If you met someone who was always hungry. Not hungry often, but always. Someone who could eat a big meal but still seem unhealthy despite a regular diet. This is the kind of thing that happens to us when we have a parasite. We are unable to capture nutrients from our food so all of the food we eat is in vain. It is also quiet possible that the food itself is low on nutritional value so eating often does not equate to health.
The same can be possible for an entire society and maybe it is present in ours, but instead of food we consume content. We devour content at such a rapid rate there is an insanely high demand for it. We’ve all heard the 7 second attention span statistic, but that might be because we can’t get more than 7 seconds of peace before something distracts us.
If we are supposed to be fed by culture, educated, inspired, and entertained then media is the delivery method for it. But we have a parasite, that strips it of its nutritional value, and creates a higher demand based on its desire to be fed along with us. Commerce has its own appetite and its own dietary fluctuations. This demand means we need to be increasing the amount of content produced, not to feed more people content, or feed them better content but to feed commerce.
This is not even actually a metaphor. In terms of real food Americans wastes 141 Trillion calories of food each year. 40% of what is harvested is wasted, and this will not slow either. Just as media is tied to commerce so is it tied to agriculture. And there can be no stagnation in commerce, so it must always be fed in dollars, even if there is no one to buy the product.
The British Film Institute estimated that 698 films were scheduled to be released last year to major theaters. That is 51 more than the year before but the average movie goer did not see any more films than the prior one. So there was simply greater competition for the same number of eyeballs, leaving so much content wasted.
But how we measure content consumption is not the same as how we measure calorie consumption so things get tricky. If we look at all the food wasted it is a clear physical impact in the form of wasted crops or other goods. Content is one of the goods of the mind and is represented digitally as data. But where is the unused data. It maybe on the hard drives of production studios, films that have never been released or viewed. Entire budgets spent to create films that were never released or viewed by an audience of the size once expected.
For the artist, passionate about their work they may feel that the creation of the work feeds them, and the consumption of it, if only by one person is enough to justify it. Culture is an ecosystem of ideas, emotions, and expressions. If we have an excess of ideas in circulation it means the ecosystem is out of sync, but the case seems to be an excess circulation of the same ideas repeatedly. In the world of content it may mean that we have a higher representation of low value content being produced in all ways. Horror movies that are less scary, more stand-up comics that are less funny, music that is less enjoyable. But commerce is not concerned with quality per say and there isn’t anything wrong with it.
Our job as consumers is to be discerning, to support and consume content that merits the time required to do so. It is after all our greatest currency. If you spend twelve dollars on a movie, you will see that twelve dollars again the next time you get paid but that 90 minutes spent watching the film will never return.
It is our task to monitor our content intake and inform commerce of our appetite, it will respond as it is accustomed to doing. We must be willing to pass on bad content if it is unhealthy for us the same way we would pass on eating a Twinky if it does not have a place in our diet.