Engaged in Long Form

Throughout last year I tried to be a little more choosy with my content consumption and as a result, whilst I am definitely consuming more, it feels like what I am consuming better, more higher quality fare.

Looking back at 2015, whilst the goals were laudable, I’ve gotten more from the process of deliberately making conscious choices than the I necessarily did from the actual content itself (leaving aside the discussion of how art feeds the soul); actively and consciously deciding how to spend my time rather than giving in and going for the cheap and easy option (not that cheap and easy are bad per se, sometimes we all need a day on the sofa, sitting in our dressing gown, eating Pringles, farting, and channel hopping for a couple of hours before eventually succumbing to an entire weeks worth of Come Dine With Me).

This all started as a desire to be better to myself, to waste less time and, hopefully, use my actual down time properly, to gently nurture myself rather than killing my brain cells with mindless entertainment. There are, of course, exceptions to this and we each have our own – I will not stand to hear a bad word about the gentle salve that is Great British Bake Off! – and I bear my PS4 FIFA addiction proudly, but by and large my goal was to at least pause and consider what I was consuming.

Aside: Yes, I did end up watching all of West Wing again but I file that under ‘good quality’.

I’m not trying to be a snob, each to their own and all that, and I know many millions of people enjoy shows like X-Factor and more power to them*, it’s just not for me anymore, and hasn’t been for quite a while.

Of course it could just be my usual contrariness (I like to think I like to be different when the reality is I’m pretty much a middle of the road kinda guy, with the odd detour down Tattoo Lane and Polyamory Crescent thrown in to keep things interesting) but I’ve never really been one for the latest fad. In fact, about the only place where I’m prone to following the crowd is when it comes to selecting what book to read next.

And I’ve only really just realised this.

Funny how taking a step back to consider your own actions can reveal more than you had expected.

Following the crowd

For most media formats, I’ve got a pretty good handle on how I choose what I like. For TV and Movies, the potential story, director, or actor plays a large part in that, rather than how many people are talking about it; I loved Fortitude but didn’t hear many people mentioning it.

Music wise I’m happy to dip in and out of ‘new artist’ lists, listen to some samples and make up my own mind. Some services help by offering ‘if you like X’ comparisons, but again I’m not swayed by how many million plays a track has had; for example, I love Lordes track ‘Royals’ but have yet to find a Taylor Swift track that I want on a playlist, but both are frequently ‘suggested’ to me.

However, when it comes to novels, other than a few writers – David Mitchell, Ian Rankin, Stephen King – I tend to be swayed by popular opinion. Case in point, I’ve just read The Bees, which was on many ‘Best of 2015’ lists and I largely read because a few people I know have been raving about it (and rightly so, it’s a great story). More recently I’ve been using Goodreads as a reasonable measure of books that are both popular and good, but it does feel like I am following the crowd way more than I do with any other format.

This is not a bad thing, just an observation of how my decision making process is changing.

Independent or not

When it comes to films, whilst January was a quiet month (due to illness), the number of current movies I’ve watching has increased due to the fact that I signed up for a Cineworld card; I’ve managed to keep my average monthly visits above the two required to benefit from the pricing (technically you only need to watch 1.5 movies to ‘get your money back’ but given that I’ll sit through awful movies because I believe art has impact whether it’s good or bad, I don’t ever leave a movie halfway through. Not yet at least).

I’ve seen some of the recent blockbusters, Spectre, that Star Wars one everyone was banging on about, but I’ve much preferred the less popular ones, independent movies usually. My favourite from last year was probably The Lobster (I’d say Birdman but I only caught that on Sky Movies a few weeks ago), a weirdly dark, funny, moving drama, set in a world not all that far from our own.

And my more frequent visits to the cinema has had an impact on my TV habits as well, I’m much more likely to choose to watch a movie than just randomly channel hop. Or I’ll consider investing my time in a TV series/box set and it’s here that the long form approach starts to bear more fruit. As someone else noted (apologies, I forget who) the fact that Marvel are investing in TV series allows those characters to have a much richer character/story arc than they would if they were in a movie, and so they become all the more compelling.

I don’t think I’m alone in this, the rise of TV shows created by Netflix and Amazon is notable (and on the whole the quality of them is high).

The deliberate choice

Have you heard of the podcast Serial? I tried it out last year and soon became hooked. Why? Because it’s good quality storytelling, well paced and delivered, and despite each episode being around an hour I found I was going out of my way to listen to each new episode as soon as they were released; most of the podcasts I subscribed to are a more commuter friendly 30 mins or so.

I’m finding my behaviours are the same for new TV series – at least for those that are still realised one episode at a time – with the Netflix approach of releasing an entire series at once allowing me to make conscious decisions to spend two or more hours watching multiple episodes. I’m choosing to invest my time in quality.

But as I said, this isn’t really about content, format, or the amount of time I spend nor how I choose to invest it. It’s about changing my own behaviours to be more conscious of my actions, more deliberate, more considerate of the impact. If I spend an evening watching low quality, unstimulating, TV, most times I feel a bit guilty by the time I get to bed.

And I think being more conscious of the decisions I make for these specific things is starting to filter out into my everyday life. Rather than just charging headlong into things I am pausing to collect and consider my thoughts, regardless of whether the change is a big one or not, and as a result I feel much calmer and relaxed about, well, just about everything these days.

Which has to be a good thing.

* actually, no, not more power to them, I don’t trust them at all if this is the decision they make!