Bloggers I follow are buzzing about the Clay Shirky talk on the post-TV cognitive surplus. I understood it as "Passive TV-style media is going away, replaced by the interactive Internet, and now we'll all use our free time being busy content creators."
His actual talk, however, was more nuanced and believable than a simple, en-masse transition of humanity from passive consumers to active creators. He managed to address two shortcomings I predicted with cognitive surplus.
TV is fodder for social interaction. When my coworkers chat about the TV shows Lost or 30 Rock, I can't do much but smile and nod, because I watch very little TV. In the workplace, opting out of TV talk is a real sacrifice. In diverse contemporary society, what can you chat with people about, without risk of confusion or giving offense? It's just easier to have safe common experiences outside of work to talk about.
However, Shirky was careful to emphasize that even a small amount of redirected TV time could spawn multiple Wikipedias per year of Net content. If it only takes a little attention to contribute, it's easy to see people playing an online game or posting to an online community while watching TV. They're doing it now, all the time.
TV is rest time. People like being passive. Depending on what you read, television is either the world's most tranquilizing addiction, or a cognitively demanding cultural simulator. Either way, for a long time pundits doubted the PC would ever replace the TV, because peoples' behavior is quite different using these two mediums. No one "watches computer," and no one "uses TV." It's not easy to find exactly what the difference is. Supporting these naysayers, hybrid systems like WebTV and the Apple TV have had no great commercial success.
In the past ten years, though, television has evolved into convergence with personal computing.
Or rather, the TV interface, not the content, is much more like computers now. Tivo changed everything, and new TV sites like Hulu promise to change things further.
My take is that we still must make online content creation easier. It's great that people can watch less TV, but creating anything interesting online is still inconsistent and frustrating for most people. We need standardized widgets for common functions, so that every rich interface isn't a new learning experience for users. We must clearly communicate state in Web applications, so people always know what to expect from our tools. And we need very quick feedback and results when using these applications.