Consume Less Shallow Content

Many of my friends and coworkers own iPads. I do not. I don’t have anything against Apple, in fact I love their products. I agree that the iPad is an engineering marvel, both of hardware and software. It’s elegant. It’s responsive. It’s just plain fun to play with. But I don’t own one.

I don’t own an iPad for the same reason I don’t have a cable subscription: Because it encourages shallow content consumption.

Don’t misunderstand. I don’t think content consumption is bad. I enjoy it and spend lots of time doing it. But there are different ways to consume it, different types to consume, and differing amounts of time one can spend on it.

So what is shallow content? The shallowest content consists of action movies and chick flicks. These are equivalent to sitting in front of a machine that pulls levers in your brain to trigger emotional reactions. Shallow content is easily accessible, but uninformative and in the long run, less rewarding.

Deep content is complex. Profound. Memorable. It is organized on multiple levels. It rewards re-reading (or re-watching). Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid is the prototype of deep content.

Shallow content is cotton candy and Coca-Cola. Deep content is raspberry cheesecake and Riesling.

When it comes to content consumption, different devices encourage different behaviors. For example, a television is the ultimate device for consuming shallow content. You select a channel. The pictures and sounds elicit emotional responses. Changing the channel is easy, so TV shows are selected for stickiness and addictiveness. TV shows can’t be as complex as other media.[1] They have to be accessible to people who start watching in the middle.

Whether or not a device is meant for content consumption is not a binary attribute; it’s more of a sliding scale. A television is solely for consuming. An iPad is more general-purpose, but encourages consumption over production, and shallow content over deep. A laptop or desktop computer is fully general-purpose. A good indicator of a device’s purpose is its input interface. A TV’s input is simple: channel selection. An iPad has a touch-screen that can show a virtual keyboard for occasions when you need to write something. A computer has a physical keyboard, the fastest brain-machine interface currently available.

Of course, even with a computer you can waste your days on Reddit and IRC (consuming and producing shallow content) or you can do something more rewarding.

  1. Also, the cost to make a TV show is much greater than the cost to make a book. So to be profitable, a TV show must appeal to a greater population than a book. This limits the ideas and opinions on television.

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