In the classic novel by David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest, There are movies that are so funny that people who have seen even a small part of them give up all desire to do anything else with their lives in order to keep watching. Throughout the book, characters who have seen it give up family, friends, careers, and even food and sleep just to keep watching the movie.
overarching theme of Infinite Jest both as an individual and as a society that too Entertained.And much of the 1000-plus pages of this book are about the absurdity of such societies. Infinite Jest In the early 1990s, television was just beginning to acquire dozens of channels, news was broadcast 24 hours a day, video games ruled the minds of young children, and blockbuster movies made unprecedented amounts of cash. It was a time when box office every summer.
At the time, Wallace had just undergone an alcohol and substance abuse recovery program. But even though he was clean only as an adult, he noticed something strange. He couldn’t stop watching TV.
Wallace seemed to understand that as media increases, so does the competition for attention. , and even no longer optimized for fun. If you have two TV channels, you don’t have to worry about users clicking away from them. But with 200 channels, suddenly they have to do everything they can to keep their viewers on board for as long as possible. Wallace saw this issue come decades ago, and his personal understanding of addiction, based on his recovery experience, has made us all a part of it very quickly. He seemed to understand the culture.
Today, we often mistake this addictive medium for entertainment. There’s a function deep in our brains that says, “Well, she watched this show for six hours, so she must have loved it.” No, that script is really just mediocre hot trash, manipulated by cliffhangers and poor writing to keep you watching for hours. Just like , your brain is hijacked to watch “one more episode” to see if you’re dead so-so.
On social media, this “addictive but I kinda don’t like it” phenomenon has been recognized and debated to death. But other areas of media and entertainment have yet to catch up.
Streaming services and Hollywood are clearly the culprits here. How many more mediocre Marvel Universe movies does it take to prove this point? How many more bad Star Wars spin-offs are there? How many bad Netflix shows do every episode end on a cliffhanger? Everyone complains that Hollywood no longer has new ideas. Remixing genres is a risk-free way to insure your audience.
Music is in a similar place. for a while Market research Studies from music streaming services show that people spend more time listening to old music than new music, and this trend is going in the wrong direction. Music lovers vote with mouse buttons, but those mouse buttons go back in time, not forward.
Veteran music producer Rick Beato video Lately, we’re talking about the simplification of popular music in recent years to the point where one or two chords and one melody are repeated over and over again for two or three minutes. No chorus. No bridge. No variations. No buildup, no release. An endless jumble of catchy sounds that repeat one after the other.
Part of this is because the economics of music streaming are such that artists have an incentive. No Instead of trying to create the best song or album possible, create as many small, simple songs as possible that you won’t click away from. We have created an artistic environment where songs that are easy to listen to are better.
Similar problems are prevalent Youtube, the biggest creator racking up millions of views, opening thousands of Amazon boxes, gifting a friend a car, and repeating it over and over again. There is none. On the other, you find yourself mindlessly clicking next video, next video, next video, next video.
Content is optimized for addiction when everything is measured in terms of engagement. Neither entertainment nor artistic value. Not intellectual substance or creativity. Pure and rustic addictive. In short, we consumers get a lot of art in our lives that isn’t predictable, innovative, or interesting.
In art, music, film, and television, this is really frustrating and frustrating. Each of us needs to sift longer and harder to find something new and great. But where this addictive optimization becomes dangerous is another part of the culture I want to talk about… *take a deep breath*…politics.
I’ve written before about how most people in the United States agree on most things, but somehow our political parties and governments have a way of doing things that most people don’t like. Many experts attribute this discrepancy between public desires and government behavior to theories about dominant systems or established particular interests or polarizing social media. increase.
But what about this? Politicians like Hollywood executives, pop stars and YouTube creators are motivated to generate more engagement. Not great results. Always more engagement. Their actions are therefore not optimized to produce sensible policies or common-sense bills or sensible compromises, but rather to capture and hold our attention for as long as humanly possible. is optimized for
David Foster Wallace also saw this coming.President of the United States Infinite Jest He’s a former pop singer obsessed with television ratings, thinks policy debates are too boring, and considers war with Canada based on how good his photography is in military camouflage. In this book, terrorist groups are rampant because the battlefield is not for territory or resources, but for centerpieces and headlines.
Ultimately, only we can manage our attention. You can get mad at Netflix and Spotify and the Senate. But ultimately, these systems are loose reflections of our own attentional habits. Change our attention, change our system. There is an old saying that people “vote with their feet”. Well, today you have to vote with your eyes and mouse clicks. Don’t watch the next episode of that poorly written garbage that keeps teasing you about a character almost dying, listen to his half-baked next album with 27 songs, a two-minute track. please don’t Don’t click clickbait. Don’t reward people with attention-grabbing stunts by mindlessly scrolling through TikTok or YouTube. Also, don’t look at or respond to politicians and pundits who endlessly tweet about pet issues while actually accomplishing nothing.
in chaotic and joyful confusion Infinite Jest, There is the story of Don Gately, a recovered alcoholic who would rather literally die than relapse to substance abuse. When I first read the book many years ago, Gately’s story seemed off the mark. Amidst short attention spans, addictive entertainment, and futuristic mayhem with nervous teenagers, Gately’s story explores personal triumph over one’s demons and the ability to sacrifice oneself for others. It seemed like a strange, run-of-the-mill story about
What I just realized is that Wallace wrote the character of Don Gately as an example of what we all need to aspire to. It’s a recovered addict. Someone who can turn drugs off, someone who can cut cold turkey. People who can manage their own attention and don’t fall victim to an endless stream of ignorant engagements. And not just for ourselves. for everyone else too.