Creation vs. Consumption
In any given moment in time, we are either creating content, consuming content, or in special circumstances engaging in a bit of both. My thoughts today focus on the push/pull that is content creation vs. content consumption, the two immortals locked in an endless struggle for cognitive supremacy in the minds of mankind today. I am of the belief that consumption is winning this battle, and specifically low quality, mindless consumption, the kind that in turn leads to low quality creation...if any creation at all. I will advocate for a reversal of this trend, the goal being to inspire people to move towards more time spent in areas of high quality creation. I will also advise we adopt a concept I have aptly named "calculated consumption," in which we pass all forms of consumption through a personal filter before and during said consumption, with the goal of weeding out that which does not move us towards our clearly defined goals in life.
I understand the aforementioned task is monumental, if not impossible, as not only am I pushing back against the current state of our culture in the US, I am also pushing back against brain chemistry as well. Consumption of various kinds can be addictive, and we are learning that digital inputs can lead to dependency in a way quite similar to their physical counterparts. As a case in point, we average 35 hours of television per week in the US, and teens average 11 hours of screen time per day...per day! Now certainly not all screen time is mindless consumption, but I would guess the majority of Americans are not calculated in their consumption, and are not consuming with an eternal end goal in mind. Having said as much, if I can inspire just one person to consume a bit less, create a bit more, or simply be diligent in their efforts to consume higher quality content, I will have succeeded in writing this article. If nothing else, my hope is that my six month old son will someday read these words and be inspired to take the recommended action. I shared these same thoughts in a shortened fireside chat with our swim team here at LU several years ago, and many of our women not only agreed with the concept, but also mentioned they instinctively felt the desire to create more than to consume as well.
This is a topic in which I am quite passionate, for I believe we are collectively missing out on a large amount of would be world brilliance, creation that never had a chance at life because the artist was caught up in, and in some cases perhaps addicted to, mindless consumption. You may have heard the question posed in many business & leadership books and from various Internet gurus about the most expensive real estate in the world...In this thought process riddle you would be wrong to say Hong-Kong, Manhattan, London, Paris, Monaco, Shanghai, etc... The correct answer is the graveyards of the world, because it is the graveyards where you find all the businesses that never started, the books that were never written, the value that was never created, and so on and so forth. I do not want that to be my story and I do not want it to be yours either. I want you to create more, consume less, and if you do not choose to consume less I hope to inspire you to increase the quality of your consumption.
In Part I of this article I will tackle consumption, Part II Creation, and finally in Part III I will outline my personal system I have developed over the years to be sure I practice what I preach and hold myself accountable, day in and day out. Speaking of preaching, as a Christian my beliefs about creation vs. consumption are motivated by Ephesians 2:10, and you can read more on my ideas about life motivation in a previous article about why I believe the search for happiness is a lie. Ephesians 2:10 is mentioned in this article and will give you a bit of insight as to why it is a verse central to my life. Having said the above, while thought concepts deeply rooted in Christianity ultimately inspire these words, every person of every faith or no faith at all can find value in these ideas.
Part I: Consumption
Consumption is not entirely bad. It may have come across that I believe as much from the introduction, but no, consumption is certainly not bad. There are many beautiful and high quality materials and information in this world to consume, from Beethoven and Mozart to scenic mountain views, intellectual conversations, film, sport, art, literature, other printed words, and so on and so forth. Hearing a great speaker speak, a great singer sing, a passionate preacher preach, or a dear friend sharing his or her emotions are all worthy things to consume, and by all means in large quantities! The size of my personal library of books, magazines, journals, and other physical content is respectable for a man of only 32 years, and I spend quite a bit of time consuming in the digital realm as well, from music and podcasts to articles on Twitter and other web sources. Consumption is a joyous part of learning and of life itself, and one can greatly increase the quality of said life through high quality consumption.
My concern with consumption is simple, in that I believe we are consuming too much and the quality of said consumption is too low. Now you might ask, but how do we define low and high quality consumption? Is it not subjective? Beauty they say, is in the eye of the beholder. How does one objectively define what constitutes low or high quality consumption? Is it possible? This is a delicate subject, as I certainly do not want to offend the reader by implying the content they are consuming is of low quality. As such, I will not say explicitly what I believe is low quality, low info consumption, but I do believe we all know it when we see it. I mentioned Beethoven and Mozart...you will be hard-pressed to find anyone who disagrees that these two Giants represent high quality content creation at its finest, even if that person does not enjoy their music specifically. In the realm of art, da Vinci and Michelangelo's works have stood the test of time in a similar fashion. While you may not enjoy The Last Supper or the Statue of David, you instinctively understand that these artists achieved a high level of mastery, and you appreciate their work as of the highest quality even though art or sculpture may not be something in which you are passionate. Let me pose one final question in our discussion about high and low quality content...Phantom of the Opera or an episode of Jersey Shore? I need not offend anyone by stating explicitly what is low and high quality consumption...for the most part we all know the difference.
How then should we consume? In what quantities? I would like to introduce a concept called purpose driven consumption, or calculated consumption, where everything we consume is run through a mental filter to test and in turn determine the quality of our consumption. The core idea:
1. Determine your goals in life. What is your end game? What is your purpose? What do you want to accomplish? Why are you here? What motivates you?
2. Measure ALL consumption through the above mental filter. Is this consumption helping me to achieve my goals, and to achieve my endgame, or not? Does this consumption move me forward in regard to my purpose in life? If the answer is yes, by all means, consume. If the answer is no, perhaps we look closely at what we are consuming and question whether or not this is a worthwhile practice. What is the opportunity cost? What could we be consuming instead that might bring us closer to fulfillment and the realization of our purpose? Of our goals in life? The quality of our output seldom exceeds the quality of our input, and I believe we must constantly evaluate and reevaluate the content and quality of our consumption.
This is where Ephesians 2:10 comes into the picture for me personally. The Apostle Paul writes:
"For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do"
The belief that I was created "to do good works" is a powerful motivator, and it is my endgame and end goal. "To do" in my humble opinion means to create, for "to do good works" sounds much closer to creation than to consumption. Again consumption is not bad, and I certainly recommend we consume content of the highest quality as you will see in the next section. I do believe however to find purpose, fulfillment, and meaning in life (DO good works), one has to be in the creation mindset, and I see consumption as fuel for the creative process.
How then, are we consuming? Are we consuming with our goals and core life objectives in mind? Is our current consumption moving us toward our goals or further away? Are we quantifying our consumption? If it were possible to accurately track and log ALL of our consumption, would the record show that we are consuming in a calculated manner, in line with our personal and/or professional goals in life? Tell me of the would-be author who dreams of literary success yet finds himself spending hours of time consuming low quality, mindless content on social media? What of the college student with a goal of achieving an "A" in chemistry...yet after further review of his consumption we see his true goals lie elsewhere?
A word on mindless consumption - I do not believe that all mindless consumption is bad, nor do I believe it must necessarily detract from our aforementioned goals, purpose, and life objectives. Perhaps even mindless consumption can be calculated in it's mindlessness? As an example...suppose the chemistry student has been studying for a prolonged period and needs a mental break. That viral YouTube video could be a welcomed diversion, a cognitive refresher if you will, and might allow him to come back to the chemistry material with renewed strength and vigor.
If highly calculated, I do believe mindless consumption has a small place in every high performer's life. We must certainly always be aware of what we are consuming, when, and whether or not a simple diversion has crossed into the realm of time waster, into the realm of truly mindless, unproductive consumption.
Having said all of the above with respect to calculated mindless consumption, I would rather see high performers consume nothing than to consume mindlessly, even if highly calculated. If I were coaching the chemistry student, I would prescribe a quick 15 minute workout as a study break instead of the YouTube videos. Not only will the exercise provide the welcomed break, it will boost cognitive function and increase the overall efficacy of the study session as well.
Part II: Creation
To think is to create, and to create is to add value to humanity and move us towards our clearly defined purpose and goals in life. To "do good works" from the aforementioned Ephesians 2:10 is a simple Biblical blueprint for what we ought to value, and the concept is applicable to all faiths or no faith at all. It goes without saying that a great many number of atheists throughout time immemorial have felt the instinctive desire to create, and in turn have added immense value to society as a whole. While Ephesians 2:10 guides my creation habits, it is certainly not a prerequisite for all creation, for all people, and we are free to find whatever motivation drives us towards our own creative desires.
Creation is part of the "stuff of life" that makes us human, as Charles Murray would say, and high quality content creation is almost magical in its ability to inspire, transform, and ultimately increase the quality of human life. I should note that high quality creation as I define it is not limited to arts, crafts, music, writing, hobbies, sport, etc.. High quality creation can also be achieved through creating or building an intangible such as the culture of a team, organization, or business. Great minds create great businesses, great ideas, strong, meaningful relationships, political theories, and other forms of human expression that cannot be touched or grasped. As Victor Hugo once said:
"Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time has come."
This quote captures the essence of high quality intangible content creation, and to create an idea such as Hugo describes is just as, if not more powerful than, a new tech gadget or the latest in mechanical engineering. Martin Luther King Jr. is a prime example, as the Civil Rights Movement was not something that could be touched per se, but King's "creation" of the movement ultimately changed the course of history for all-time.
I do not believe humans were meant to be mindless consumers, and I believe we need to spend more time in areas of high quality creation, regardless of current age, occupation, or standing in life. From professionals to college students and everyone in between, I believe we need to consume less and create more. High quality creation is good for the brain, body, and soul. We stress the brain in a positive way when we think and create, and we often find a deep sense of personal satisfaction and accomplishment from said creation, especially when what we have created aligns with our life's purpose and goals. Creators change the world, and while not everyone will leave the legacy of Dr. King, we can all make an impact, however large or small our impact may ultimately be. Of the Giants in history we will remember for all-time...how many are remembered for what they consumed vs. what they created? There is a reason creators are remembered and consumers generally are not!
Whether you enjoy creating art, music, relationships, businesses, literary works, etc...the goal is to do, and then do more and do it better! Create! Keep a journal, take up a musical instrument, make a short film, brainstorm new ideas for your business, or problem solve for existing challenges. The goal is to create more than we consume. Work! Doing great work, masterful work, and work of high Excellence demands a creation state nearly by default, for it is rare that an occupation would rely solely on consumption. Even the film critic, after consuming her material, would still need to write her critique, and it is the critique and her skill with creating witty sentences that pays the bills, not the consumption of cinema! Create! Do! Work!
Ideally our creation is also calculated and is run through the same personal filter outlined in Part I on consumption. Is what we are creating moving us towards our clearly defined goals in life? If no, what is the opportunity cost? What could we be creating instead that might bring us closer to fulfillment in life and the realization of our purpose?
A word on calculated creation...I do believe in quite a bit more leeway in regards to how strictly we should create, certainly much more leeway than what we should consume. I believe the cognitive benefits to creation across a plethora of different genres far outweighs the same benefits of consumption, and I believe the expanded model of creation is better for the long-term health of the brain as well. As for our clearly defined goals in life and our life's purpose, I also believe that being a bit more liberal with our approach to creation rather than consumption will ultimately bring us closer to those aims as well.
Part III: My Personal System
First and foremost, I must thank my parents for many of the following thoughts, as my beliefs towards creation vs. consumption and the system I follow in my personal and professional life stems from my modest upbringing on our family farm in Lancaster County, PA. We did not have cable TV growing up, and the only two stations that came in with any consistency from the massive aerial housed in our attic were NBC and Fox, and even then the stations were grainy at times. The 35 hours of TV the average American consumes per week was certainly not me, and that time was instead spent reading (I tied with Allison Jacoby for the most books read in 2nd grade...still not happy about that), and creating.
As it were, I am now 32, married, and have a 6 month old son. While the years have added up, the cable bills certainly have not. In the 10 years I have been on my own since graduating from Shippensburg University, I have not once paid a cable bill, and my wife and I haven't even considered TV since we've been married. I am excited and proud to say that my son will share that part of my upbringing. Imagine 0-18 years of no cable and the thousands of hours he'll spend consuming higher quality content or creating...certainly it must have a huge positive effect on the brain!
My personal system:
- I strive to spend more time in creation rather than consumption, and I calculate said time. I aim to be self-aware of how I am spending my time.
As a swimming coach I am handy with a stopwatch, and yes, there have been days where I have actually timed myself in various modes of creation and consumption, just to see where I was really spending my time. Imagine if we had an invisible coach carefully calculating the time we spend creating and consuming. Would we want to see the results?
I keep a mental stopwatch in my head during all waking hours, and strive to spend more time in creation than consumption.
- When I do consume, I consume with my end goal and life purpose in mind. I consume with Ephesians 2:10 at the forefront of my thoughts, the mindset that I was created to do good works, and run my consumption through this personal filter.
Is this overboard? Is it too much? Perhaps...but to achieve mastery, fulfill my life goals and purpose, and to perhaps someday have my name listed among the greats in my profession requires as much, if not more. I carefully calculate my consumption, and run everything through the Ephesians 2:10 filter. If what I am thinking of consuming does not in some way bring me closer to my goals I simply do not consume. We must remember that time is the most valuable resource we have, and there is always an opportunity cost when we consume. That is to say...in regards to consumption...you can never get that time back, and you may have missed out on the opportunity to consume something more valuable to your life goals and purpose.
As for how I filter consumption:
1. Every Twitter/Instagram user I follow is carefully calculated. I only turn on Twitter notifications for the highest quality accounts who consistently tweet content that is valuable to my goals and endgame.
2. I do not have cable. Enough said!
3. On my iPhone, I do not have text message or Facebook notifications turned on. While texting can be a valuable creation and consumption combination, it often times is not. The texts can wait until I check them. Facebook can be a huge time waster as we know. It can wait.
4. I choose podcasts over the radio or music while driving...Automobile University if you will. I subscribe to several podcasts that offer high quality content that improves my knowledge and skills, bringing me that much closer to my goals, purpose, etc.
5. The books, magazines, and journals I read are calculated through the endgame filter.
6. Relationships...This is not one we think of in regards to consuming...but understand that listening is a form of consumption, thus I strive to have high quality friendships and engage in high quality conversation!
7. I am constantly evaluating and reevaluating what I consume. What passes through the endgame filter today might not tomorrow, and what was of lower quality last week might be better next month.
- I create with Ephesians 2:10 and my end goal in mind, and run my creation through the same filter as my consumption. Will this help me achieve my goals? Will this help me fulfill and realize my purpose in life?
There are many ways in which I create in my professional life, chief among them recruiting letters, emails, and phone calls. I would also include in person contacts with recruits, for building relationships is a form of creating as well. Our swimming & diving team here at LU was an act of creation, as my assistant and I started it from scratch and "created" the program and culture we have today.
In my spare time I keep several journals, and dabble in art and music as well. This blog and the articles contained herein are certainly a form of creation, and it is my hope that I have provided value and high quality content to readers along the way.
Finally, it goes without saying that building a family and a life in general is a form of creation, and while my family is young, I am proud of what my wife and I have "created" thus far.
In conclusion, I believe we as a society consume far too much, and the quality of said consumption is far too low. There are many unique and beautiful things in this world to consume, and many of them will bring us closer to our goals and purpose in life than consumption of lower quality content. We should be diligent about what we consume, and we should examine our consumption as it relates to what it is that we want to accomplish in life. The quality of our creation seldom exceeds the quality of our consumption, and we should consume with this valuable lesson in mind!
And as for accomplishment...we must create in order to accomplish, and I urge you to spend more time in areas of high quality creation! Create! Do! Work!