How to Consume Media without it Consuming You.
April 5, 2010 2:31 PM   Subscribe

How do you find time to consume all the media you want to?

There are so many books, movies, tv shows, and animes that I would love to watch. Sometimes I make lists of the shows I want to watch, but it always seems like their is so much more that I'm missing out on.

How do you handle that feeling? Do you feel like you're missing out? Sometimes I feel like I should be creating instead of consuming. ie writing, making music.
posted by lakerk to Media & Arts (24 answers total) 34 users marked this as a favorite
I prioritize the things I want to see by importance, and then download the media I want to see/hear so I can consume it on my own schedule - I haven't lived by a broadcaster's schedule in years.

I understand your desire to be a creator rather than just a consumer, and perhaps that desire should be considered when you set your priorities between what you MUST see and what you would like to see, but isn't all that important in the long run.
posted by phredgreen at 2:35 PM on April 5, 2010

1) Realize that I will never be a professional creator, because I am now competing against people much more talented and skilled than I will ever be, drawn from the entire globe.

2) Avoid having a life.

3) Delay purchases so the price drops on used items to something more reasonable.

4) DVDs of TV shows instead of watching them on-air, saving roughly sixteen minutes per hour on network television shows.

5) Friends and I circulate DVDs.

6) Research before assimilating.

7) Develop standards for what media I do consume (know the writer, know the director, know the actors).

8) Watch Fight Club, disagree with Mr. Durden's primary thesis out loud. "I am my DVD collection."
posted by adipocere at 2:40 PM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I had my cable TV disconnected and download all the stuff I want to watch online. Instantly I had hours left in the day.

For TV shows, watching just the first episode or two helps me figure out whether I want to actually watch it, it's not necessary to watch everything unless it grabs me. For books, I read the first few pages in the bookstore and if it doesn't grab me *then and there*, I pass on it (if I can't read that much, i won't read the whole thing anyway). Movies I will skim through if I'm not sure if it's quite my thing even if friends have all raved about it. Then I'll watch it all the way through. I do my creative work while watching movies or tv shows, because it's just jewelry making and I can listen as I work with my hands. Doesn't work great for all hobbies tho, so ymmv.
posted by lizbunny at 2:41 PM on April 5, 2010

Do you want to watch/listen to/read it or do you feel like you ought to?

I have a set of rules that's pretty successful for managing my Netflix queue: I can't have more than 75 items in the queue (not counting things that aren't out yet) and another 50 in the instant queue. If I end up with more than 75 in the queue, I strike out the thing I want to watch least. Similarly, any DVD that makes it to the house has to be watched in 2 weeks, not counting travel nights or concerts, or it goes back unwatched. Similarly, if I skip a DVD that's in the house repeatedly, cycling through all the rest that Netflix sends me, the DVD goes back. What this tells me is that I don't want to watch it.

I also have a limit on the number of things I can have in my Amazon wish list and I'm instituting a time limit on how long things can sit there, and doing the same with iTunes/CD Baby/etc. Similarly, I can't have more stuff in my to-read basket than will fit in my basket. If I keep buying other things before what's on the wish list, it means I don't want what's on the wish list and I should remove it from the list.

The limits mean I have things to consume and I will eventually consume everything on the list. And it's all stuff I and my spouse want to consume, not what we think we ought to.
posted by immlass at 2:47 PM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I have had the exact same problem, lakerk. I wanted to watch fifty TV shows, read a hundred books, hear a thousand songs. Then I found that everything I consumed opened new paths to media for consumption. Listening to a genre of music exposes you to subgenres and to collaborations; watching a TV show makes you follow all the writers and directors and actors to everywhere they went.

Eventually you realize that every artist is connected somehow to every other artist, and so you will never do it all.

I found that realization relieving. I hope it relieves you. You will never see it all. Neither has anybody else. There are films Roger Ebert has not seen, books Harold Bloom has not and will never read. Their spheres of knowledge are as limited as anybody's.

So that means you're free! No homework to do. Nothing you need to consume to catch up with anybody else. Other people have consumed things you never will, but they'll never see all the things you saw just this last year.

Another thing: It's all really good. Not television, maybe, which thanks to censors and TV restraints hasn't evolved like movies/music/literature has, but even in TV you can easily find a hundred shows that're worth your time, with another few coming out every year. So you don't have to worry about what you consume as long as you like it. If you don't like something, you don't have to feel guilty: There's something else out there that will speak more honestly to you.

Take advantage of Netflix and your local library. Pick up twenty books so that you can cast nineteen aside. If you like all twenty books, then it means fewer trips to the library, which is good. Listen to recommendations from friends you trust; follow the stuff you like and let it lead you to other stuff; sometimes just pick things out at random without looking and form opinions without any sort of outside influence.

And if you feel like creating, create! But don't create just because you feel pressured to. There are so many artists in the world that if you feel like lounging back and consuming, you can. But if you feel that urge to go do something, then do it. A few hundred dollars will get your foot in the door of nearly any kind of art form. Then you just play around and do what you want. Figure out what you like and what you don't like; do the former and avoid the latter. Don't worry about significance or relevance. Just make things.

The less you worry about how good you are, the more fun you'll have. It's easy to give up when you snap a photo and compare yourself to Ansel Adams. If you're just shooting for fun, learning tips when you feel like learning something, then some years from now you'll really have developed a knack for it. Then you're a creator.

The awesome thing about modern society is that there's a place for everything. You'll find people who like watching the same things as you, and you can get recommendations from them. You'll find people who make things you like, and you can get recommendations from them. Whenever you feel pressured, whenever you feel like you're missing out on some vague nebulous consumption victory, remind yourself that you've consumed more this year than artists of the Renaissance likely consumed in a decade. So by no means are you missing out.
posted by Rory Marinich at 2:54 PM on April 5, 2010 [20 favorites]

At some point I realized that yes, I actually was seeing everything that mattered (to me). There are NO hidden gems. At least none that are hidden so well that they require enormous amounts of effort.

Plus, if I didn't see it now, I'd see it soon enough. Even better, if I delay, I'll be able to rely on others to tell me whether it had stood the test of time. If I delay to the point where the thing I want is available in another format (e.g. DVD, on demand, etc), I'm not tied to another's schedule.

Says the man that watched all of Firefly and Mad Men in weeks-long orgies of DVD watching.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:57 PM on April 5, 2010

Do you really want to watch them? My Netflix queue tells me there is a difference between what I think I OUGHT to watch and what I actually feel like watching at any given moment. I wouldn't worry so much about it.

One thing I don't mind doing now that I have pretty strong opinions on cinema is.. if a movie after about 20-30 minutes is clearly not something I like, I don't feel obligated to watch the rest. Tried to watch some South Korean film that's allegedly a classic of this new wave of cinema there (note, I have watched and liked other recent South Korean films), but I just wasn't feeling it, so I'm not stressing about going back to it. Walk away. You don't owe [popular award winning director] another two hours of your life, if you don't like the film..

The other thing is, if a lot of my friends are into something, often times, I will watch it. I feel like I'm missing out if they're all talking about a TV series and I haven't seen it, or a film and I haven't seen it. Having a decent conversation about one film that's maybe a little less artistically brilliant, but still worth the time, is a lot more valuable to me than watching a whole series of films and just processing them in my own head.
posted by citron at 3:01 PM on April 5, 2010

I don't have cable. Instead, I watch TV shows and movies on Hulu or other, er, less legal sites while I do homework or housework.
posted by oinopaponton at 3:02 PM on April 5, 2010

This is not being at all snarky, but when I find that I want to watch too much I give myself a reality check. I remind myself that those TV shows are advertisement delivery systems, and that it's not even enough to FF through commercials now - heavyhanded product placement is getting more and more common. I remind myself that Entertainment Weekly (to which, for some godforsaken reason, my family subscribes) exists in order to serve me advertisements for shows that serve me advertisements for products. I'm not saying television is the devil, but I like to reality check my sense of how important it is that I tune in for this week's new episode of whatever. This makes it easier to find time to enjoy all the things I like to consume - books, rather than TV, movies, music while on a walk or run, etc. I'm not implying you don't have perspective, but just wanted to point out that I give myself a major critical glance when the thought "I just don't have enough time to watch all the shows I want to check out" pops into my head.

I also spend some time reading every night before bed. I wouldn't be able to sleep if I didn't.
posted by bunnycup at 3:09 PM on April 5, 2010

//Similarly, any DVD that makes it to the house has to be watched in 2 weeks, not counting travel nights or concerts, or it goes back unwatched//

I'm instituting this rule tomorrow, and starting by sending back the DVD that has been sitting in the kitchen for at least six weeks.

To answer the original OP - you aren't missing out on anything. Media lives forever these days. You can catch up on stuff you missed the first time years later. We are having a great time in our family working our way through the entire Buffy / Angel canon, with out kids.
posted by COD at 3:14 PM on April 5, 2010

That should be with our kids. We aren't a couple of senior citizens catching up on stuff we missed because when had kids. Well, not yet anyway.
posted by COD at 3:15 PM on April 5, 2010

Response by poster: Interesting comments guys. Thank you for everyone who has responded so far. Obviously I think there is a deeper question that I can't quite put my finger on here. It's not just a surface level question. Got some pondering to do.
posted by lakerk at 3:45 PM on April 5, 2010

We have seasons here which means that Wintertime is good for catching up on back episodes of whatever and Spring/Summer/Autumn is for basically not doing that. I have a small peer group that isn't really media-saturated so there's very little keeping up with the Joneses in my life. I have a few things I like to watch and I do it at my own pace. I almost never watch anything with commercials because they give you The Fear that if you don't watch something else [my tastes pretty much align with bunnycup's] you're Bad At Life. I make time to read in the evenings and try hard to talk about what I'm reading and watching at least a little bit with other people and I, in turn, ask about what they're reading/watching/listening to. In this way there's some of a shared responsibility for staying on top of things. Some people read the news, some people watch sports, some people stay op top of popular television, some people go to the library.

At some point I realized that I would never b able to read all the books in the library so I stopped trying. Jessamyn West [the author, not me] has a quotation I've always liked which is "You make what seems a simple choice: choose a partner or a job or a neighborhood -- and what you have chosen is not a partner or a job or a neighborhood, but a life." Put another way, our lives are really nothing more than the sum of the choices we make about how to spend our time. I decided at some point that I didn't want all that time to be passive consumption time, so I tried to adjust that somewhat. Like I said, I spend an aweful lot of the winter just watching movies and television and whatever and I'm happy doing it. Once the weather gets nicer I try to interact with the real world more. It's all about balance generally.
posted by jessamyn at 3:53 PM on April 5, 2010 [7 favorites]

You should listen to the inner voice that's telling you to create instead of (excessively) consume. It probably knows what it's talking about.
posted by naju at 3:53 PM on April 5, 2010

I don't own a TV and several of my friends don't either. Good movies and TV series make their ways to our computer screens sometimes, after a lot of careful consideration. We have a huge amount of time free to enjoy life and create, and we use it!

A TV screen eats at your life, your free time and reduces your creativeness. Kill it!
posted by knz at 4:00 PM on April 5, 2010

TV shows, books, and movies are not the media I worry about. These items exist in forms that are available at times of my choosing, and I can catch up anytime. (And, I have no expectation that I will read every book I want to read. There are just not enough hours in a lifetime.)

The bigger concern for me is the play, concert, art exhibit, lecture, or other live performance that I miss because there is another play, concert, art exhibit, lecture, or live performance that I choose to go to instead. While some of these things can be consumed as other media (recordings of plays, concerts, or lectures, pictures of exhibits, etc.), I believe much is lost in the translation.
posted by hworth at 4:21 PM on April 5, 2010

Additional wrinkles:

- Do you have an actual creative practice you're neglecting, or do you just like the idea of having one? This might get more complicated than cutting back on TV.

- I work with textiles instead of consuming media, mostly. As you can see, I also dick around on the Internet -- I'm not a monk or anything. The point is that I also have to come to terms with the fact that just like I'd never be able to read all the books in the world, there are also not enough hours in the day for me to make everything I want to make. You could give up media and still be unsatisfied, at which point you have another problem to work out if what you want is satisfaction.
posted by clavicle at 4:36 PM on April 5, 2010

I can't find the posts right now, but Tyler Cowen (of Marginal Revolution) has blogged several times about his habit of discarding partly read books, or walking out of movies. As soon as he decides it's not worth his time to continue, he stops. That leaves him more time for other books and movies that he might enjoy more.
posted by Jacqueline at 4:37 PM on April 5, 2010

Sometimes I feel like I should be creating instead of consuming. ie writing, making music.

FWIW, the creative people I know, the really creative types, create because they have no choice in the matter. "Should" doesn't enter into it- they have to do it. Often to the despair of their loved ones (or mutual happiness, if they find someone similarly inclined).

All others are dilettantes.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. Me, I don't even get that far. Certainly far less stressful.
posted by IndigoJones at 5:18 PM on April 5, 2010

A given movie, TV series, book or any other form of media will always be there (especially these days). Sure, even silly stuff like LOST is in the forefront of the public mind at the moment, but nobody watched The Prisoner when it was on. You can get it instantly on Netflix, pretty much. Or Hulu, or whatever other source you choose.
posted by GriffX at 5:30 PM on April 5, 2010

I only keep five on my iPhone/MacBook Pro, which I listen to in my car during my 45 minute commute each morning and afternoon. For each one, I have checked out three or four similar programs.

Der Tag by HR2: Pretty much the German version of All Things Considered or As It Happens. This is the only news-related podcast I listen to.

Jordan, Jesse GO! and You Look Nice Today are the funniest podcasts I have ever heard.

MacBreak Weekly is an excellent Mac-specific podcast produced by Leo Laporte’s TWiT network.

The Pipeline by Dan Benjamin is by far my favorite each week, and he is just getting started as a podcaster.

So, all told, this is approximately five hours of podcasts spread out over 90-100 minutes in my car each weekday.

(Kill your) Television
I watch entire series during the summer (I am a teacher), such as Curb, Southpark, etc. The only shows I follow in-season are The Daily Show, Modern Family, and 30 Rock. All of them are available online in various formats. I happen to use and Comedy Central’s site to watch about 150 minutes of TV a week, usually on Mondays and Fridays after the gym in the late afternoon.

I get other TV shows from Netflix in the summer (as mentioned above), such as Seinfeld, Brideshead Revisited, Mad Men, Curb Your Enthusiasm, etc.

I keep a well-tended Netflix queue and usually watch one movie a week. When I hear of a film in the theatres that I’d like to see, I make a note of it using Simplenote on my iPhone and then when I have a moment to look over my lists, I save these titles to my queue, such as the recent Swedish thriller Män som hatar kvinnor or pretty much all of the feature-length releases at the Cleveland International Film Festival.

I do not buy DVDs (anymore). I have about fifteen or twenty Criterion Collection releases that I re-watch now and then, like 8 1/2 or Fanny and Alexander.

I make a living off of my knowledge of languages, so reading is an essential part of keeping my skill-set sharp. At any given point, I am working on four books: one in German, one in French, and two in English (non-fiction and fiction). I am currently reading a book on slogans from May 1968 in French, LTI by Victor Klemperer in German, Growing Up by Russell Baker, and Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood.

I don’t really have a system to determine what or when I read. I check the feuilleton in the German- and French-language press now and then. Where I live the library network is fragmented at best (I wish Cleveland had Cincinnati’s public library), so I mostly get books from Amazon or Half Price Books.

I get new albums here and there, but I don’t really have a system. I mostly take recommendations from friends. I don’t buy CDs anymore.

I use Google Reader and keep three basic categories: Always, Comics, and Sometimes. In conjunction with Instapaper Pro on my iPhone and the flag/star feature in Google Reader, I quickly sort things to read for later in the day. I check Comics at lunch and then Sometimes a few times a week. I have ten blogs in the Always category and I do shift them around now and then.

As for creativity, I like writing and taking random photos with my iPhone. I find that writing my thoughts down each day and then re-reading the previous days’ thoughts can be interesting.

I always turn my phone to silent when I am with loved ones and friends. I avoid sitting across from someone while using my laptop. I worry less about bringing my laptop around with me and more about remembering to grab a book and my iPhone when leaving the house after work or on the weekends.

A little planning and careful thought into how I spend my (minimal) free time goes a long way towards enjoying what I am reading, watching, or listening to.
posted by vkxmai at 9:00 PM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I very clearly remember the day I realized that I would not live long enough to read every book that had ever been written. I was crushed (and 8 or 9 years old). I've had similar realizations since then about travel, and friendships.

If you're looking for a deeper question behind this, here's my guess: while some of the media we consume is worth our time, most is not. And consuming it keeps you from learning to play the bagpipes, or speak Greek, or render truth on canvas, or develop any of the other facets of your being that the light of the television cannot illuminate.

(says the guy who is himself surfing AskMe instead of doing anything grand)
posted by richyoung at 9:14 PM on April 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

Unfortunately you don't always, but you can always try to go for the ones you think you'll enjoy most, first.

I had over 100 movies in my Netflix queue and just recently took out a bunch of movies that it thought I would rate at under 4 stars.

I haven't read a new book in a couple of years, I'm embarrassed to say. (Though a few months ago I did reread 1984.) But I've also lost interest in some of the books on my Amazon wishlist (some of which I get from the library), so I got to remove those.

I'm also sad that I've not been able to play nearly as many video games as when I was writing for a gaming blog, but I've changed to only getting the games I really want the most. Even though Final Fantasy XIII is probably a very long game (FFXII was over 100 hours for me), I know that I won't regret playing it.

I have a whole bunch of podcasts that are too long for my typical driving distance, but I'll listen to on an upcoming road trip.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:05 AM on April 6, 2010

Rory really hits the nail on the head here, but I want to address the notion you raise of feeling bad not creating anything. I don't know what you do for a living, or what your passions are, but chances are you can fit them in to (MeFi's own) Merlin Mann's notion of creativity, described most notably in his talk subtitled "With All Due Respect to the Seduction Community."

Whether you write, or draw, or make Excel spreadsheets, or whatever, the thing you do is almost definitely of interest to a few somebodies out there, no matter how narrow the subject is (and, often nowadays, especially how narrow the subject is). If you're not interested in making money off that content - or if you already have a funding stream for it - the Internet makes it free or low cost to distribute it to the world. If you're the even more charitable sort, you can clearly designate that content for other people to use, via Creative Commons.

Example in practice: I write, and take photos. Chances are, I'm not even in the top half of people who do either of those things in terms of skill. Most of my writing energy goes into professional stuff, where my unique perspective on a narrow issue means that I'll occasionally get published (for free) in ways that help me secure gainful employment down the road. The photos I put up on Flickr under a fairly liberal Creative Commons license. Because I've put them up that way, a few of them have actually gotten used - one in a professor's powerpoint, one in a travel brochure - and that's given me a lot of satisfaction I wouldn't otherwise have. Posting on MeFi is also a great creative outlet for me. Obviously, you have to play by the posting rules here in terms of neutral point of view and not self-linking. However, if there's a thing you're obsessed with, and you're willing to put in some time to find some links about it, MeFi provides a receptive audience and a medium that somebody else is in charge of moderating, backing up and saving for perpetuity thanks, mods. If you want to write something obsessive with a hundred links in it, this community will reward you with appreciation in kind. Most importantly, you've already spent the only five bucks you'll ever need to spend to make a post here, so it can be as casual a hobby as you want it to be without having to feel guilty that you spent all that money on 30 different pencils at the art store.

I, like you, have tons of folders and bookmarks full of videos and audio to absorb. While it's a mixed blessing, it is a blessing: I'm never going to "run out" of stuff to do when I want to veg out, or listen to while I'm working. I've tried to learn not to punish myself for not getting through it, or doing something else when I could be getting through it, or liking WireTap so much this week that I'm not listening to anything else. It's entertainment and as long as I'm being entertained, it's doing its job.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 9:01 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

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