200 Billion Hours?


Reading Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus slammed home for me something I already knew, but hadn’t crystallised in my mind. We don’t have a financial crisis; we have a productivity crisis. We (and I’m talking mostly North America here, but yes; you’re guilty here too Australia) don’t really produce anything anymore. I know that’s a gross generalisation, but in general, we outsourced out productivity to China. 

What did we do in the meantime? We watched TV. We watched lot’s of TV.

Clay’s estimation is that Americans alone watch 200 Billion Hours of TV each year. Yes, that’s a “B”.

I don’t know about you, but that number floors me. That’s more than 2 million years of TV watched cumulatively, by Americans; every year…!

I know. I’m not done…

Clay also says that the average person born in 1960 has already watched 50,000 hours of TV; and will likely watch another 30,000 hours before he or she checks out. Let me do the math for you. That’s 5.7 years of TV watched already! Another 3.4 to go…

This can’t go on. I know some of you thought I was joking when I wrote about “Throwing away your TV” (It’s in the e-report “Your Move”; top right hand corner at www.warren-macdonald.com). 

No, I was not joking.

Questions for you:
I’m praying that these statistics don’t apply to you, but if they do…

1/ How does that make you feel that you’ll likely spend 3.4 years out of the next 30 or so watching TV? Is that really what you want to do?
2/ Imagine what you could do if you decided on a path, and dedicated the next 3.4 years to making it happen? Imagine what you could achieve?

So, armed with the above information, and having settled on what it is that you’ll do with your additional 3.4 years (or more if you were born after 1960), you need a next step. A first step. I’ve done the work and figured it out for you:

Step 1/ Throw away your TV.

That should get you on the right track to move on to step two…

I’d love to hear your thoughts on ideas on what we might do collectively with all this new-found extra 

time. Clay’s book talks about Wikipedia being built with just 100 million hours of human thought. What else could we create with the 19,900,000,000 hours left over?

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.


Archived Comments


  1. Quinn says:

    October 19, 2010 at 5:54 pm

    Those numbers blow me away – especially considering I watched T.V. for 3 hours last night. Personally, I’ll start small and finish the painting I started 2 months ago, learn the last half of “Freak” by Smashing Pumpkins I started on guitar 3 weeks ago and finally start the Spanish lessons I bought 5 years ago!

    It’s tough to wrap my head around what we could do collectively. The possibilities really seem limitless. I think everyone needs to start with some small goals but keep a big picture in mind. 

    Our muscles probably have so much atrophy at this point from sitting on the couch that our only option is to start small 


  2. Mary Helwig-Hall says:

    October 28, 2010 at 9:13 pm

    we still have ‘rabbit ears’ TV, and refuse to get cable or satellite. Why? Who wants to pay for crap… If they’d let me subscribe to ONLY Discovery and History Channel, then we’d have a deal. Otherwise fuhgeddaboudit! It’s better to go to the public library and borrow movies, documentaries etc and watch when you have the time… and yes, we avoid the couch as much as possible!


  3. Warren Macdonald says:

    October 28, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    That’s great Mary; glad to hear about your “couchaphobia”!


  4. Jennifer says:

    September 17, 2012 at 12:17 pm

    I don’t think that TV is healthy or a good consumer choice, considering that it’s a tool that is used for subliminally manipulating the watchers… not all evil, but it’s quite the crap-shoot. However, I DID first hear about you on “I Shouldn’t Be Alive,” on TV. 

  5. Warren Macdonald says:

    September 18, 2012 at 7:49 am

    Jennifer, I hear you  You’re right; there are some good programs; but like the internet, it’s all about how we use television that’s important. I sometimes use it when I’m travelling on a speaking tour to turn my brain off at the end of the day. I think that was the scary realisation for me; that here I was turning my brain off for a couple of hours a month; yet we as a culture are turning our brains of for hours a NIGHT….