When I was in art school, we had one English class. Our instructor wasn’t used to teaching art students, and she was confused by our habit of rewatching the same movies over and over again.
“I don’t get why anybody would watch the same movie twice,” she told us. For her, the act of viewing a film was a passive experience; you did it once and you moved on with your life. But for us it was part of our immersive education; we rewatched movies so we could figure out how (and, in some cases, why) they were made.
But she was also making a valid case based on sheer numbers: with so much media being produced in the world, why watch anything twice?
Which raises the all-important question: why is anything you make worth anyone else’s time?
Sure, the Greeks Had Sculpture… But What If They Had YouTube?
In May 2009, YouTube claimed its users upload 20 hours of video every minute. By 2014, that number rose to 300 hours per minute — that’s 15 times the volume in just 5 years.
This means no matter how much media there is in the world today, there’ll be immeasurably more media created tomorrow… and the next day… making it increasingly impossible to sift through all the noise to find the stuff that matters to you personally.
But how much of that media is designed to last?
It took the Greeks months (and sometimes years) to sculpt art from stone. It only takes you 30 seconds to film a skateboarding stunt on your cell phone and beam it around the world. Thousands of those statues have survived for centuries, providing billions of observers with a window on the world. But how many YouTube videos will you remember next week?
Or, better yet: why should you?
Yes, Love Me, But Do It Fast
As a media creator myself, I’m perpetually conflicted: I want to create something that’s valuable to both me and to an audience… but I’m also aware that the act of creating something new means I believe what I make will be worth someone else’s time to read or watch.
Isn’t that presumptuous of me?
I’d wager that most creators think so, which is why so much of what we make is short and / or bad.
In our rush to momentarily capture your attention, we value immediacy over quality. We seek views instead of feedback, because views are objective data we can measure while feedback is subjective. We don’t have time to learn from our mistakes because we’re too busy making new ones, perpetually hoping that in all those errors we’ll somehow stumble into a winning streak that lasts.
It’s hard to argue against this mentality. Audiences and trends evolve quickly, and the extra day you spend crafting something new may be the day that damns it to irrelevance. Isn’t it better to throw something together now, despite its shortcomings, and hope that an audience will like it enough to stick around and watch you grow (and, preferably, buy something to keep you from starving)?
Not that you can’t produce something relevant in a short period of time. Nor is every sprawling epic worthwhile simply because of its size. But it’s hard to create an experience that lasts when you’re only interested in creating one that temporarily distracts.
To Make Anew, or to Review?
Which brings us back to our original question: why do some of us spend so much time re-experiencing movies, TV shows, books, music, and other experiences we’ve already had, when there’s so much new media to discover every day?
Partly because we’re not sure if that new media is worth our time.
Partly because the act of discovery takes a lot of effort.
Partly because we get stuck in our comfortable habits.
And partly because of a happy little secret:
What you read (or watched, or listened to) last year, or ten years ago, is still the same media if you read it again tomorrow… but you’re different.
The experiences you’ve had (and the other media you’ve absorbed) in the interim affected your personality, philosophy and point of view. So even though our books, movies and music don’t change, we do.
And that changes how we experience them, and feel about them — and about ourselves in the process.
So if you’re going to create something new, here’s my advice:
Make something that’s worth your time to create and your audience’s time to absorb — not just today, but when they return to it again months or years from now, and find new layers and insights that won’t be there if you’re just rushing to capitalize on a trend.
Life may be short, but the depths of our experiences don’t have to be.
Chris Hall · December 3, 2009 at 12:03 am
Love it man. I also think that if everybody is optimizing for search and saying nothing, then how useful does search become, right? I experienced this a couple weeks ago when I started blindly searching about a topic I was interested in… All optimized crap posts trying to sell me something. It didn’t take me long to revise my search terms.
Hithertofore, I have found myself writing for myself lately. I pick ideas that I want to explore, or use the writing process to further flush out thoughts from experiences throughout the day or week.
This way, even if nobody sees it or gets anything out of it… at least I do.
My blog traffic definitely resembles this approach, however. But it’s working for me, so I’m rocking it.
Kenji Crosland · December 2, 2009 at 12:16 pm
With all the bloggers out there preaching that one must become a content factory in order to be noticed, one thing I that always seems overlooked is the quality of the content. There are bloggers who brag about being able to write a post and publish it in thirty minutes but 99% time these posts have no substance. They’re written well, but the content is shallow. It’s nice to hear a dissenting voice.
Stuart Foster · December 2, 2009 at 10:35 am
Interesting thoughts here Justin.
I haven’t actually given much thought to this (especially from a content creation standpoint) because the tech and experience is changing so rapidly I can’t envision exactly what it’s going to look like in the future.
I wonder what the Greeks would have done if Sculpture 2.0 came out when they were halfway through Sculpture 1.0?
Food for thought…
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