Consumption: reading, watching, observing.
Creation: writing, speaking, doing.
We need time in both modes, Consumption and Creation, but many of us, including myself at the time of originally writing this essay, tend to spend too much time consuming, and too little time creating.
For almost all of human history, we were information starved. But now in a blink, we’re drowning. Social media, news, TV, other Consumption platforms serve to benefit from your distraction. The longer you wait, the more addictive these platforms become.
But unfortunately, the more you consume, the less you create. And because of the forces above, it’s easier than ever before for Consuming to preclude Creating.
When I first wrote this essay, I would have agreed with you. I used Consumption like this everyday: whenever I didn’t feel like I had the energy to create, I watched science videos on youtube.
But now that I’ve been writing this website for a few months, I’ve found that I vastly enjoy writing over watching. The recent times I’ve tried to watch more than an hour of youtube, or engaged in any Consumption that’s not deliberate research, I’ve found myself feeling sick.
After two months of writing for this website daily, Creation had become my preferred way to relax, and I’m not sure I’ll ever go back. Today, whenever I have a spare moment, I get excited to write and revise, to create.
At the beginning of 2020 Summer I had just finished a multi-month creative project. I had greatly enjoyed that I was doing something, but once it was over, my time reallocated to old defaults: I read more, and I watched more.
But I missed Creating! I worked full time for three months making something—now, reading and watching felt empty.
For context, as I write this, I’ve spent the vast majority of my life in school, consuming: listening to teachers and reading textbooks. School assignments are almost entirely Consumption in my experience.
And that’s why I started this website. I only started in 2020 Summer.
When I had the idea for this essay, I made it a personal rule to write everyday before I do any other activity, and especially before any form of Consumption. Curiously, I’ve noticed that habitual Creation has made me feel more in control of life.
Moreover, I took delight in the fact that I was making something everyday.
By now I’ve spent at least 200 hours writing between 2020 July and now as I revise this, 2021 February. Currently there are more than 40 essays posted on this website. This is my pastime.
Drawing © Ariana Dyer.
Even if you enjoy Creation a lot, you may still find yourself spending much time Consuming. While I enjoy writing incredibly, weeks have gone by where I’ve forgetten this feeling, and, by default, I’ll spend my spare time entirely Consuming.
I’ve found that I can’t trust myself to automatically do an activity, even an important activity, just because I enjoy doing it.
While this became easier with time, it took the rather unreasonable span of three months to become automatic.
Wouldn’t you rather have your spare time go into creating something?
Creation is far more important. It lasts. It’s real.
Consumption by itself is meaningless.
OK, you’ve read 200 books and articles, but what have you done with that?
While I don’t believe Consumption is intrinsically deplorable (except, perhaps, by time opportunity cost), I do believe that the balance between Consumption and Creation has become crooked for many people.
Learning is for later application. Consumption is for eventual Creation.
And while of course you can’t tell in advance what Consumption will be the most useful for later Creation, there certainly are marginal returns at play for spending time on Consumption.
Consider whether your Consumption is optimized for your goals. Is your Consumption, often focused on answers to questions you might never have? I’ve found myself guilty of this.
Do you check the news more than once a month?
Acknowledge that there will always be more to consume.
Now, how much time do you spend consuming and creating?
If you’re like me at the time of originally writing this, you’ll observe that your time allocation between Consuming and Creating is less than ideal.
How will you protect yourself against excessive Consumption?
After all, Newton only developed the foundations of calculus and physics while Cambridge was closed due the plague. He was forced to stop consuming, and took the time to create something new.
Let me know and I’ll add it here. I’m also interested in research relevant to this topic, so let me know if anything comes to your mind.
Posted 2020 August 22 [originally under the title “Output”], last updated 2021 April 29.
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