The adjacent possible

The adjacent possible is a kind of shadow future, hovering on the edges of the present state of things, a map of all the ways in which the present can reinvent itself.

The strange and beautiful truth about the adjacent possible is that its boundaries grow as you explore them. Each new combination opens up the possibility of other new combinations. Think of it as a house that magically expands with each door you open. You begin in a room with four doors, each leading to a new room that you haven't visited yet. Once you open one of those doors and stroll into that room, three new doors appear, each leading to a brand-new room that you couldn't have reached from your original starting point. Keep opening new doors and eventually you'll have built a palace.

Cognitive surplus: creativity and generosity in a connected age

Just in the United States, Clay Shirky maintains, we collectively watch about 200 billion hours of TV every year. For a vast majority of us, watching TV is essentially a part-time job.

What would the world be like if many of us quit our TV-watching gigs? Critics of television have long lamented its opportunity costs, but Shirky’s inquiry into what we might join together to do instead if we weren’t watching TV isn’t as fantastical as previous efforts. That’s because for the first time since the advent of television, something strange is happening — we’re turning it off. Young people are increasingly substituting computers, mobile phones and other Internet-­enabled devices for TV.

The time we might free up by ditching TV is Shirky’s “cognitive surplus” — an ocean of hours that society could contribute to endeavors far more useful and fun than television. With the help of a researcher at I.B.M., Shirky calculated the total amount of time that people have spent creating one such project, Wikipedia. The collectively edited online encyclopedia is the product of about 100 million hours of human thought, Shirky found. In other words, in the time we spend watching TV, we could create 2,000 Wikipedia-size projects — and that’s just in America, and in just one year.