Monday, May 05, 2008

Your social surplus (and what to do with it)

I know what you're thinking, my social surplus? What the heck is that? And what does it have to do with cycling? Well bear with me for a moment as I give you, my fellow humble bicycle retailer, something to think about.

In my private time I'm deeply involved in social media, you probably know these things as MySpace, Facebook and other media like it - I'm involved in none of those, preferring blogs and of late mobile micro blogging services and networks like Twitter and Utterz for my social media creation/interaction kicks.

Now when I try to explain to folks in the bike industry why social media is important and why they should use it in their businesses, they look at me like I'm nuts and always ask "where do I find the time" or alternatively, "I don't have the time" and to be honest I didn't really had a ready answer for them even though I've often thought long and hard about it.

The reason I was always struck dumb by this response is that I didn't stop to look hard enough at my own media creation efforts and what it had replaced, but the answer was always there, I had stopped watching television, preferring the stimulation and interactivity of the web. In that I'm like a lot of people today.

What I have been unwittingly doing over the past five years is finally putting to use the social surplus created by the time saving tools of modern life, dishwashers, microwaves, fast food, the automobile, urbanism, an efficient roads network, good dentistry, etc, to create something, time I'd used in the past numbly watching Gilligans Island or Seinfeld.

Now don't go thinking I thought this up all by myself, it's true that I have been thinking about this, but it took a smart social thinker to contextualise it in terms we can all understand.

Here comes everybody! Or more accurately here is Clay Shirky in a piece that generated a lot of buzz among social thinkers and which put a bit more flesh on the skeleton of that thinking. It's a really clarifying read that makes you realise that you do have the time to create, not only for yourself but for your bicycle business.

If I had to pick the critical technology for the 20th century, the bit of social lubricant without which the wheels would've come off the whole enterprise, I'd say it was the sitcom. 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.


The best part of the piece is the punchline by the way, because it more than anything else tells you why you should be on the web creating now, your future customers will expect it, in fact I'm betting that you already know this intuitively because you see this behaviour in your kids every day.

Now as Shirky says, this takes a bit of re-training if you're not a Gen Y digital native. It is something that's taken me five years to embed, and something Masi Guy is a natural at, but eventually the process of creating becomes a second skin, something you do naturally and without self consciousness, it's fun and addictive and it will rapidly replace your television viewing once you get into it.

So, what better way is there to spend the time you never thought you had than in helping your business to communicate more directly and creatively with your customers?

And yes, Maryanne was cuter than Ginger, the pony tails always did it for me.

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Posted by Phil at 12:13 AM

3 Comments

  1. Anonymous Mountain bike shocks posted at 1:00 PM  
    Hey I love your blog. Well done!
  2. Anonymous phil posted at 6:00 AM  
    Tim : Care to put your thoughts and comments to this post?
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