Are we destined to live in a world where we only create for ourselves? I am going to argue that it is possible. According to IBM, our civilization generates 2,500,000 terabytes of data every day, which includes our movies, YouTube videos, ebooks, video games, tweets, pictures, and everything else. Here’s a sample of what 2.5 million terabytes of data per day means:
- There were 300 hours of videos uploaded to YouTube every minute in 2016.
- There were about 2.2 million books published in 2016.
- Another 700,000 books had been self-published in the United States alone back in 2015. I am sure there were more in 2016.
- There are currently 2.2 million apps available for download in the Apple App Store.
- About 2 million blog posts are published every day on the Word Press platform alone.
These numbers are mind-boggling. Technology makes it easier and easier to create, and so more and more people are creating. As a result, we have more to consume today than ever before. In fact, there is already more than we could ever consume. We long ago passed that point. There is so much we can’t even process it all, and so we rely on machine gatekeepers to curate it and hopefully let us know what we might be interested in.
It doesn’t take too much imagination to see where this is going. Technology is not only making it easier to create books, games, and videos, but entire worlds. Not too long ago it took monumental human effort and capital investment to create virtual worlds, and, looking back, they were not even very graphically appealing.
But, as with all digital things, the time, money, effort, and knowledge necessary to create worlds is dropping, and they are even better than before. Experiencing them in virtual reality will only make them more enticing. If creating a whole world were as easy as creating, say, a YouTube video, would you do it? I would. When creating a world is that easy, everyone could have their own. But let’s extrapolate further. If it were that easy, would you create more than one world? I would. When that happens, the number of worlds will surpass the number of people. Just as there are blog posts, videos, books, songs, games, and more sitting on hard drives that no one ever accesses, whole worlds will be created, abandoned, and then forgotten.
This is already happening on a smaller scale. As an interesting example, Patrick Hogan took a tour of the virtual campuses that brick-and-mortar colleges built years ago in Second Life. They still exist in digital space but are now abandoned. In fact, Patrick did not encounter a single person as he toured the campuses. They are truly virtual ghost towns. Is that the future of our creative civilization? We will create vast worlds that are much richer than anything Second Life offered. Will they only take up space on a hard drive, forgotten and unappreciated by human minds?
Given this situation, I think it is completely reasonable for an individual to ask whether or not he or she should even bother creating at all. It is easier to create today than ever before, but that still doesn’t mean it’s easy. Ask any writer sitting at a keyboard trying to tap out the right words or an artist sitting with a digital pen trying to draw the right lines. That first step an idea must take from our biological brains through our skulls to get to digital media can be very difficult and is often agonized over. And, of course, everything we create isn’t digital. When you are moving atoms around instead of bits, everything changes. Coordinating international manufacturing and shipping logistics is easier than ever before, but it is still far from trivial.
Then, once you have brought something into the world, your creation is just one of an untold number of creations in the world that are competing for human attention. Because there is already more to consume than we ever could, why not just choose to consume? No matter how much easier creating gets, consumption will still be easier. Why write a novel when it is easier to read one?
Given the difficulty—and seeming futility—of creating, would it be terrible just to live a life of consumption? What if one consciously and deliberately decided to forgo creation and instead chose to fully invest in experiencing as much of what other people are creating as possible? Shouldn’t creators who want their creations to be experienced by others embrace people like that? It is interesting to think about what that might be like.
Yes, I appreciate irony. I sat and typed this blog post. I did hope someone would read it and appreciate it, in spite of the fact that it was one of more than 2 million published today.
I think we should ask ourselves, what brings us greater joy: consuming or creating? I did enjoy writing this blog post. Would I have enjoyed myself more if I had spent the time reading other people’s blogs? Maybe. I like writing my own too.
Whichever brings you joy—creating or consuming—throw yourself into it. Probably, you will enjoy a mixture of both. But as you create, consider if you would be happy if only you enjoyed the result. If you built an entire world and no one saw it but you, would it still bring you joy? It might. If it does, you might create whole worlds in the future just to experience the pleasure of the creative act—creating today, leaving tomorrow never to return, and creating again.
But, while we are creating, maybe we should remember to take a little time each day to enjoy the creations of others too.
What do you think a deliberate life of conscious consumption would be like? What do you think is the creative future of our civilization?
If you have not seen the short film, “World Builder”, it beautifully illustrates what building worlds might be like in the future. I think it is masterful and well worth watching.