informal essays

Consume Less, Create More.

photoI like to think that almost everything we do is either an act of creation or an act of consumption. When I sit at the dinner table and eat food, or sit on the couch and watch a movie, or listen to an album, or read a book or posts by my favorite bloggers, or scroll through an endless stream of Facebook posts, I’m consuming. When I cook a meal, or write a blog post about a movie or a review about an album, or leave a comment on somebody’s blog or status, I’m creating. We can extend this paradigm to apply to general activities that are either passive or active. When I sleep, I’m undergoing a passive activity (I suppose you could say I’m consuming rest). When I exercise or work out, I’m participating in an active activity (I suppose you could say I’m creating muscle mass.) There are some overlapping grey areas (if video games are consumption, what if you’re exercising with Wii or Kinect?), and we might disagree on some marginal activities, but for the most part we are almost always either creating something ourselves or consuming something that was created by ourselves or some other person or thing.

Generally, consumption is a default behavior that’s easier than consumption. If you don’t really think about your life and usually just let yourself do what you feel like doing, you will probably end up doing a lot more consumption than creation, which I believe may lead to short-term satisfaction but is ultimately unfulfilling. That’s why I want to encourage you to consume less, create more. I thought of that phrase independently, although it already exists as a website, a book, and a blog post or two. Now a lot of those folks are using that phrase from a minimalist perspective having to do with possessions and materialism. This is all well and good, but I want you to think about it not having to do with how you spend your money, but how you spend your time.

I Consume Less

When I was in high school I used to enjoy playing video games. But after several hours of racing around primitive CGI models of cities in a yellow Porsche 911 or racking up six figures of income running an imaginary theme park, I always felt like I wasn’t really accomplishing anything. I was moving some bits and bytes around but it ultimately felt like a dead-end activity that had used up valuable time with nothing to show for it. So I began making more of a concerted effort to replace that dead-end consumption, which accomplishes nothing, with investment consumption, which inspires future creation – like reading and learning and then writing about what I read and learned. How do I find so much time to play around with websites and blogs and write music reviews and all that? Because I’m creating things – or gathering inspiration to create things – with the spare time that most people use on dead-end consumption.

Now I’m not saying that you should strive for 100% creation, 0% consumption. That leads to burn out. What I am saying is this: First, evaluate your creation/consumption balance, and consider whether or not you should start striving to replace some of your consumption time with creation time. Second, with the consumption time you have left, evaluate your dead-end consumption / investment consumption balance, and consider whether or not you should start striving to replace some of your dead-end consumption time with investment consumption time. Sometimes that means finding new activities altogether; sometimes it simply means finding paths out of your dead-end consumptions to turn them into investment consumptions. To go back to a previous example, there are all sorts of ways video games can become an investment, from exercising your body to developing skills of problem-solving and teamwork (though the marginal utility of managerial experience from Roller Coaster Tycoon drops off rather quickly).

Even if there’s no possible way to get anything out of something, everyone needs hobbies and outlets that are ends in themselves as a way to relax and unwind. One of the best things you can do for yourself is finding some relaxing outlets that happen to be creative (for me: writing), but we all need some pure dead-end consumption to give our minds a break from trying to be too creative all the time. (Besides, in the right balance, dead-end consumption is actually a form of investment, relaxing your mind and body to prepare it for more creation later. The ultimate example of this is the sleep that we give ourselves every night.) But if you’re spending hours and hours on some activity, it might be worthwhile to think about whether you’re spending too much time in dead-end consumption. We only get so much time, after all.

We Consume Less

I generally think about the creation/consumption balance in an individual sense, but it’s important to think about it in a group sense as well. The combined inertia of several people can be even harder to overcome than the sole inertia of your self; it’s so much easier to just watch the football game with your family or take your girl out to a movie and sit back and consume together. Just like individual consumption, these things have their proper place, but I want to encourage you to think about the time you spend with people close to you and whether or not you should strive to replace some group consumption time with group creation time.

My wife and I like to watch movies. It’s fun; it’s relaxing; it’s versatile. It can even be an investment – my wife likes to make movies (like this one) and can sometimes be inspired by a good film; sometimes a movie will make me think about things and inspire me to blog about it. But I’m glad that’s not the only thing we do together. When the weather is nice we like to walk, jog, or bike outdoors. It’s colder now, but we asked for and received some dumbbells for Christmas so we can continue to exercise together indoors, and these last few days have already been a lot of fun.

There are all sorts of creative things you can do with loved ones, like making movies or music or telling stories or drawing or going on a hike or just going somewhere and experiencing something new. Find ways to volunteer and serve to create hope together! The possibilities are endless. I think even playing a board game together can be better than just watching the tube. Even the tube’s not so bad if it teaches everyone something or inspires some discussion or something. But I think a lot of people get bored in relationships simply because they’re spending too much time together in dead-end consumption. So go create something together!

Create And Consume: A Glorious Cycle

I believe we are made in the image of the God that created the universe, which means that we are meant to be creative. I don’t know what your purpose is, but I bet it has something to do with creating something. We consume God’s creations, which inspire us to creations, which are then consumed by others who are inspired to their own creations, and both individually and corporately we become part of a glorious cycle of creation and consumption. Musicians inspire more musicians. Hearts changed by love go on to change other hearts. It all goes on and on. As 2011 ends and 2012 begins, consider making a resolution to examine your creation/consumption balance and begin striving to consume less and create more.