Consuming Versus Creating

Arantxa Treva

My wife and I just finished season seven of Game of Thrones – we watched it all in two months. I justified that to myself by thinking, “Well, there’s only 10 episodes per season, and I didn’t even watch the first season.” As I joined in with my wife for the second season, I found myself wondering if it was actually good or if there was a spell where the magic formula of HBO combined with the lore of George R. R. Martin’s books along with a heavy dose of advertising “made” it good. When I reported to others I had finally watched it, I was surprised by how many had already seen it. It was as if the rest of the world has been waiting for me to catch up before winter comes. I’ve never had HBO and assumed, that most everyone didn’t either. We did a trial of it through a streaming service because that was the only service that had the final  ”50 Shades of Gray” movie [maybe I’ll write an explanation about that another time]; later, while trying to make the most of the trial, GoT came into play and we decided to “cut back” by getting rid of one streaming service and replacing it with HBO.

The Home Box Office experience has been puzzling to me. I’ve watched several of the buzzworthy shows from the last few years and have been intrigued by them. At this point, though, I don’t have a reason to keep watching. These forays into entertainment have been engaging, but more so, it’s reinvigorated this debate in my head about the idea of consumption versus creation. We’re swimming in a sea of entertainment and stimuli. Need a jolt? Pull out your phone and consume what Facebook and Instagram serve up to you through all your “friends”. Our default action has become lying in bed watching Netflix or pulling out our phones at the first sign of dullness. Processing episode after episode of season after season or scrolling through update after update, picture after picture. Our conversations start with, “Have you seen…?

Our culture is in consume now mode and there has never been a time throughout history when we’ve had this much content to consume. There are so many enlightening and educational or dumb and irrelevant things delivered to us in a variety of buffets. The plethora of content is staggering1. The dominance of these mediums is so dominant, it is the only thing we see any more. It begs the question: why should I surrender to this tidal wave of indulgence?

I partake in this stream of ever-flowing information, entertainment, statuses, and time-wasting, but at a certain point I become restless. I fidget in my bed or on my couch. I need something more. I do not want simple entertainment. I want to create. To produce. To develop something for the entertained because I don’t like the way it feels to be the audience and never the entertainer. That strikes an interesting chord in me: is entertainment wrong? Is it wrong to consume? My immediate impulse says no. Creative production is meant for consumption – and it’s been that way long before there were TVs, radio, and electricity. The great composers of the past, performing their music for the masses. The great artists drawing, painting, or sculpting for the dispersion to the public. The thespians conducting their staged acts for the enjoyment of the audience. So, no, it’s not wrong to entertain yourself. Life as we know it, has a certain emptiness to it that we cannot always fill by ourselves. These entertainments help fill those intervals in our lives.

But I want to know, for myself, what is it that happens after an hour or two of entertainment in front of my TV? And does it happen to anyone else? Do all those consumers find the urge and desire to create rather than fire hydrant entire seasons of Lie to Me and Queer Eye? Do they find themselves coming up with ideas and plans of what it is they want to do? Do they see themselves as one with their name scrolling by on the credits that last two seconds before the next episode is auto-played? Or are they content to be the consumer? Lounging in beds, couches, parlors, bars, and doctor’s waiting rooms, staring deeply into the abyss of blue and green light washing over their faces as they indulge?

I only know my own experience. And more important is how I’ve handled my own experience. I’m from the generation in between; I’m not Gen X and I’m not a Millennial. They try to lump me in with those dastardly kids, but I’m not one of them, instead growing up analog and transitioning into a digital adulthood. But I remember, as a child, being an outlier from my friends. We didn’t have cable, but we would watch TV [what TV we could get from the scrubby rabbit ear antennae from my old man’s small 11” TV]. After school cartoons, Star Trek on Saturdays2. Sometimes college football in the garage when he’d pull the TV out there while he was working. And we had movies – VHS tapes from Feature Films for Families: safe, “family-friendly” forays like the Butter Cream Gang or Rigoletto. We watched TV, but our lives didn’t center around it. Instead, we were outside, or playing games, or finding other sources of entertainment. Often that entertainment revolved around games of fantasy and imagination.

I’d be remiss if I singled out television in a way that makes me sound like the old man waving his cane at the clouds. Entertainment has its value! Entertainment brings pleasure, joy, and happiness. It can also bring sadness, despair, and fear. That is part of the beauty of entertainment – a creator taking your hand through the valleys and mountain of feelings they want you to feel as they share their creation. There is nothing wrong in subjecting yourself to Avengers: Endgame as a form of entertainment. It is good to consume a creator’s work. I want to use the, “There’s a fine line…” idiom, but, really, it’s not: it’s a big fat line of over-indulgence. Seriously, 70 hours of Game of Thrones in 2 months? If you’d told my parents that stat in the 90’s, my old man’s little 11” television would have blown up in a way that caused our entire house to careen to the moon.

That is part of the beauty of entertainment – a creator taking your hand through the valleys and mountain of feelings they want you to feel as they share their creation.

It’s not just the consumption – it’s the lack of creation. I do believe that every single person has the capability to create something that brings real emotion to the rest of humankind. If only we’d practice it. But instead, we’re there, on the couch, reclining in bed, feeling bad for ourselves while the talents of our creations rest underneath the sand of our consumption. Isn’t it enough? When will we have consumed enough that we’ll be ready to dig ourselves out and contribute fully?

The awful thing is, most of us are stuck in jobs doing pointless work for the man just so we can make a buck (while he makes a million). We spend our energy on that, expending what good will toward our creativity we could have mustered up. Then, if you’re like me, you’re left dragging yourself out of bed at 5 in the morning so you can spend 20 minutes injecting some good words into your soul with a book and then trying to spew a few of your own words onto a page for 30 minutes before getting ready for work. You spend all day at work, come home and play with your kids, run them to activities, eat some dinner, put them to bed, and find time for 20 minutes with your wife before passing out in bed and doing it all over again the next day.

My mode of consumption has transitioned in the last few weeks to books. And they’re so good – so enriching, so entertaining, and engulfing. They feel remarkably more legitimate as a medium for entertainment. And why? Because I’m not staring at a television screen? In terms of entertainment, they’re not that different. One you must manually flip pages [or if you’ve given yourself to the digital revolution, press a button or swipe your finger]. You can waste your life reading books just as well as you can watching television.

I recently finished a book by Michael Harris called, “The End of Absence.” It’s about reclaiming what we’ve lost in a world of connection, with the central premise that we’ve lost the ability to truly connect because of technology. But surprisingly, he doesn’t suggest the answer is in shutting the door on technology and going back to our cave man days of lighting fires with sticks3. Instead, as any wise person might say when looking at the current culture we live in, he suggests we practice prudence and awareness of how we’re engaging with our environment. He doesn’t say we should abandon our phones and televisions, but instead become aware of how much they’re engaging our time and learning to practice habits that better reflect presence than indulgence.

I set out wanting to explore the differences between consumers and creators, yet I’m left with the unnerving [also: beautiful] idea that we’re all creators who are consuming too much. My judgment of the situation is harsh because of myself. I see laziness in myself and I want to eradicate it, thus: EVERYONE MUST BURN THEIR TELEVISION.

There have been thousands of people before me, decrying the foulness of advancements in technology. It’s not technology that is bad – it’s us. It’s our inability to control ourselves. It’s our inability to fulfill one of our innermost desires: producing the creative elements inside of us. Why? Because it’s hard work, that’s why. It’s difficult to write a script that’s any good. It takes time to get good at drawing beautiful landscapes and faces and hands (God, the hands!). It takes hours every day to become a truly talented musician. And the alternative is so easy – just flip on the television. The only thing difficult about that is finding something you want to watch on Netflix – that only takes 45 minutes.

I keep imagining what my life would be like if I persisted in producing the creations in my head rather than zoning out on my phone for 20 minutes once or twice an hour. I’m experimenting with myself – leaving my phone in places outside of my pocket, out of sight, and out of reach. But the next, biggest step, is sitting down and carving out time to focus on the creative work inside of you. Then, slowly, but surely, slogging your way through drawing it out of yourself and seeing what happens.

Can you still watch TV? Sure – but please stop watching reality TV. That’s garbage.



On Distraction

Focus

Every. Single. Time. I sit down to write something, I think about something else. It’s a terrible habit. In fact, I do a whole song and dance when sitting down to do any sort of creative work. I hit up Deadspin[.]com to get their cynical take on sports. Then, I move to ESPN to get serious sports news [I often don’t learn anything because I already got the cynical coverage from Deadspin]. After that, I rotate over to Sports Illustrated [first Internet website crushes die hard]. Then I want some local coverage, so I browse to Lookout Landing for Mariners news. I’m in despair about the Raiders, so I skip them, and the OKC Thunder…well, it’s mid-basketball season – call me when it’s the playoffs.

After that, there’s the hunt for stimulation and the internet provides about eleventy-billion means of titillation. There are the aggregate sites pumping out the same rotation of memes and lists and “You won’t believe what this 11-year-old kid did!”, bastions1 of content streaming puerile garbage meant solely to get and keep our attention. The unfortunate part of this cycle is I take the stance that I’ll make a better effort tomorrow; I’ve got some road rage videos on YouTube to catch up on.


There are the aggregate sites pumping out …bastions of content streaming puerile garbage meant solely to get and keep our attention.

As I’ve been sitting down to write more regularly these last few weeks I’ve noticed this tendency. The moment I’m about to lean into it and begin a singular thought springs to the forefront of my mind. “What’s the weather going to be like today?” “Who won the Oscars last night [week, month, year]?” “Katy Perry. What? I just haven’t thought about her recently! Is she still with that one guy…the one with the pretty hair?” “I wonder if I’m ever going to make up with my dad. I should see if he’s still got a Facebook page that he’s not updating.”

It’s not just that I’m afraid to start actually doing the work that I’ve been meaning to do – the work that I will find fulfilling and meaningful and breathe life into daily doldrums. It’s also that I MIGHT MISS OUT ON SOMETHING. Amid the stimulation provided by the internet every day, there’s an added effect of “things happening” online that become the next centerpiece for talking points in physical social circles. This digital playground bleeds into the physical world. The other day, minutes [JUST MINUTES] after news was reported that Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, was involved in a scandalous situation, one of my coworkers came running into my office with a “Did you hear about…” and she didn’t even have to finish the sentence because indeed I had heard. Because I was sitting, waiting, and watching for that next event online.


This idea has been coined as FOMO, or a Fear of Missing Out. This is a relatively new word thanks to internet culture, but it’s also funny because, you know, it rhymes with homo. [Insert eyeroll]. At any rate, fomo2 is this thing that is here and happening. Fomo is also probably something that has been real forever, or at least for as long as human beings have been hosting social occasions. But because of the enhancement of social stimulation provided by the internet there is so much to “miss out” on. And no one wants to look like a fool. We want to be prepared at a moment’s notice to be “in the know”. So, we binge the latest show on Netflix, stream the newest original movie from Amazon3 I mean, seriously, throwback to the 2000’s: who in the hell could have guessed that Amazon WOULD BE MAKING MOVIES IN 15 YEARS?!?!?!?!? ]/efn_note]], and pay attention to what’s trending on social media so we can appropriately react when it’s brought up in social circles.

But here’s the thing about this iteration of fomo – we’re not talking about missing out on a once in a lifetime trip to Paris. We’re not missing out on amazing experiences like a holiday in Spain. But by indulging our fomo and engaging that portion of internet culture indiscriminately, we are missing out on more important things. You can picture the image of a couple, lying together in bed, faces shining bright with blue light while buried in phones, finger scrolling, scrolling, scrolling. Here we are in this time, together, yet separate; near yet far. We’re seeking something greater but indulging in something less intimate. We’re trying to enhance our lives and find deeper meaning, but instead of turning and seeing that meaning in our partner’s face, we’re languishing away our lives on the internet, distracted by things that won’t fulfill or bring meaning or complete our hope.

It seems we choose to live our lives in fomo of what’s happening online, avoiding the reality of what we’re facing each day in the physical world. And it happens so damn slowly until we realize we’re drowning in a flood of catching up on missed notifications. For a long while I had been good about not looking at my phone first thing in the morning. Then, for some reason, I decided I was missing out on the news [what?]. So, I would use the toilet and use my phone to read the news. My toilet time increased drastically. Suddenly, my morning schedule was off – I couldn’t read a book for as long, or I’d let my reading stay the same and just not write [link] because it wasn’t worth it when I only had 10 minutes to write. And then, it turned into the News and Twitter. This was even worse when I smoked, because it would turn into a full hour and a half of News and Twitter and Games and Cigarette[s]. And all of that is wasteful, unproductive time. I know that it is important for me to read every day because it feeds my soul. I know it is important for me to write because it is the best way I express my voice.

Many people, far brighter and eloquent than me, have written about this force of distraction. Seth Godin devoted a whole book to the idea of the lizard brain responding to your deepest desires with fear to try and protect you from failure with these sorts of distractions [see his book, Linchpin]. Basically, he says, you must teach yourself to ignore it and move past it. It never goes away, but it gets easier. Hyper-vigilance is required.

So…the answer is to just quit being distracted? I mean, yes and no. The answer is to say no to yourself. Set yourself up for success. There are about 12 different “positive image vibes” ways I could write it out. But the long and the short of it is say no to yourself.

Godin uses a term when he talks about defeating the lizard brain: ship. Just ship it. It’s more about making the decision to do something (or to ignore something) than anything else.

We live in the most distracted society in the history of the world. But, despite all the technological advances that have led to this state, we have always had to learn to deal with this idea of distraction. It’s Aesop’s fable of The Ants and the Grasshopper: there’s a time for work and a time for play. The things we use to distract ourselves from the realities of life are, in all seriousness, play. And there are times for play! But we need to do the work to be a healthy, productive, and well-functioning society.