My livelihood is technology, but attending the South by Southwest (SXSW) festival in Austin, Texas proved that I was strangely “behind” the times. Everyone was talking about X app, Y program, Z widget, and I had no clue what any of it meant. Furthermore, I felt for a day that I was out of place, losing touch with my generation, and would be left behind. Upon further inspection, and some timely insight from my brothers in Florida, I realized that this wasn’t the case at all. Rather than spending my time consuming such technology products, I was instead trying to produce what other people used. This epiphany was insightful, but I realized that most of society consumes far more than it produces. It is time somebody provided insight into why humans consume so much more than we produce and how we can reverse that.
Why Do We Consume?
Most human behavior is dictated by evolution and habit. Our balance of consumption and production is no different. Here is a list of things humans often consume far too much of:
- Television / Movies – why is it that we love stimulating entertainment so much? In many cases, watching television is the path of least resistance for our brains. Considering our brains consume many of the calories that we eat, it is no wonder that TV is so popular. Comprehending the plot of a TV while you sit still on the couch expends the least possible calories. Evolution says – “Perfect! Do this!”
- Food – you must only take a look at obesity rates in order to see that human consumption of food has hit record highs. For most of human history, food was scarce, which meant we had to get as many calories as possible when we could. We don’t have that problem anymore, but humans still love to consume, consume, consume.
- Media / News – much of the “news” is incredibly useless. Media outlets spend millions of dollars on celebrity pictures, gossip, and sensational stories because most media consumers love it. Most of society likes to consume this “spice” in their life because they can’t produce it on their own.
- Social Media – my generation loves Facebook. Until my buddy Henno showed me the Stay Focused plugin, I loved it too. Facebook provides a false sense of connection with other human beings. It allows you to feel like one of the “clan” without going into the real world and interacting with other humans. Twitter is much the same way as are many other social media outlets.
- Ideas – there are a few people on this Earth that produce the vast majority of ideas. Whether these ideas are an amalgamation of previous ideas, something bizarre, something strange, or something irrelevant, it doesn’t matter. Most people just want to say “what a great idea! I wish I thought of that,” rather than producing their own ideas.
Don’t misunderstand me – none of these are wrong to consume. Without food you would die, you can produce your own great ideas by consuming others, and sometimes we all need an insightful TV show, movie, or blog / tweet to give us a fun distraction. I’m not advocating we remove any of the aforementioned things. However, it would behoove you to tip the balance in favor of production rather than consumption. How do you do that? Well, I’m glad you asked.
Becoming a Production Machine
Producing is food for the soul. Even if it is harder, more frustrating, takes more time, and can overtake your life, it will make you far more accomplished and happier. Remember when you made artwork as a child in Kindergarten? It probably was no Picasso, but it made you happy because you produced it. It is time we got back to that.
- Produce Relationships – who says production has to be tangible? Go outside and meet people. Just outside your door there are probably dozens or hundreds of people that you can meet. People are everywhere and relationships can be made with nothing more than “hello.” Go meet someone of the opposite sex who is attractive, go meet dying children at the hospital. For god’s sake go learn your neighbors’ name! Don’t allow society’s limitations to restrict your life. Some people may think approaching strangers is weird, but they are consumers, not producers.
- Produce a Product – these days it is easier than ever to create a tangible product that you can touch and feel. With Kickstarter you can have your product funded when it is barely out of the idea phase. Think about all of the people who have produced products that provided value for mankind. Where would we be without Edison’s production of the incandescent lightbulb? Where would you and I be without the production of the internet. Go produce something that will change the world. The best part is, if you don’t get a home run the first time, you’re in good company – Edison tried 10,000 times!
- Produce a Message – everyone has a message and life story that can motivate or inspire others. The same message told through a lens that is easier to identify with can be all the difference in someone’s life. For instance, the humor and embarrassing honesty of James Altucher resonates with me tremendously. You never know who you can impact with your story, so tell it! My friend Cavin Balaster could sit around watching TV after his severe brain injury, but instead he produces a blog about his inspiring recovery. You can blog, write a book, or even tweet and post messages on Facebook – just get it out there!
- Produce a Change – it may seem cliché to advocate charitable works or getting involved with your community, but there are people that genuinely need your help. I spent some time in a Roma community in Slovakia and not only produced a change, but was taught a valuable lesson. You can also produce a change within. Get better in the gym, change the way you eat, produce a positive change in your studies or business – whatever.
- Produce Art – art inspires, it comforts, it enhances imagination, and it brings people closer together. Whether you are a musician who creates terrible music or an amateur painter, you produce as much value to someone as the professionals. It doesn’t matter whether you change the life of a single person or a thousand with your art.
Without the habits to produce these types of things, the task can seem quite daunting. If you spend the large majority of your time consuming, it is not realistic to “flip the switch” into production mode. However, here are some of the most basic ways that you can produce rather than consuming:
- Go for a walk – if you get out of your home / apartment / shack and walk for a while you are bound to start producing. From a health perspective, I walk 10,000 steps in a day, which requires me to frequently go on aimless walks. Without stimulation from your computer or TV, your brain will start to produce all kinds of ideas. Even if they suck at first, it doesn’t matter. Write them down in your phone or on a notepad and take action on them later even if they are small. Also, if you go for a walk you will most likely run into new people you have never seen before. Produce a relationship with some of them. You don’t have to do anymore than talk to them for 5 – 10 minutes. No need to see them again, no need to ask the opposite sex on a date. Just produce a human relationship that is real.
- Start a journal – obviously, I spend hours producing content for this blog. You don’t have to jump straight into that. Spend 10 minutes a day journaling some of your feelings. Henno at Snow Pursuit does a daily “brain dump” where he just writes whatever is on his mind. If you are just starting, you will probably have a detoxification period where journal entries sound a lot like tabloid newspapers or Facebook, but eventually it will turn into some serious idea production. Increase the time as you go and eventually put it on the internet for everyone to see.
- Cook more meals – not only will it be cheaper and healthier too cook your own meals, but you are engaging in more of a productive process rather than consuming at every level. Best of all, you can be extremely creative in what you produce. Check out this lamb burger with garlic, cayenne pepper, a bell pepper slice, and Portobello mushroom caps as buns. Good luck finding that at a restaurant!
- Transition from TV to books – not all consumption is created equal. Stop watching TV and movies and start reading books. Eventually, you’ll complete the transition to non-fiction books and eventually production (more on that later).
- Make what you want to consume – think you could create a better video game? Wish there was a TV show with a different storyline? Just make it yourself! Design it, draw it, write a book about it, whatever you want. When I was younger I was obsessed with the Halo video game series so I decided to write stories about battles. Loads of fun!
- Sliding scale of consumption – chip away at your consumption every day. Watch 3 hours of television now? Cut back by 10 – 20 minutes every couple of days until you are balanced. Acclimate, then move down some more. Rinse and repeat.
But…But… I Like Consuming!
Of course, it isn’t really possible to cut out consumption and I wouldn’t recommend that even if you could. I consider this list of “cool consumption” perfect for anyone who wants to create more balance in their lives:
News / Current Events – as a history and political science buff, I try to maintain an understanding of the most basic news and current events. That being said, I am very picky about my outlets and they type of stories that I read. I will never listen / watch Fox News, Huffington Post, or MSNBC and any story that focuses on a single shoot, kidnapping, or celebrity event is totally beyond my purview. Instead, I try to stick to well written and worldly articles in The Economist and occasionally a quick scan of BBC. Feel free to choose your own, just keep in mind that not all news / media is good consumption.
Books – ahh books. Long since forgotten to most of my generation, I love a good book. Gravitating towards non-fiction allows me to expand my brain to new ideas, concepts, and information as much as possible. Vary the type of books that you read – history, biography, business, science, etc. This is not only consumption that I practice in moderation, but I also recommend highly to others. If you aren’t producing, but down the remote control and pick up an informative book. Need a suggestion? Check out my resources.
Inspirational / Motivational – sometimes inspiration or motivational consumption can be extremely helpful and often necessary. You will run into “producers block” and these are the moments you must consume a bit of inspiration or motivation to get started again. With YouTube, there is no shortage of amazing videos.
Media – ever heard of TED talks? If not, you should check them out. At 10 – 20 minutes long, they are a perfect break from work that is also informative, and incredibly inspiring. I visited TEDx Austin and was blown away, but they are all located online if you want.
Get To It!
Now you have plenty of options to produce and methods to get started. You have no excuses. Find what makes you happy and what helps other people. Whether you are an entrepreneur trying to develop the next product, an activist trying to produce the next powerful message, or an artist trying to broaden human understanding, it doesn’t really matter. The important thing is that you produce more and consume less.