November 20, 2021
With so much film, TV, music, books, streaming, games and podcasts easily available and vying for our attention, how can we absorb it all? And should we even try, asks Anne Helen Petersen
Overloaded: is there simply too much culture?
There was a moment, back in, oh, 2012, when I thought I’d be able to keep up with it all. And by “it all”, I meant all the good TV shows, all the good movies, all the good music. From my tiny studio apartment in Austin, Texas, I would read the Twitter feeds of the critics I loved, then consume what they told me to. I caught obscure documentaries at one of the local theatres. I BitTorrented the shows that fell under the ever-widening banner of “quality” television. Spotify meant that, for the first time, I really could listen to the Top 100 albums of the year, as advised by Pitchfork. I saw blockbusters on Friday nights in movie houses packed with teenagers. I listened to Top 40 radio. I read the latest Pulitzer winners and all four Twilight books. I was feasting, but not yet overfull.
Or, to use a different metaphor: I was treading water in what I saw as a glorious and expanding sea of media, such a contrast to the options of my rural youth, when my choices were severely limited by the options at the video rental store, extended cable and the one CD a month I could afford on babysitting money. Of course, elements of my access were either illegal (BitTorrent) or paid the artist very little (Spotify). But I also felt, very much like the 27-year-old I was, that I had finally achieved a sort of comfortable fluency, the kind that allowed me to always answer “Yes” when someone inevitably asked: “Have you seen/read/heard this?
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