Gin, Television and Social Surplus

From Clay Shirky‘s speech at the Web 2.0 Conference, April 24, 2008. In this excerpt, Shirky responds to an oft-asked question about participatory culture and “surplus cognition”:

I was being interviewed by a TV producer to see whether I should be on their show, and she asked me, “What are you seeing out there that’s interesting?”

I started telling her about the Wikipedia article on Pluto. You may remember that Pluto got kicked out of the planet club a couple of years ago, so all of a sudden there was all of this activity on Wikipedia. The talk pages light up, people are editing the article like mad, and the whole community is in an ruckus–“How should we characterize this change in Pluto’s status?” And a little bit at a time they move the article–fighting offstage all the while–from, “Pluto is the ninth planet,” to “Pluto is an odd-shaped rock with an odd-shaped orbit at the edge of the solar system.”

So I tell her all this stuff, and I think, “Okay, we’re going to have a conversation about authority or social construction or whatever.” That wasn’t her question. She heard this story and she shook her head and said, “Where do people find the time?” That was her question. And I just kind of snapped. And I said, “No one who works in TV gets to ask that question. You know where the time comes from. It comes from the cognitive surplus you’ve been masking for 50 years.”

So how big is that surplus? So if you take Wikipedia as a kind of unit, all of Wikipedia, the whole project–every page, every edit, every talk page, every line of code, in every language that Wikipedia exists in–that represents something like the cumulation of 100 million hours of human thought. I worked this out with Martin Wattenberg at IBM; it’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it’s the right order of magnitude, about 100 million hours of thought.

And television watching? Two hundred billion hours, in the U.S. alone, every year. Put another way, now that we have a unit, that’s 2,000 Wikipedia projects a year spent watching television. Or put still another way, in the U.S., we spend 100 million hours every weekend, just watching the ads. This is a pretty big surplus. People asking, “Where do they find the time?” when they’re looking at things like Wikipedia don’t understand how tiny that entire project is, as a carve-out of this asset that’s finally being dragged into what Tim calls an architecture of participation. (

Gary Settles’ Schlieren Films

Prof. Settles grew up on a farm in eastern Tennessee. His interest in fluid dynamics, optics, and experiments began in his teen years with the construction of miniature subsonic and supersonic wind tunnels, the latter of which won awards at the 1967 International Science Fair and was featured in the Amateur Scientist section of Scientific American magazine. He gained industrial and laboratory experience through summer appointments at the US Naval Ordnance Lab, NASA’s Ames Research Center and the Boeing Company, where he worked on both 747 and SST aerodynamics. He studied at the University of Tennessee under an Alcoa Foundation scholarship, receiving the Bachelor of Science Degree with honors in Aerospace Engineering in 1971. Settles book, entitled Schlieren and Shadowgraph Techniques, was published by Springer-Verlag in September 2001. (PSU Gas Dynamics Lab)

Vertical Farms for NYC

New York magazine asked four architects to dream up proposals for a lot on Canal Street and Work AC came up with this. “We thought we’d bring the farm back to the city and stretch it vertically,” says Work AC co-principal Dan Wood. “We are interested in urban farming and the notion of trying to make our cities more sustainable by cutting the miles [food travels],” adds his co-principal (and wife) Amale Andraos. Underneath is what appears to be a farmers market, selling what grows above. Artists would be commissioned to design the columns that hold it up and define the space under: “We show a Brancusi, but it could be anyone,” says Wood. (treehugger)

Absolut Quartet

The Absolut Quartet is essentially a marimba played by rubber balls that fall on to the keys after having being shot into the air by 50 miniature robotic cannons. You can “interact” with the quartet using an on-screen keyboard.

But if you think that sounds cute and no big deal, think again.

First, the quartet doesn’t just reflect back what you keyed in. It “creates” its own music based on your composition, and plays that back.

What is more, the music you and the rest of the world hear and see on screen isn’t just the video and sound of the marimba being “played” by flying rubber balls – the quartet’s other no less bizarre instruments are also played at the same time.

They include a number of percussive, drum-like sound-producing devices, and a set of spinning wineglasses rubbed by robotic fingers.

Dan Paluska and Jeff Lieberman are the two US robotics, artificial intelligence and contemporary music developers who built the quartet for Swedish vodka company, Asbolut.

They are seriously off-beat characters, both previously postgraduate students at MIT’s famous artificial intelligence and media labs. Since graduating both have been involved in projects blending art, music and technology.

Paluska, for example, attracted attention with his Holy Toaster, a device that is said to “miraculously produce a perfect imagine of holiness on every piece of toast that emerges from it.” (

[The Absolut Quartet is available for interaction and viewing online between the hours of 9AM and 11PM EST at]

Realtime Art Manifesto

Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn are new media artists who have embraced realtime 3D game technology as their artistic medium of choice. Realtime 3D is the most remarkable new creative technology since oil on canvas. It is much too important to be wasted on computer games alone. This manifesto is a call-to-arms for creative people (including, but not limited to, video game designers and fine artists) to embrace this new medium and start realizing its enormous potential. As well as a set of guidelines that express our own ideas and ideals about using the technology. (Tale of Tales)

Mobile Experience Lab Projects – Summer 08

Cross-media whiz Jim Monroe has recently been working as a consultant and project coordinator at OCAD’s Mobile Experience Lab, and it looks like he’s been in the groove. The Lab’s upcoming suite of projects designed for deployment on and around Queen Street in Toronto are inspiring and often quite humorous. My favorite is “Your News Box,” a newspaper box that contains a screen displaying a fictional newspaper’s front page, which passers-by can alter and customize using their cell phones.

Link: No Media Kings.


Amagatana is a mystical sword for enjoying the blithe feeling after the rain. When you swing Amagatana, you can hear the sound of swords clashing from the headphone. Amagatana seems to be just a plastic umbrella. You also seem just like a cheerful person when you are playing Amagatana. However, the umbrella exists beautifully in your hand as a “sword”. On your way home, Amagatana offers you the world of make-believe. Then, you will be able to get a feel for heroes of comics, cartoon, and video games. It’s your own pleasure, which nobody can notice. (Yuichiro Katsumoto)