Over the course of the last year and a half or so, I’ve been trying to establish an online presence in the hope of turning my ability to write into something that can actually provide a sustainable living for the modest lifestyle I’ve come to enjoy. For the most part, it feels like I’ve been stymied by the fact that I come from an era where I’m mostly versed with technology and the internet and the daily things that most people my age do online, but there is something in the way of taking what I know is quality writing and getting it out into the world in a way that actually gets noticed. There is a missing ingredient somewhere in the equation that prevents the kind of growth I hope for, and while I’m sure there is some polishing that could be applied to the content itself, I’m more convinced that it is a problem of society rather than my content.
We live in a world now where people aren’t satisfied by just having something that is good. It has to be exciting and extremely interesting to be worth spending our precious seconds consuming the product of other people. We’ve become so saturated with information that we no longer quality work all on its own. It has to be dramatic. We’ve become so desensitized to having the sum of human knowledge at our fingertips that we just aren’t impressed by it anymore, and if whatever we’re looking at doesn’t raise our pulse in some way, we just move on to something else.
It’s a true shame that we have come to view the world through this tunnel vision lens of entertainment. I include myself in this; none of us are innocent of it. We have been conditioned through decades of continuous new and exciting content that it isn’t enough to identify value in something. There must be some kind of entertainment involved in it, or it just isn’t worth our time. This is one of the reasons why text is slowly dying a long, quiet death: it just isn’t as exciting as watching videos of kittens doing cute things, or idiots jumping off of high places and getting hurt, or even just educational videos that have appealing visuals. When you have a choice between reading black letters against a white background or multicolored images that get your neurons firing faster, it’s not a hard choice.
The problem with this attitude, however, is that in the midst of this chaotic brew of chemicals floating around in our brains we are blinded to some of the subtleties that are hiding within the content that we watch. As someone who puts a great deal of effort into knowing what I believe in through critical thought, I’m always able to recognize it when I see it. It could be a comedian who is clearly hyper liberal because he uses certain key phrases, or a politician who uses particular words that show he’s extremely conservative. Whatever the ideology behind the content, you can always see it if you’re paying attention.
When you’re calmly reading text and not being assaulted by flashing images and distracting music and various verbal inflections, it’s much easier to identify these kinds of biases because you’re able to focus on the message rather than the window dressing. The reason why most of us end up avoiding reading, though, is because it’s a lot of work with very little in the way of instant gratification. Reading requires us to take in information, process it in a way that makes sense, and then actually store it in our long term memory. How far back can you remember something you read? What about something you watched? Is there a huge disparity between the two?
And this is the dilemma for our modern time: form over substance. Yes, there can be a lot of quality information contained in a lot of what we watch, but I can tell you from personal experience that most of what I actually retain comes from extensive reading about various topics. I watch a great deal of educational content on the big streaming giant we all use, and while certain things to stick with me, I just don’t retain nearly as much of it as I do from back when I primarily read things like Wikipedia articles. I can still remember information from articles about particle physics I was reading on a whim, while most of the videos from my favorite futurist Isaac Arthur are only vague ideas with no details left.
I grew up in a time where we still had to read physical copies of books to get any reasonable amount of information, and much of my entertainment was in the form of printed stories that I spent hour after hour consuming in my room. Most of my favorite stories of all time come from that period, from epic legends like the Belgariad to much smaller works like the “choose your own adventure” books that allowed you to explore multiple endings. Virtually all of those stories and most of the details have stuck with me through the years, but I can re-watch movies over and over because I end up forgetting half of what happened.
We live in a time now where the written word is in every aspect of our lives, but because it is so ubiquitous now we just don’t value it anymore. The manipulation of our mental states by people who have mastered their craft has drawn us away from seeking out people who put out quality work that might not be the most exciting because we’re seeking that adrenaline rush of “exciting content”. The more we tune in to these visual presentations that are only becoming more and more extreme, the harder it becomes to get anything truly meaningful out of our experiences.
And it’s probably already too late to bring us back.