What to do when nothing really matters?
"No matter what you're into, there is probably something out there for you." But not only that, no matter what you are into, there is more of that something out there than you can consume in a lifetime. And this encourages us to be narrow. The great virtue of the limited supply of sci fi back in the day was that it forced you to read or watch westerns and historicals and sea stories and school stories and so many other things. We have gone from an impossible breadth of riches to an impossible narrowness of riches. Where once you could never read broadly enough to cover the full spectrum, now you can never read narrowly enough to exhaust the smallest niche.
Yes, you could be exposed to all these many varieties of things, but why would you look at them when there is an infinity of your own particular thing available to keep your attention?
Those two different kinds of abundance have very different consequences for society. Language is stories and the number of stories that we have in common is diminishing all the time. With fewer and fewer shared reference points, we have less to say to each other and fewer shared words and images with which to express it.
This in turn narrows the creator's pallet. Without the ability to assume shared stories or shared concepts, we can do less and less by implication, quotation, reference, symbol, or image. Our vocabulary and shared history becomes confined to the narrow niches we inhabit. There is less and less unexplored ground within these narrow niches so we become less and less original.
In artistic terms, we have entered a period of toxic abundance. We need to reestablish the habit of broad common reading in order to create an audience with sufficient breadth of experience and vocabulary to appreciate a richer creation.
But I have no idea how we get there.
Just wanted to say that there are an impressive number of comments from people named Mark and Mike here.
It is a tough question to answer. If there is too much to choose from, choosing becomes a chore and makes it harder to find what you like.
I think of music. In the 1970s, there were a small number of gatekeepers (record labels/radio) that decided what got heard. Yet I fondly recall great new music being released almost daily on the radio. Now there is infinite choice in music, yet It is harder for me to find songs I like.
The small opportunity made it harder for bands to break, but easier for listeners. Now it is easier for creators but harder for consumers. Is either one better? I don’t know. Being a creator of non-commercial writing, I prefer the vast “do it yourself” opportunity of today. But as a reader, I get overwhelmed too easily by the sheer volume of choices and my backlog of unread newsletters and books.
I feel seen.
Seriously, the point that as a creator, how can I hope to find an audience, is terrifying. I feel like I was born 100 years too late to have any real success doing what I love. But that just makes me challenge my motives for doing it.
From consumers' perspectives, post-scarcity entertainment is overwhelming, I think. It adds to the glut of things vying for our attention, and may partly be responsible for the increasing choice by many to 'unplug', though smart phones and social media play a larger role in that.
From creators' perspectives - Hearing from literary agents and publishers about how few novelists are selected and of those, how few can actually earn a living writing novels ($10K/year? I don't think so), is one example of just how daunting this post-scarcity world is to a creative (in this case, novelists).
But there is great hope amid this shift. Creatives must redefine what an "audience" is, and realise that we have more tools than ever to find/build our own audience without intervening agents and marketers. Whether we're writers, illustrators, filmmakers or music-makers, we can use today's innovative tools to our advantage while retaining control over our own work.
It takes patience, consistency and perseverance, but with an audience of as few as 1,000 supporters, we can carve out a good living, doing the work we love, our "life's work". This was never true before. We may not become famous, but I'd trade fame any day to be able to simply do what I love. ~Lyndsey
While the sheer number of options can be overwhelming, I do like how gatekeeping has been largely removed. We no longer have entities choosing media for us to watch. We can choose hat we watch ourselves.
This x 1000.
I used to remember waiting for upfronts to hear about all the new shows coming out in the fall. Now there are i) so many shows released nonstop and ii) so many shows dropped a season at a time that it's all just noise.
Amazon just released Paper Girls in one go and Netflix dropped Sandman after that and despite the good reviews of both, I don't feel any external urgency or need to watch them. It feels like no one is even talking about them. At the end, Amazon and Netflix don't care about IP and fandom communities. They are about subscriber numbers. Disney also cares about subscriber numbers and it may all be a flywheel to get people to their theme parks and to buy a lot of merch, but they at least care (on the surface) a bit more about the IPs that they produce.
I'm another in the born to late club. In my case, I figure around 50 years too late. (Though if I had been born 50 years earlier I would probably have been a miner, never had a university education, and would have died of black lung, so there's that.)
But for me this born too late feeling is not about the mechanics of the market. It is about the kinds of books being written and read. It's about the kind of book that is now missing from our repertoire, what I have taken to calling the serious popular novel. Today we have culture with a hole in the middle, genre fiction on the one hand, in infinite abundance, and so called literary fiction on the other, which is the possession of the academy and not written to be of interest to the general reader. I have no beef with either in itself. To each his own. But I want the stuff in the middle, the serious popular fiction, and it isn't there, either as a market for me to sell to, or as a source of books for me to read.
"What do you think? Are we better off now, or do you yearn for the Good Old Days?"
Given the choice between barriers of entry being a limited number of gateholders controlling a large but limited supply, or spending a LOT of my own money on physical merch I'd need to store and ship myself (from a writer's perspective), or an even smaller number of gatekeepers controlling vastly less supply vs needing hundreds of thousands to millions to fund a project and still have to get it through the sane gatekeepers (from a video/tv/film perspective), vs the cheap tools, cheap data and cheap distribution but competing against ridiculous amounts of content, I'll take today, thank you.
I create for me. If someone else likes it, awesome.
I have things I've done hit audiences of hundreds to low thousands. A few things more than that. One thing I did I know has reached billions. Very little ever made me any money other than flat fee work. Doesn't matter. Some of it entertained, some instructed. The instructed is more of a win. Teaching someone something new and useful is certainly something I know makes the world a slightly better place.
Also, see that earlier thread about a vomitus of words. Then recall I just deliberately used "vomitus."
Also, like you, I often feel I was born 10 years too late or 10 years too early.
As a (very much) pre-millennial, I tend to find the impatience generated by the on-demand life we live, quite annoying. I see and experience too much 'wanting it all NOW', and it seems to me that many consumers don't appreciate how hard it is to actually create.
I'm always drawn in by a Hitchhiker's reference...
I'm happy with the current environment although I have a feeling that we'll see convergence, mergers and consolidations coming over time which will narrow the field again, that seems to be the pattern that media has been following in decades. But who knows? Maybe there's enough interesting variety, and enough cash, to sustain things for awhile.
Oh, totally common. Born 10 years "too late" is about wanting to have had more time with a thing before it went away, and 10 years "too early" about wanting to have had the thing long before you did. ;)
Something I've not articulated before. So, um, thanks for the moment of self reflection, I suppose?
It is a two edge sword. I love having access to millions of songs (streaming) but can’t possibly listen to them all. And I love being able to publish on demand for free. But I am competing for attention with potentially everyone else in the world. I don’t think the lack of gatekeepers has resulted in more “stars.” Just more content that rarely gets discovered by more than a few.
I have been publishing on Substack for two years and only have 700 followers. Writing fiction/humor is certainly not a career option for me. But it is a good hobby that earns some extra money. And it wouldn’t have really been an option in the 70s.