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On Instant Gratification via Content Consumption

I've often been vocal on this blog about how ours is a generation of creative folk; about how easy it is to generate good content; and about how anyone with a computer and an internet connection can generate content that can take on the best in the business.

Well, I'm not sure if I hold that stand any longer.

Over the past few months, I've often stumbled upon this question: Do we still have the will to create content?

Consider this: I come home tired from work; wherein I sit in front of a computer and write code, or sit in front of a computer and read research papers. Then, I come home, fix myself a meal, log on to some website, and watch TV shows while I eat. It's so convenient. So little effort needed to watch a program, and so much more effort for something equivalent, say, read a book. Now consider something even more tedious; like writing this blog, and you'll realise where I'm going. This particular post has been in the draft mode for over two weeks, and I think I'm finally going to finish it today.

When I started this blog, I used to post almost every week. At that time, +Srujan Meesala did comment on the fact that I had a lot to write about. Actually, I still have the same number of ideas that I can write about. It's just that after almost two years of running this blog, I no longer feel like writing, which is strange because I started the blog as a way to stay in touch with writing, an art that has been neglected since school days have been over. Have I really lost touch with writing? Depends on what you define as writing... I can speak rather comfortably with computers in Python, C, C++, Java, and Bourne Shell. However, my interaction with folks (real people), in the English language, or any other language for that matter is at an all time low. Most days, I walk in to my office, wish folks a "good morning", whatever that means; then wish folks a "good night" when I leave, again, whatever that means. Communicating in Hindi is even worse, mainly because I hardly speak with folks in Hindi any more. All this lack of communication does take a hit on writing, making it so much more difficult to organise my thoughts and present them in a clear and lucid fashion. And I realise that I've rambled off too much from the topic at hand, and this would fetch me a zero had this been a high school essay.

To go back to the original question: are we still a read-write culture, or have we become a read-only culture? Larry Lessig thinks that we are a read-write culture with the internet, and his Creative Commons initiative aims to improve the ability of people to read and write on the same page. And yet, while people are creating content, I don't see people around me creating any significant content. Does this indicate that I have chosen my friends to be a bunch of recluses that don't have the will to do anything significant outside work, or that the percentage of people creating quality content is still extremely tiny? I'd think that it's the latter.

It's not that I don't know of people who create awesome things, or who created awesome things when they were in the same place as I am now, i.e. a graduate student. Linus Torvalds wrote the first version of the Linux kernel when he was a graduate student at the University of Helsinki. Kovid Goyal wrote Calibre, an e-book management and conversion solution when he was a graduate student. Davide Anastasia successfully managed Luminance HDR, and is still managing it when he was a PhD student at UCL. What is my contribution? An unsuccessful attempt to port Darktable to Windows, a project I have not touched in the past 4 months, just because I am too lazy to boot into Windows. Not logging into Duolingo for the past 5 months, and forgetting all the basic phrases in German that I learnt 8 months ago (Ich esse einen Apfel). I have not written a post for my other blog (The FOSS Photographer) in the past 4 months. Yet, that blog has more pageviews than this one; and I think that the content that I put there is decent. Of course, I'm not entirely happy with my first attempts, but they show how I've changed in the way I see and process my photographs. And while I'm flattered to read such opinions, I have hardly taken any photographs in ever since I moved to Ithaca; and the fact that my photos did not turn the way I expected them to the last time I went around in freezing weather to take pictures hardly encourages me to do so again.

I realise I ramble again. The point is that creating content is hard. It requires a lot of dedication, effort, and patience. On the other hand, receiving content is becoming easier by the day. Just head over to youtube, and watch mindlessly videos of cats doing the things that cats generally do; and you've wasted a whole day. The next day, watch the same mind-numbing videos, and wonder if that's the reason why the ancient Egyptians had so many wall paintings of cats.
This part about us not creating enough came to my notice when I saw a talk, delivered at Google by the Raspberry Pi foundation. One of the reasons the Pi was made was to get kids interested in programming, by presenting them a no-nonsense, free and simple computing environment, which is so much easier to learn than the complex systems we have grown used to today. This is a model followed by most parents who learnt programming when they were kids, and when programming was as simple as assembly, machine code, or BASIC (even though I put up just one link, there are many, I just cannot find them). For me, my first experience with computers was Windows, which killed my mental development there and then. All I did on the computer was play games; and I was so glad when I could install a game on Windows 98. I was first introduced to programming when I was 16 (well, school always tried to teach us some language meant for the brain dead, like Logo (and we only used the turtle) and maybe visual basic. When I was 16, I started with C++, and we did retarded things like writing a code that printed out this stuff:

   * *
  *   *
 *     *
*       *

At the age of 16, adept programmers are writing codes to hack their way through the kernel; and here we were, writing codes to print out sill ASCII patterns that did no one any good. The result being that I can never think of writing a code that makes a complete program with a nice UI. It's just so much easier to download something that does stuff that I want done, and use it. Linus, on the other hand, had to write machine code to create an assembler, and a text editor, and then he wrote assembly for all the other programs he wrote.

Naturally, I'm concentrating too much on programming, because that is one thing that I do most of the time. I also take pictures, and photography is a current fad; it's going the same way as my piano lessons, which ended with JEE prep. I don't want the start of my PhD to mark the end of another hobby. However, the arguments about content creation vs consumption hold for any field, not just programming, or photography, or writing.

For this reason, I'm determined to continue; even if I don't meet with success initially. When I started this blog, it was for स्वान्तः सुखाय, for my own pleasure; now, this is a means for me to communicate, to stay in touch with my creative side, and a way for me to archive my thoughts. This is a way to prevent me from becoming a brain-dead zombie, and a constant reminder that I enjoy creating stuff above everything else.


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