I think I’ve finally figured out a problem that’s been really bothering me for a while.
Ken Robinson, in his book, The Element, explains that to find your ‘element’ and to be happy, you need to find your passion and be good at it. You also need to have the opportunity to make it happen and the right attitude, i.e you need to want it to happen. I really like this thinking and it’s something I’ve encountered a lot recently in various forums, especially in discussions around passion and happiness. I am a big believer in people doing jobs that makes them happy. I love my job and my own work in education often entails encouraging teachers and young people to focus on things they are passionate about.
What was bugging me, however, was that a lot of people, particularly young people, would argue that they are in ‘their element’ when playing computer games, watching films or TV or spending time, (a lot of time) on Facebook. Clearly most young people are passionate about this stuff and are very ‘good’ at them. But is this really enough? Should someone stop them and encourage them to do other things as well? Or should we all just relax and they can go on to get a job that sustains their basic needs and allows them to spend their free time doing what they’re passionate about? Even if it is leading a group of comrades to a raid in World of Warcraft, surfing the web or chatting with their friends on Facebook? I wasn’t sure..
A lazy option may be to say to young people “stop wasting your time on video games and do something useful”. But I guess that’s like saying “eat your vegetables” without explaining that they provide a good corner stone to a balanced diet. There has to be something deeper, a bit more of an open dialogue about it.
I think part of the problem with spending excessive time on WoW or FarmVille or Facebook or Friends re-runs or listening to podcasts is that too much of anything will overwhelm your brain. The brain will be constantly on the receiving end of information and doesn’t have any free cycles to spend on thinking. A lack of thinking results in drought of new ideas.
The crux of it, is that video games and films are entertainment. Entertainment is about consumption. Facebook is about communications as well as consumption. What’s missing here is creation.
Communication versus consumption versus creation. Those are the three main ways one can spent time. (Sleeping, by the way, I think, fits nicely within creation unless, of course, you’re a sleep talker.)
We, young and old alike, spend too much time consuming information and as a result, our brains don’t have enough free cycles to create anything new. Why is it important then to create something? Couldn’t we just concentrate on being really good at consuming or communicating to bring us happiness? Well, I believe that you get a more fulfilling sense of achievement when you’ve created something. (Trust me, you’re still consuming entertainment when you’ve ‘created’ a level 85 Paladin.)
But it isn’t about creation being the one important part here, it’s about the balance of all three. Communication and consumption and creation. They form a circle where each part feed to and off each other. See Kirby Fergusons series ‘Everything is a Remix‘. Creativity and creation don’t exist in a vacuum. Consumption and communication is needed as well.
Why is it difficult to stop consuming and start creating? Two reasons stand out for me. Those creating content for consumption, whether it be Blizzard making Diablo III or a Hollywood studio making the Jason Bourne series, are very very good at what they do. The second reason is because of that prevailing human trait: laziness. It’s just so easy to continue with old customs of crashing on the couch and switching your brain off. It is easier to receive than give.
(I wrote about social games and the sense of achievement as a response to a BBC programme on Facebook. It’s related, so have a look at that as well.)
Jane McGonical argues that skills learned in video games can be applied in the real world. It’s a very positive and inspiring talk and I’m not arguing that you can’t transfer these skills but how often does that happen, really? She does say that the benefits of video gaming to the human psyche start to disappear pretty quickly after 21 hours a week. Perhaps that would be a good limit for over all consumption per week? Gamers, like all of us, need to find opportunities and time to apply those learned skills, otherwise I believe they’re being wasted in pure consumption.
It’s time to switch off and switch on. Let’s all give our brains some space to breath. Let’s also open these conversations with young people in schools and help them participate in the design of their own education. Let them become future builders who question and discover their own passions and then make them happen in the real life.