The first time I saw this question, I was having one of those perfect, relaxing weekend moments…my cell phone in one hand and the ice cream in the other.
Coincidentally, I happen to be “consuming” my favourite ice cream while scrolling on my phone to read the news. I quickly realized the meaning of the word, a consumer had nothing to do with eating but instead with everyone’s ubiquitous activity these days: phone scrolling for gazillion different activities.
The word consumption was about mindless activities most of us are engaged in these days: phone scrolling; reading news, checking out social media posts, or even scrolling the Netflix site to find that perfect show to consume. These would be the “consumption” activities the article was referring to.
After grasping the meaning of the word consumer, I wanted to believe I belonged in the creator land rather than the consumer one. After all, being an architect makes me a creator…right?
While pondering the question and not coming up with the answer easily, I wondered if the question had any merits.
Consumption is so much easier than creation.
Like many people, I assume easy work to be unworthy. For example, consuming ice cream does not require much effort….it comes easy, enjoyable, and absolutely no effort! (unless you are lactose intolerant)
On the other hand, a morning run requires enormous dedication and effort. Using these ice-creaming eating/morning run comparisons, I view easy/enjoyable efforts as somehow unworthy, time-wasted, bad…all the negative things.
Adding the word mindlessly in front of many of these unfavourable activities – scrolling the phone, streaming the entire season of some Netflix show, or even listening to podcasts without remembering much of details – would be the perfect examples of negative consuming moments.
However, those easy, mindless activities have not been all harmful.
Learning the new exercise routines from mindless podcast listening or getting design ideas from watching Netflix shows produced insights I could not have been able to come up with on my own.
Creative work requires pain. Coming up with something from nothing is difficult, painful, and time consuming…and it constantly shows up throughout my work days, whether in the form of writing, designing…
Facing these unpleasant moments in creative work, I gravitate towards the accessible, pleasant, no efforts consumption land…
Consumption lives right next to the creation land.
The proximity of consumption (easy, enjoyable activities) and creation (challenging, time-consuming activities) is close, in fact, very close.
I remember the time learning the wisdom accidentally during my architecture school days; the feeling of challenging work turned into an easier, manageable one. It happened during a tough design project assignment I had to finish. After hours of doodling on my sketchbook and not having any clear design ideas, I quit.
Feeling the stress/frustration of my inability to develop design ideas, I wanted to escape the difficulty. Instead of pushing myself to keep working on the project, I wandered off out of the design studio into the hallway; I wanted to get away from the room where I felt the stress.
In the hallway, I ran into one of my classmates carrying stacks of library books.
Momentarily, I thought she had already finished her project and started working on other writing assignments seeing the stacks of books.
She was in the same situation as me; she was still ‘working on” her project” (code word for nothing produced). In fact, she stressed I was in a much better situation than hers since she was the first presenter and I was the fourth one.
I remember her logic to be oddly comforting…
After settling on my lucky(?) status, I asked why she was not working on the project.
Was she such a prolific designer who could whip up a design project at the last minute and therefore do the research work for some other assignments?
She calmly stated, “no, these books are for the same project you are working on.”
Her logic was that one cannot create from a vacuum; therefore, it needs something to start from, and that something can come from flipping through books.
She suggested I give the flipping activity a chance instead of trying to create (or not create, in my case).
Consumption sparks creation
Although I can’t say the book flipping activity did help with coming up with design ideas, it pushed me to get over the painful and unproductive working moments.
Even after all these years later, I still practice my classmate’s wisdom of “flipping books” strategy when I’m stuck in a creative work. (OK, these days, flipping has been replaced with scrolling).
Over the years, I have learned to recognize the value of spending time on “unrelated” activities in moments of creative ruts. These seemingly unproductive activities, such as book flipping and phone scrolling, or even Netflix streaming can unlock the creative juice to flow.
As I ponder the consumer/creator question, I recognize that it should not be the “or” question but the “with” one.
To be the creator, one needs to be a consumer as well.
I just wish how I could incorporate my other consumer activity, ice cream guzzling, into another meaningful idea, sparkling action. 🙂