Balancing media consumption with artistic production

Why it's so hard to create in a digital world 

Giving time to popular media and the arts can be a difficult balancing act. 
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In the digital age, it’s easy to conjure up reasons not to make art and a lot harder to call yourself
an artist.

Despite spending an average of five hours and 37 minutes on my phone every day, I have nothing to show for it. In all that time on my screen, I’ve hardly learned anything new or created anything valuable. 

What’s more, amidst all the distraction, I don’t feel particularly entertained or fulfilled. Even though my media consumption is distracting me from more noble pursuits, I can’t help but keep scrolling. 

After all, in the same way that advertisers use psychological tricks to manipulate you, smartphones and social media apps are designed to be addictive. That viral video of the chimpanzee using Instagram was eye-opening. He’s not that different from us. 

Understandably, it’s hard to withdraw from a social media addiction. Even Hollywood is capitalizing on the explosion of bite-sized content we see on the likes of TikTok and the now-defunct Vine. 

On April 6, 2020, Jeffrey Katzenberg, former chairman of Walt Disney Studios and co-founder of Dreamworks Animation, launched a mobile streaming app called Quibi

Quibi’s slogan promises “Quick Bites. Big Stories.” It’s a new streaming service that tells long-form narrative stories in short episodes of seven to 10 minutes to be viewed on your smartphone. 

It remains to be seen if Quibi will succeed, but its existence suggests our troubling trend towards shorter attention spans. 

Auteurs like Martin Scorsese, who urged people not to watch The Irishman on their iPhones, are losing the culture war against shorter content. To use another example, Quentin Tarantino, champion of the authentic cinema experience, repackaged The Hateful Eight as a four-part mini-series for Netflix

With theatre-going in decline, perhaps directors will join the ranks of novelists, who have long been fighting a losing battle against declining readership. 

Late American author David Foster Wallace spoke about this phenomenon in a 2003 interview. Speaking even before internet culture had reached its current heights, Wallace argued our constant distractions in the modern world have made us live in dread of quiet. 

“It becomes more and more difficult to ask people to read or look at a piece of art for an hour or to listen to a piece of music that’s complicated and that takes work to understand,” he said. 

According to Wallace, we are neglecting our thoughtful, expressive side for the sake of the side that wants instant gratification. 

“Particularly now in the computer and internet culture,” Wallace said, “everything is so fast and the faster things go, the more we feed that part of ourselves but don’t feed the part of ourselves that likes quiet, that can live in quiet…without any kind of stimulation.”

Wallace makes a powerful argument. Many of us have forgotten how to sit in comfortable silence or appreciate higher forms of art. Without that ability, it’s difficult to create anything of our own. Your mind is like a canvas—it must be clear to leave space for creative thoughts. 

I’ve gone through my old notebooks from elementary school, a time before I had Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat. My notes are filled with poems, drawings, and stories that I used to make daily. Of course, not all of them are good, but I remember there was an intrinsic joy in the process. 

You don’t have to be Van Gogh, Hemingway, or Michelangelo to call yourself an artist. All you need is to make art. Creative expression is a way of knowing yourself in greater depth, and making art is a rewarding challenge and a delightful act of self-discovery. 

Considering this, you have two choices: spend your whole life as a consumer of media, glued to your iPhone, or clear your mind and produce your own art. 

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