I’ve had this topic vaguely in mind for a little while now, but after a couple months of self quarantine, it seems more appropriate than ever…
With people losing jobs, being furloughed or working reduced hours, musicians without gigs, and well, nowhere to go, it seems like plenty of folks (myself included) are consuming a LOT of media.
I don’t just mean “news media” or current events. I’m talking about all of it, from books to Netflix, video games to YouTube channels, and everything in between (yes, social media feeds too). We’re all filling our time in various ways, and when we’re mostly stuck in the house, these outlets are a great place to turn.
Not all media consumption is bad, and I don’t want to indicate as such. Hell, if we consider ourselves to be any kind of “content creators,” we want people to consume media. I want people to watch my videos and read my words, and the giant teams that make movies, series, and games certainly want us to indulge in their wares as well (more on that later).
The trouble, however, is when consumption becomes the default mode of operation – especially for we creators. If you don’t make “media” of your own, this isn’t really for you…
But for those of us that do (in any capacity, even if it’s just music to perform for others or audio-only recordings), I think it’s important – especially nowadays – to strike some kind of balance between intake and output… And if nothing else, to be mindful of how and why we’re taking this stuff into our brains.
First, let’s talk about the two primary kinds of media intake. There’s a nice blurry line between them, so categorizing doesn’t have to be absolute. These are just useful mental models to keep in mind.
If I can, I try to stay in this mode as much as possible. This idea of “conscientious consumption” means that you’re choosing and consuming media with at least a little bit of purpose. It’s not just watching whatever’s on or whatever just came out, but actually choosing shows and movies and book and social platforms that interest you…
It’s paying attention to the details, doing some degree of analysis (whether that’s character construction, achieving mood via score, lighting, color choices, pacing, and so on).
It’s taking a moment to appreciate the work that went into creating the thing you’re consuming, and thinking about the humans involved, not just the work itself.
…And perhaps most importantly, it’s thinking about the creative works of others in the context of your own creations. All forms of art are loosely related, and with the right mindset, the imagery of a book can inform a musical composition. The tone of a movie can inspire a short story. Color choices can inspire sonic choices, and on and on. Even the general emotion evoked by some piece of content can teach you lessons about how to conjure that same response in your own work.
It’s not always that deep…
Sometimes we just want to get a giggle out of fail videos or watch a trashy horror movie solely for the jump scares. That’s okay!
Part of the reason entertainment exists is to take us OUT of our day to day, away from all the teeming thoughts that rattle around our heads, and transport us to a place where, at least temporarily, we don’t have to worry about real life.
I’ve been playing more video games than usual lately, and my favorite types of games are massive, open world, single player adventures designed to be immersive and expansive. I play them largely to check out of my own mind, and because they’re fun…
There’s nothing wrong with this kind of approach to media intake, but I can’t help but think that if this is the primary, most frequent way I’m consuming, I’m doing myself a disservice. In fact, changing some of my mindset from “check out” to “conscientious” has made feel less like I’m wasting time with games… I’m consuming and appreciating a massive piece of art built by literally hundreds of people, and that’s pretty dope.
There’s no magic number here. I’m not suggesting you try to strike some literal balance of “for every three pieces of content I consume, I will put out one video.” We’re all different in our approaches and output levels, and depending on your medium of choice, putting things out with high frequency might not even be possible…
Still, it’s the way of thinking that matters. If you consider yourself to be an artist of some kind (and I hope you do, since that’s really who I’m writing for here), I’m asking that you try to be aware of a consumption/creation ratio… Especially with all of this “extra time” on your hands.
I’m not telling you not to binge a hip new series, I’m saying that maybe before you put on Parks and Rec again, spend some time with your instrument or paintbrushes. Even if you aren’t actually releasing projects into the world, think about the ratio of art consumed to art produced.
It’s way easier to put stuff into our brains than it is to extract things out of them, and there are all kinds of existential factors at play right now that might create some personal barriers to creativity… I’m not denying that, and we all have to deal with life in our own ways… But if we purport to be creators, then we have to spend energy creating. This ratio idea just helps me frame it in yet another way.
For some “high output” creators, maybe this is a reminder that you don’t have to grind yourself to the bone… That maybe it’s okay to play some games or watch some dumb videos to give your brain a break.
But I suspect that most of us fall on the other side of the scales.
…Just something to keep in mind during this bizarre time, and for all other times as well. Think about how much you’re taking in, and how that stacks up against what you’re putting out. Maybe the perfect balance is impossible to strike, but like so many other things, the effort is what counts.