Making No Choice In An Age Of Many

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

How do you make your media choices?  As Serdar notes in an excellent column, choices are complicated; we often have so many we play it safe.  A thousand movies present options so overwhelming we go with a sequel.  The next One Piece episode will deliver something you liked ten episodes ago.  Choice makes us flee to safety too often – and our existing technology and culture encourage it because it’s profitable.

Our media diet is poorer for this paradox – I’m tired of all the sameness even when it’s good sameness like Marvel.  Anyway, the post is excellent, go read it.

I relate to this subject as I’ve been cultivating my reading lately.  I wanted to read new works – or ones I missed – and re-read beloved books from my past to ground myself.  Thus I’m going through a delightful mix of Taoist mysticism, writing advice, informative non-fiction, novels I loved, and fiction that I selected carefully.  One week I’m reading about breath meditation, the next is re-reading Asprin’s “Another Fine Myth.”

I found this cultivation takes continuous effort.  Do I really want to read this book?  Will this book provide a benefit for me?  Have my priorities changed?  Am I the kind of person who will spend $16.00 on a fascinating translation of a short, obscure document on health practices of centuries past (answer: yes).

I’ve realized that cultivating our reading – or any media consumption – takes effort, discipline, and practice.  It’s also something no one taught us how to do – and why would we they?  People assume you pick up media selectivity somewhere, and isn’t all this choice a good thing anyway?

We’ve been thrust into a world of choice we never expected with little training to deal with it.

Sometimes I speculate, “could someone write a book or teach a class on media selectivity?”  Is there a way to get people on board with more careful media choices?  Of course, we know that would just be another work viying for attention; what are the odds someone could be the Marie Kondo of media choice?

Right now all I and my friends can do is encourage people to make choice, share our findings, and go on.  If you’re doing the same, please share – maybe we can cultivate our media diets together.  Perhaps that’s the best – or only – way.

Steven Savage

Empty Content

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com, Steve’s Tumblr, and Pillowfort.  Find out more at my newsletter, and all my social media at my linktr.ee)

I hear about “Content” constantly, and I’ve grown tired of it.  People need Content for their YouTube channel, to keep an audience, fill books, etc.  I finally realized why it gets up my nose – because the focus on Content doesn’t consider meaning.

Too often, when people talk about Content, it’s about needing to have it for some reason.  The channel has to have Content for the algorithm!  The blog needs Content to keep people’s attention.  The Podcast needs Content because you’re on a schedule and people expect it.  The existence of Content matters more than what the Content is.

When we speak of Content, we mean writing, discussions, videos, etc.  We’re talking about something that is meaningful or should be.  It may be a good chuckle or a life-changing revelation, but Content is about something supposedly that has value in itself.

The demand for Content makes our creations secondary to mathematical formulae and marketing calculations.  Content is just something we use to fill a space, the packing peanuts of the soul.  The meaning of that Content is secondary to just having something to pour into a container.

That’s what irritated me about the constant chats about Content – the value, the importance of the creative work wasn’t relevant.  You could boost the YouTube algorithm with a picture of you shirtless and silently reading Terry Pratchett or a detailed guide to creating resumes, and the result might be the same.  The idea of Content these days flattens the value and meaning of creation itself.

This situation makes it harder to become better at what you do.  When your critical goal is creating Content, then shoveling works out the door takes priority over making better works.  It’s all attention or meeting a wordcount, or whatever first, the work is secondary.

There’s a soullessness to it all and I can now put words to it.

For me, I think I’m going to think over what I make and why a little more.  I can see where I’ve fallen into the Content trap and where I’ve sought depth.  I also see where I may get distracted by “shiny Content” and not ask if it’s something I care about.

But for now, when I cringe at yet another discussion of Content I’ll know why.

Steven Savage

Run Deep Not Shallow

(This column is posted at www.StevenSavage.com and Steve’s Tumblr.  Find out more at my newsletter.)

My friend Serdar tweeted thusly:

“speculation: nostalgia for 8/16-bit gaming / computing is nostalgia for an era of dedicated devices and focused time, an era when you could sit down to write or play sth and not have 200 tabs assault you sidelong”

As I retrogame, I had to think this statement over. I came away with the conclusion Serdar wasn’t right in the whole, because there are many reasons. But he was right in the small as, on review, I saw this in myself and others.

Echoing memories of a simpler time.

This reminded me of an exercise I had done to evaluate my life and career. Often replaying my choices, I took a walk for an hour and worked backward through my life, looking at my major life choices. I had many deep insights during my stroll, but at times I remembered life before internet-driven complications.

How much of my time today was really mine?

I finally found a way to express this when I discussed social media with a communication professional. They noted the research required to go into a good strategy these days and how easy it was to be distracted. I summed up their conversation as “what are the deep patterns?” that mattered to what they had to say.

We are distracted by so much that professionals have to keep developing counter-distraction approaches.

Thus we come full circle to what stuck in my head due to Serdar’s Tweet. So much of today’s mega media always-online culture of constant chatter was a distraction from “deep patterns” of life. Like powerful currents running beneath a body of water, those are important, not the sparkly ever-changing reflections on the surface.

The deep patterns, the powerful currents we need to navigate, steer, and control, are easy to miss in an age of 200 tabs and constant scandal-chat. It often feels like there’s more of everything, but what matters is a shrinking percentage of the whole vying for our attention.

How many times have you wanted to scream but does any of this matter?  Admit it, it’s a non-zero number.

For me, I’m glad I have experience and interest in meditation, philosophy, and psychology. Some Taoist abdominal breathing or pithy Buddhist quotes help bring me enough awareness of the distractions I face. But sometimes, it’d be nice to just not have 200 tabs, ten text messages, and email piling up.

It’d be nice to just focus on a good game.

Steven Savage