, Honesty, Self-Respect & Achievement.”

According to Individual Virtue, an intellectual called Clay Shirky has come up with a new theory: Cognitive Surplus. Cognitive means related to thinking; surplus means extra. Get to the point, you are saying. Well, here’s the idea…

Following the Second World War, America had something truly new – millions of people with free time on their hands. In other words, masses of people with idling brains: A cognitive surplus.

So, what did people do with all of this new free time? They watched TV… for many hours, nearly every day of their lives. Collectively, Americans watch 200 billion hours of television per year.

But this, reports Clay, is beginning to change. There are a number of reasons to think that he may be right, but Individual Virtue gives you his example:

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, and I can vouch for this based on my own kids: Media that’s targeted at you, but doesn’t include you, may not be worth sitting still for.

If Clay is right, and if people do finally pull themselves away from their flashing images, the consequences could be staggering. Those 200 billion hours of TV watching are equal to the creation of 2,000 Wikipedias, every year. Think about that for a moment.  This cognitive surplus is huge, even if only one quarter of us cut back on our TV-watching and do something half productive.

How will this little girl spend her time as she grows up? What if she spends half of her cognitive surplus doing something productive with that mouse, rather than sitting like a zombie in front of a TV? And what if her peers do the same? There are going to be some big changes happening. Very positive changes.

Doing something is almost always better than doing nothing. On the other hand, if you do nothing, you are – and remain – a zero, a non-event.

Looking to the future, what results can we expect from this cognitrive surplus? How can you as an individual harness this power, either for investment purposes or in your life? These are the kinds of questions we answer in each quarterly issue of The Q Wealth Report. If you are wary of signing up for a product you are not familiar with, please note that we now have a “try before you buy” promotion where you can instantly download a free sample back issue of The Q Wealth Report. Simply enter your email address in the box in the sidebar now and benefit also from a free subscription to Q Bytes, the best of Q Wealth in your inbox!

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