An old god . . .
My son, Sean, recently shared with me some thoughts on content and media in the wake of the introduction of a new game console. His insight into story and creating content are very interesting from the point of view of the twenty something generation. Here it is:
“every great thing that ever was, was small on the day before it became great” Michael Hyatt
The biggest problem we’re facing in the modern world is not hunger or disease, government overreach or corporate ownership, shifting global industries or climate change (though believe me, all those issues are important and vital to address in one way or another.) No, the biggest problem facing our generation is this: what do we do with the time we’re given?
We live in an unprecedented season of human history where technology, social development and worldwide prosperity gives an increasingly large portion of the world more free time than they know what to do with. Access to tools for information technologies and public information create a world where secrets can’t hide, and if they can, they can’t hide for long. Information access is the great socially destabilizing force of our time. When combined with the reshaping of world socio-economic systems, a larger population of the world’s population has access to a larger pool of comfortable free time than at any other point in human history.
Like Clay Shirkey points out in Cognitive Surplus, we’ve spent the last 50 years trying to reckon with this enormous shift in social and cultural life around the globe. Shirkey asserts that like the gin craze of industrialized London, society has coped with our influx of free time by investing in something easy and palatable (though by no means healthy): the television. We befriend characters (fictional and “real”) and we live vicariously through them, letting producers and writers take our nigh-genetically-encoded hunger for story and shared experience and transform it into a multimedia, multi-national conglomerate entertainment complex. For many years, television viewership was like a national religion – the shared set of stories and cultural understandings that grounded us in modern life.
But (and this is a really, truly crucial but): the world is changed. Ironically, the information access that created this coping mechanism’s key systems is also slowly dismantling it. With the advent of personal computing, interactive entertainment and affordable mobile electronic devices, people have more opportunity than ever to actively participate in and sometimes even co-create the media they consume. Smartphones enable users to photograph or record any event they choose; games like Minecraft and even Mass Effect allow users the opportunity to custom-tailor their story experience and tell stories of their own; and digital hosting like Youtube or Instagram allow for easy and free distribution of created material. We have participated in stories because we must be involved in shaping our understanding of our world; we have consumed them passively through commercial media production because previously we have had no choice.
We have participated in stories because we must be involved in shaping our understanding of our world
That has changed. Reality has shifted, and media creation (and participatory media consumption) is now within reach of (if not already a reality for) a vast majority of people in the developed world (and a good portion of the developing world too.) Humans have always had a nigh-infinite capacity for creation and self-realization; technology now allows our created works to finally catch up with our imaginations.
Most people realize that this change has come about on an instinctive level. They share photos and videos of their lives on Facebook; they post pictures to Instagram and keep up with far-flung acquaintances through digital audio and text. The capacity for deliberation and deep, honest engagement with people of like mind has never been greater. Therefore, for most people the television has become the new household god, a marker of cultural identity maybe, and a presence to which people feel great affection or deference, but not the overwhelming, monolithic driver of human existence and identity that it once was.
It’s an old god in a new world, having the appearance of power but slowly losing any of that power’s realities, not by outright defeat, but by a slow fade into irrelevance.
There’s a secret to that god, one that its fondest worshippers diligently spend millions of dollars a day to obfuscate and disguise. The secret is this: the god was never real, and was of our own making from the beginning. Before television, before commercial radio, we created: we told stories, we laughed at bars, we wrote songs on our porches. Sure, there were always consumptive media (and interactive experiences like games, incidentally), but we have always actively engaged them: we have gone to the theater, we have cheered at games, we have sung together in church. One of our human prerogatives is to create, and no amount of media consumption has ever fully suppressed that compulsion. We’ve consumed because we’ve been trained to; we create because we have no other choice.
So that’s my invitation to you: create. Make something. Do something; do anything. There is no amount of cultural gatekeeping that can keep you from creating. The tools are there; the desire is there. You need only to act. Michael Hyatt says every great thing that ever was, was small on the day before it became great. You have no idea how important your stories are: to you, to your loved ones, to me, to the world. You just have to tell them. If you do, if we create and share, then the world will never look the same again.