ruminations

Consuming and Creating

In school, Sunday’s the day where you have to make up for the procrastinating you did all weekend. Out of school, Sunday’s only the day where you recognize that you’ve done nothing all weekend.

Surely this doesn’t hold true for everyone, but my weekends tend to naturally fill themselves with consumption of media. All the things I didn’t get to read, watch, or listen to during the week become the priority during a distraction-less weekend. As such, the whole weekend can easily be consumed by the act of consuming.

If Clay Shirkey’s assertions are to be believed–and I’m not saying they are–in previous decades all free time went to consuming. In the pre-radio age, it went mostly to consuming alcohol. In the television age, it went mostly to consuming sitcoms. But while Mr. Shirkey’s certainly right that television’s roles as the thing people do with down time is waning, consumption still plays a large part in modern existence.

Today one isn’t restricted to watching what’s on television or listening to what’s on the radio, or reading what’s on paper and in possession, but we still consume a great deal. There’s little doubt that young people watch less television than they used to. But they also have the ability to spend hours in front of YouTube, a different-but-similar dummy box.

The most interesting contention that Mr. Shirkey makes about the future is that we’ll be creating more and consuming less. It’s certainly a possible trend, but it’s doubtful that we’ll move from “all free time being devoted to TV” to “all free time being devoted to creating.” After all, one must consume things in order to create. Things created in a vacuum are usually uninteresting rehashes of painfully common ideas. (Something with which I’m intimately familiar…)

Surely one can go too far in consuming. A quick guesstimation says that of the 15 hours I was awake Sunday, 11 of them were devoted to the act of consuming media. Surely I learned a lot and laughed a lot but by the end I had a bad case of consumption fatigue.

It’s possible that the mythical people who used to constantly watch TV in their free time never had a bout of consumption fatigue, but you can count me a doubter.

They probably didn’t combat consumption fatigue by creating, but it’s possible that did combat it. Because creating was a harder task, people could spend more time doing tasks that were not explicitly either. Cooking from a recipe is both an act of consumption (of the recipe) and creation (or foodstuffs). So too is knitting, sewing, or drawing while watching television an intermediate between the two. Then of course there’s running, hiking, biking, walking, and playing, all of which are neither consuming nor creating by any traditional understanding of the words.

The fact is, we’re not moving from a world of consuming to one of creating. At best, we’re shifting the balance slightly. It’s easier to create and share things today than at any time in the past. Today anyone can write a blog, edit a wiki, create digital art, or mash-up two old things.

But everyone has experienced creation fatigue as “writer’s block.” Or procrastination. Or a general feeling that “it’s just not coming.” We’ll never be able to create infinitely without encountering these roadblock.

People, too, know consumption fatigue. Rarely do they identify it as such, but that general feeling of needing to get out of the house is one of many possible misdiagnoses of the problem. And I’d guess that it’s no more or less common today than it was in the past.

I don’t think the ratio of consuming and creating will change much in the future. Surely more will be publicly shared, but I’m not certain much more time will be spent on non-consuming behavior than has been in the past. And despite some bouts of consumption fatigue, I’m pretty sure I’m fine with that.

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