I don’t like buying things. It’s not that I don’t have money or that I live beyond my means. As a starving graduate student I make enough to get by and I can generally stay within my income. What I don’t like is accumulating stuff. I have a rather visceral negative reaction whenever I buy things that I will keep around for a long time. This includes essentials (clothes, books) as well as non-essentials (gadgets, artsy things). Part of it is just practicality: the more stuff I have the more I need space to put it all and the more I need to lug around when I move (which happens every year or two). The more important reason is that right now I want to be a creator, not a consumer and buying stuff is opposed to that.
Compared to the energy of creating and making things, consumption almost always feels draining. There is a difference between buying things and consumerism. For better or for worse it’s possible to be a consumer without spending money. Thanks to all the free content around the web I can easily spend hours and days consuming without spending a dime. Netflix, YouTube, Vimeo, Spotify, etc. are all incredible (and seemingly unending) sources of consumable content. I don’t spend any money (or at most very little money), but I do spend a large amount in terms of energy and time. It’s so easy to sit on the couch and just hit the next button. Before I know it, it’s dark outside, the day is gone, I’ve forgotten to get dinner and accomplished pretty much nothing. The problem with this form of empty consumption is that it’s not relaxing or refreshing and it’s definitely not useful. The day just melts away into a sea of unproductiveness.
Television is particularly soul-sucking. It’s almost drug-like in the effectiveness with which it shuts down my brain and makes the rest of the world go away. When I sit on the couch and turn on Netflix I can feel my brain turning off. There’s a fog of semi-consciousness descending on my mind. I’m awake, I can see and touch and feel, but I’ve lost all the will to act or do anything other than hit the next button. After a few minutes it’s more work tearing myself away than hitting “next”. I suppose this is what being a zombie is like. This is my brain on television and in hindsight it’s quite terrifying. Perhaps there’s a reason it’s been called the “idiot box”.
Modern society seems to be predisposed towards consumers. Everyone is a consumer whether or not they want to be. Even the point of creation is to make money to be used for more consumption. I’m not about to make a grand sweeping statement like “consumption is evil”. Personally I think the occasional (even regular) indulgence is fine, maybe even healthy. But for me, consumption as a way of life is depressing. It’s synonymous with days sitting on the couch watching bad television, feeling my brain gradually atrophy a handful of neurons at a time. It’s synonymous with buying a nice shirt and then wearing free t-shirts to class everyday. Even though it might feel good in the moment, it quickly turns to disappointment and regret. Personally, I’ll take the pain of discipline over the pain of disappointment and regret.
Creation is different. Creation should be harder, it should take up more energy, it should leave me feeling trained and tired. And sometimes it does. But even if I feel physically tired, at a deeper level I feel energized. It feels good to know that today I made something. It makes me look forward to getting up tomorrow morning and making it better. It’s good to be able to show something to people, to get their opinions and ideas and then go back and polish. It’s good to know that I can the change the world in some way and maybe, just maybe I can make a bigger difference. Creation is good.
I don’t know why being creative feels good. I’m sure there’s some reward pathway in the brain that gets triggered by designing something, making plans to make it happen and then actually following through on those plans. I would like to believe that what I make helps other people in some way. Even if it doesn’t, I think I’m fine with pursuing creativity for personal reasons. I’m hoping that a life with less random television, fewer RSS feeds and less time glued to Twitter and Facebook will translate to more blog posts, more working code and more meaningful connections with real people. I’m hoping that it’ll also keep away the dreaded feeling of brain decay that a few hours of “entertainment” produces. Even when I do consume, I’d like it to be good books, good music and movies, blog posts that are actually insightful and interesting and not shallow proclamations of half-formed thoughts.
What I consume should be what I aspire to create. I want to create more than I consume.