Garbage In, Garbage Out

*A tiny rant about why content consumption choices matter now more than ever*

Your brain isn’t much different than your gastrointestinal tract: what you put inside of it has a big impact on what comes out.

So it’s no surprise that when a daily media diet consists largely of headline news, Celebrity Apprentice, and lolcats, what comes out (if anything can come out at all) probably isn’t pretty. Think of this as the media equivalent of living off of diet cola, Kraft Dinner, and Krispy Kreme donuts.

At the same time, regularly gorging yourself of what Mitch Joel regularly refers to as bite-size, “snackable” content doesn’t amount to a well balanced media diet either (because reading 10,000 tweets will never be the same thing as reading a book cover to cover). To become a better content creator, and almost all of us are creating content in some capacity these days, you need to start by filling your brain with better stuff.

Point of Clarification: This Isn’t Twitter’s Fault

First, we must resist urge to point a finger at Twitter et al. for the superfluous volumes of low grade content out there. Twitter just makes it easier for people to find it, spread it, and talk about it. However, platforms like Twitter also help us share and discover the good stuff. It’s the human in front of the screen that must make the conscious decision as to what they will allow to command their attention.

Nor is this a uniquely 21st century concern. With both the invention of Gutenberg’s printing press and the proliferation of paperback books came corresponding explosions in the availability and accessibility of new content. In both cases, and as we have seen in the era of cable TV and the internet, the flood of newly available content varied significantly in quality. So for hundreds of years we have been faced with choosing what’s worthy of our limited time, but now with so many instant access points to an infinitesimal volume of content (i.e. the web), that decision is more critical than ever.

There’s Nothing Wrong With Consuming Content for Strictly Entertainment Purposes, It’s Just A Matter of How Much

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve certainly never committed myself (indefinitely) to a strict regime of reading the books, articles, and blogs it seems I should be reading, or watching the films it seems I should be watching. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I do indeed know who was booted off of Celebrity Apprentice last week.

But when I find myself with a slammer case of writer’s block, picking up a book or renting a documentary produced by someone far, far smarter than I am is a reliable first step in filling the page. Almost invariably, the less related the topic to my present concern, the better.

Content with strictly entertainment value does indeed have value, and we need it in our lives (lest we begin to take everything too seriously). Further, the semi-mindless gaps between periods of denser media consumption are places where we can subconsciously allow ideas to percolate and connect with one another.

The important thing is to keep in check how much of this kind of content we consume at the same time that we are faced with the ever-present and growing problem of just how much of it’s out there to endlessly distract us.

The Challenge

This week, skip Dancing With the Stars and pick up a non-fiction book or rent a documentary that either makes you wince a bit (on account of length, depth of content, subject matter, etc.) or is completely unrelated to your field of expertise. See it through to the end no matter what.

(On the docket for me this week: The Information by James Gleick)

Let's talk this out, shall we?