Railroads, Ghost Towns, and the Future of Entertainment
I’m writing this on a Sunday morning, five days since my self-enforced disconnect period. By the time this post shows up here, it will have been a week. This disconnection has been an amazing experience. In only five days it has given me new insight into this thing I do, new ideas, and a new outlook on how we as creatives might proceed laying the tracks for the railroad of the future of storytelling and entertainment.
I have gone from losing my mind at the thought of not getting real-time updates, up-to-the-minute news, and the instant gratification of always-on “insecurity work” to embracing my disconnected status. I get my news from a small-town newspaper or the local news station (now with overly sensational curation from people in suits with gelled hair). My television watching is no longer on demand. It is back to “appointment television.” Even my phone calls come to a phone with no voicemail. It has a cord. My cell phone doesn’t get reception until I’m 15 miles out of where I currently call “home.” Every morning, I wake up at 6:15AM, have coffee with my grandparents, take the dogs out, and figure out what lies ahead for my day.
By the time you read this, I will have begun my eight to twelve hour writing workday, working on bringing all projects that, like balloons, bounced in the air, waiting for me to overexert myself to keep them in the air. Now, I can dive in with a focus and drive that I have never (at least not since I was a kid playing with action figures) applied to any of my endeavours.
All of this disconnect brought an interesting thought to mind – if, as we build the future railroads of storytelling with the ubiquity of online, on-demand, streaming, mobile apps, and whatever other cool toy we can think of – what happens to those that don’t have the capability to consume that media? Will we create “Entertainment Ghost Towns,” with segments of the populace much like the railroad tycoons of the Old West when they bypassed certain towns on the railroad, leaving tumbleweeds and broken windows where once there was vitality and vibrancy?
My grandparents are fascinated by the work I do, but don’t understand it. Hell, there are times I barely understand it myself. I see that they want to be a part of it, but don’t have to tools to do so – nor do they have the interest in acquiring those tools. They just want, as Shakespeare said, to be fucking entertained. At least I think it was Billy Shakes. Under his breath perhaps.
A few months ago, I watched an interesting documentary about design, and how companies design those really nice-looking kitchen utensils. They said “design for people with arthritis.” I’m not saying we should make everything consumable by everyone (I’m all about balance after all), but how can we embrace the media forms that people like my grandparents have access to (note, I’m very aware of the budgetary issues old media implies)? They, after all, have the same desire to be entertained (in some cases, more of a desire to be entertained) as the millenials or Gen-X-Y-orwhateverletterwe’reatnow’s. Are we missing out on a valuable audience?
In the space of less than a week, I have encountered the two extremes of our media consumption – constantly connected ubiquity, and blissful disconnect. I’m not advocating a disconnected life, nor am I slandering a connected one. I love them both, and am using this time to cultivate a balance between the two. I’d recommend we as content creators and the layers of the Future of Entertainment railroad cultivate that same balance. Old media and New. Mass and Niche. Connected and Disconnected.
As we construct the future of entertainment with its new rituals of consumption, we’d be wise to remember that all great advances in history have come through building on top of an already solid foundation, respecting what came before, and using that to improve and build upon. Entertainment is not a tool for exclusion. It’s a tool to bring people together; be it in theater seats, on a couch watching television with three channels, or on a train with an iPad and a 3G connection. Houses today may have more amenities, but there are some things that have stayed constant – four walls, a ceiling, and a solid foundation.