NextBurgh, PA          @VannevarB      About      Pittsburgh Murals
February 03, 2009

Cognitive Capital in a Zero-Sum Timebox

I haven't blogged in a week because I needed to spend time updating my website. I haven't overhauled my site in eight years, although I've updated all sorts of other people's websites. My monthly self-loathing at repeatedly carrying over "update biz site" from month to month in my planner finally overwhelmed my core competencies of procrastination and inertia, and now I've got it done.

It was apparent to me that I couldn't work the website and keep up the blog entries. There's a tradeoff. Keeping a blog, just like keeping a journal, takes time. Time's a precious resource.

blog timeWhere does the time spent blogging come from? Not only in my own puny life, but from across the whole blogosphere?

A timebox is a project management phrase used to express strict time boundaries around a task - you can wiggle with the scope/accomplishments but you can't change the total time, which is a lot like Life, now that I think about it.

My timebox is fixed -- any time spent on This occurs at the cost of That. It's a zero-sum constraint. To the extent that we are able to make decisions about time, and to the extent that they're good decisions, we're effective.

zero sumI remember LBB (Life Before Blogs) and there weren't a lot of people sitting around with an extra 3.5 hours each week wondering, gosh what to do with this time? Now there are a lot of people spending 3.5 hours each week blogging. That's a change. This new activity happens at the cost of displaced activities. What wins, what loses?

cognitive capitalIt's not just time, although that's the easiest metric; it's also our thoughtfulness, it's our mindshare, it's that we spend time thinking about This rather than That. It's an allocation of cognitive capital, which opens the door to economic analysis. Which makes me wonder: Are we as rational with our time and mindshare as we are with our money?

What are we doing less of? If the blogs and the web are winning the battle for time, what is losing the battle? What is suffering from reduced attention that may have moved to the internet? I would suggest (1) newspapers and (2) television and maybe (3) novels are losing mindshare.


The intellectual arguments of the Revolutionary Way were inspired by pamphleteers. Later newspapers came to be the place where public discourse was found, and so at times we grant newspapers special status as the Fourth Estate, the bulwark of democracy, and we even toy with giving journalists "rights" that are not enumerated in the Constitution. Newspapers are just advertising with stories and opinions printed on the back, in order to get you to scan the ads. Now you don't have to put up with the ads to read stories of interest.

But If the papers die when the ads go away, then maybe their essential nature is that they're shills for the ad budgets. Have you seen any one-star movie ratings in a newspaper lately? In the same way, television is a series of advertisements embedded in stories and pictures, and people aren't going to KDKA or WPXI the way they used to.

I used to feel a bit smug about how little television gets watched in my house, and then I saw us each sitting with our laptops and I wondering if we haven't just substituted laptop screens for the TV screen. Even on potential "snow delay" days, where my generation went to TV and radio, today my kids are on the web.

The question I'd like to ask bloggers is: what have you stopped doing in order to have blog time?

1 comments:

Schultz said...

Thank you for bringing up pamphleteers. Political bloggers are basically 21st century pamphleteers who us their blog to both influence and inform. I write at two blogs. The only difference between now and my LBB is that I spend less time watching TV nowadays.

Post a Comment

Comments and Feedback? Love that stuff. Please leave your thoughts in the box below--