At first when I read this in Tech Crunch, I was depressed:
The appeal of Instagram is, for lack of a better word, simple; the world is moving too damn fast and we don’t want the cognitive load of figuring out what we’re looking at — we just want to see simple pretty things. This simplicity is what makes services like Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest a joy versus other entertainment offerings.
The truth is that on any given day, I’d rather check in on Instagram than watch a movie.
I felt despondent. I love movies. When I say I love movies, you have no idea how much. Almost as much as books. Almost enough to make me wish I could have been young in 1939. Almost enough to make me wish for silent movie stardom. I mark the major events of my life with film. Time passes with each new movie. Eras become genre: the year of the spaghetti western, the year of the Godzilla movies (all of them), the years of Universal Horror classics. The fall I fell in love with Bergman. The spring I watched Vertigo ten times in a row. This is not, of course, novel. I’m guessing most writers feel the same way.
Do people no longer truly have the attention span for stories?
I hope not. I live for stories. I love LOOOONGG, epic, twisty, turny, big, bold stories. We all love stories. Of course. That’s why we do what we do. Sure, I’m as guilty as the next person of checking my phone way too often, reading stuff on my iPad while I’m watching a movie (at home), etc. But if the story is good enough, then I can’t be distracted. It’s a simple as that.
That thought made me happier. Because then I read this:
The war for attention leaves Hollywood at a disadvantage. Box office returns are the lowest they have been in 16 years. Why pay $10 to commit to watching something in a theatre when you can watch it at home for much less with the added bonus of being able to check your email? And, why even bother spending two hours of your time sitting and absorbing a complex narrative that isn’t connected to you, when you can pop open your iPhone and get a quick hit of rarefied entertainment from people you actually know — who you can actually relate to as opposed to just project on.
I thought, oh! Well, then! There’s your problem. What Hollywood puts out now is mostly junk, right? Filler and fluff and foreign DVD sales, yes? 3D rehashes to make money and that is it and all? These are all stories we’ve seen before, ridiculous rip-offs and terrible car explosions with stories kind of made up to fit around them. So of course people are distracted, bored, fidgety. Of course they’d rather just check Instagram.
And a story can still draw you in, in the most unlikely of ways. I saw The Artist on Christmas Day. In a theater packed with people carrying brand new iPhones and Androids and distracted by family and kids and the turkey they had to go home and cook and making their flights the next day. And yet. Dead, dead silence, rapt attention, uproarious laughter, and a collective gasp like I’ve never heard from a theater before at one particularly suspenseful point. And it was a SILENT FILM. MY GOD. Americans (okay, yes, East Coast liberal elites, but STILL) fell silent and rapt before a SILENT FILM. Why? Because it told a very good story. In a simple, beautiful, interesting way. That’s what Hollywood has to do to get people back in theaters. Tell more stories. Tell them silent, tell them sound, tell them black and white and color and backwards and forwards and any which way but tell a story that we care about, Hollywood. One we haven’t heard before. Or maybe one we have, and keep retelling and remolding and refitting, through the ages, because it’s a true and good and honest and beautiful story.
Maybe then we’ll stop checking our email and return to movies once more, the willing captives of stories on the big screen.