Friday, December 12, 2014

Create vs Consume


Consumers use things created by others.  For example, nearly all of the food we consume has been grown and processed by someone else.  Created by someone else, for our consumption.  They created it, we paid money for it.  That of course is how our modern economy works.  In the past, some economists got very excited when their theories showed that mankind would become more productive creators of consumer goods such as food, clothing, shelter, books, etc.  They rightly predicted that this would result in much more free time for the middle and upper classes, time which could be devoted to innovation and invention.  Indeed, this is exactly what happened.  First came the Industrial Revolution, which gave us everything from paperback books to electricity to jet planes.  Great scientists revolutionized their fields and created new ones such as genetics, quantum physics, nanotechnology, forensics, robotics, and others.  Starting in the 60s and really taking off in the 80s and 90s we had the computing revolution, which ultimately created personal desktop computers, laptops, video game systems, MP3 Players , tablets, etc.  Initially, computers existed solely for improving efficiency.  Complex mathematics calculations solved instantly.  Databases were created so that bankers, doctors, and government agencies could more efficiently compile data and analyze information.  Paper files were shredded by the tons as offices improved their efficiency.  Computers continue to make us more efficient, but their primary purpose now is to facilitate consumption.  Computers have become the primary hub for consumption in a variety of forms that includes movies and sitcoms, music, shopping, gambling, immorality, socializing, sports, and even education (distinguished here as pursuing a credential vice truly learning... not that the two have to be mutually exclusive, and I have no doubt that some of it leads to the creation of knowledge and wisdom, I'm just skeptical that very much of it does). 
Today, from a very young age most children learn to spend most of their time engaged in consuming.  Obviously this happens via computers, televisions, and video games.  Much more subtly, they are also raised in an environment where everything they need is magically provided.  Food in all sorts of plastic wrapped and preserved varieties available whenever and however they want it.  Once upon a time, children watched their parents and siblings tend gardens and livestock until they were old enough to help. There was a time when children had to use their imaginations to entertain themselves.  You can see this natural tendency in young children, who still will spend hours playing in the sandbox making creations.  As they get older, however, our society teaches them that they can check their imaginations - modern media will supply all of their entertainment needs.  By the time you become an adult, you have learned that money really is the key to satisfying all wants and needs.  When your great grandmother needed a dress, your great-great-grandmother probably made her one.  When your grandmother wanted a bird feeder, your grandfather probably built one.  Then, if it was my grandmother, she would have painted it in pretty pastel colors.  Hardly anyone creates things like that anymore because they've been taught from childhood that money is the solution to everything, and that if you need or want something you find the store that sells it and you buy it. 
People have also shifted from creating to consuming in their occupations.  Over the past couple of centuries, jobs that earn money through the creation of services rather than physical goods have become more common.  Today, very few people in the U.S. actually create things.  The farmers, carpenters, writers, and artists are much rarer than the accountants, lawyers, waiters, teachers, etc.  There's nothing inherently wrong with working in a profession where your creation is a service instead of something more tangible.  But the farmer has crops, the carpenter furniture, the writer books, the artist paintings.  Although they may borrow ideas from others in their work, these types of workers create at a much higher level than they consume.  In comparison, most people who work in the service industry have a much lower ratio of creating to consuming.  They sit at desks, working on computers with software created by someone else, often using word processing or spreadsheet templates also created by someone else.  These workers typically work a set number of hours a day, many of which are occupied by non-work related activity on the Internet, email, and social media.  Because they get regular paychecks, they would likely argue that they are, in actuality, creators.  But I think for many of us, when we honestly examine what our hours at work really accomplish, we would admit that a very small percentage of our time is spent in true creative pursuits.  Personally, I would estimate my ratio at work hovers somewhere around 5% creating to 95 % consuming.
Returning to the spiritual, we don't know much about Jesus' life on earth outside of the last three years.  We know he was a carpenter by occupation.  He know he went about serving, teaching, and loving others.  His greatest achievement was the Atonement, which enabled all mankind to overcome physical and spiritual death.   I would argue that he spent his entire life creating.  My ballpark estimation of his ratio was probably closer to 80% creating, 20% consuming (because not all consuming is bad... there was a time for letting Mary annoint his feet, for eating food prepared by others, etc.).  It may not be immediately apparent that he spent so much time in creation, but that's because it was primarily spiritual in nature rather than temporal.  We are spiritual creators as well!  We have created a family, eternal relationships of love and friendship, wisdom, and intelligence to name a few things.  Indeed, these types of creations are the most meaningful of all, because they last forever.
I believe that both spiritual and physical (or temporal, to borrow an appropriate term from LDS theology) creation are important.  From a temporal standpoint, there is far greater satisfaction and contentment when we create vice consume.  Picture a ripe tomato you grew in the garden, an egg from one of our chickens, a piano piece that you learned and performed, a Halloween costume you made.  Now mentally compare those with a grocery store tomato and eggs, a recorded performance of the same piece by another pianist, and a store bought costume.  The former are immensely more fulfilling, more satisfying than the latter, right?  Now, you know how much I love to read.  Well, one of my main motivations to write is my faith that, as wonderful as reading is, actually creating my own books that will be read and enjoyed by others will be incredibly more satisfying.  So, why don't people spend more time creating than consuming if it's obviously so much better?
I think there are two reasons.  The first is habit.  As I said earlier, from a very young age our culture trains children to grow up into consumers.  That's a very difficult habit to overcome, particularly so because the world encourages the habit.  Few people actually stop and consider that they would be much happier creating than consuming.  The second reason is laziness.  Creating is harder than consuming.  It's a lot easier to go to the store (or computer) to buy something than it is to make or grow it.  Creating can involve failure, and inevitably requires diligence and patience.  It's not easy, and if there's something else our culture has taught folks is that the path of least resistance is where it's at. 
My goal is to gradually shift from being a consumer to a creator.  Like I mentioned above, it's hard work.  Resisting the habit to surf the internet, watch a show, browse social media, or download a book is tough.  Again, there is a place for consuming.  None of us is completely self-sufficient, and it is good to enjoy uplifting entertainment in moderation.  But I want to shift my ratio to something closer to what I imagine the Savior's was.  I've chosen to use writing as my primary means of creating for now, but I don't think any of us should be one dimensional, and in any case I recognize the importance of devoting plenty of time to spiritual creations as well.

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