Consuming vs Creating

Posted by Jen Tong on January 26, 2017

I’m sitting on an airplane somewhere above New Mexico. About 3 hours ago I walked into a metal tube in New Orleans, and in about an hour I’ll step out on the other side of the country.

Air travel is amazing. The seats may be cramped. The in-flight food may be of diminishing availability and quality. But, it’s more and more pleasurable each time I fly. The tiny computer that fits in my pocket contains hundreds of songs, hours of video, and over a thousand of hours of podcasts. And if I get bored of that, I can read a library of digital books, or play a time-sucking video game like Factorio or Faster than Light.

It’s times like these that I realize how easy consuming has become. At any given moment, I have more distractions in my pocket than the whole world had 20 years ago. It’s easier than ever to use tiny computers to convert free time into satisfying little dopamine hits.

This has come at a cost, though. While consuming got easier, creating did not keep up. Keyboards are much the same as they were decades ago. Between digital styluses and touch screens, pointer input is at best a few times better.

I’ve seen the effect in my own behavior. I used to write a lot more. I used to scribble crude drawings in notebooks. I was never a master artist, but creating satisfied something important. With consuming so much easier than creating, I feel my focus on creating starting to slip away, and creative skills beginning to dull.

Assuming that creativity is intrinsically important, what’s to be done? Should I leave my video games and podcasts at home? Nah, I’m not doing anything that drastic for now. Instead, I’ll put a little bit of deliberate effort into writing, sketching, and otherwise exercising my creative muscles when I have down time. In fact this very blog entry is an attempt to turn the tide (so meta!). I’ll check back in a couple months to see if things have improved :)

Have you observed this phenomena? Does it trouble you? If so, what are you doing about it? Let me know on Twitter