I saw this tweet (via Austin Kleon) the other day. It stung a little.
It’s my theory that “binge-worthy” TV series are intentionally repetitive and boring so as not to be cognitively intrusive as we stay on our phones the whole time they’re in the background.— Clayton Cubitt (@claytoncubitt) December 10, 2017
Seems to be a fair accusation. But isn’t this also an indictment of many of us as consumers? We could choose to put down our phones.
And it’s not as if we’re engaging with those either. The level of disengagement is the same. It’s almost like the flashing of all these devices puts us into some incoherent trance. Maybe that’s our unspoken goal.
Another stinger: this excellent article Liz Pelly wrote for the Baffler. Pelly takes a jab at Spotify and its “ambition to turn all music into emotional wallpaper.” The article’s main point is that automation is hurting music. The algorithms gnaw away until all that remains is branded Muzak.
I’m guilty here too. I love music, but how am I engaging with it? As a work of art, or as background noise? I like to think I have good taste, but is my recent taste the product of a mindless algorithm? When was the last time I sat down with the sole purpose of listening to a song or album?
I’ve been thinking about this a lot in recent days, and there’s more to the problem. But what it all seems to point to is a lack of thoughtful engagement with culture. We’re passive consumers. Is this because we’re unwilling to engage? Are we that busy and overworked?
Or is the situation worse? Are our lives so fragmented we’re unable to engage?