Are we brain dead or smarter than ever? The horror and wonder of life in fast forward.

November 15, 2010


Impatience or forward thinking?

As some of you know, I am a connoisseur of horror. It is a popular genre (and one of Hollywood’s biggest moneymakers) but, of course, much of it is gut fill –if you pardon the expression. For every quality productions like The Walking Dead there are ten like Saw 3D.

Below the mainstream, literally hundreds of new films and books come out every year. I troll these depths looking for gems. The French, for example, are making some exquisite horror: Mutants and The Horde come to mind. From the UK, there’s Colin, a compassionate film about a young zombie, reportedly made for $75 dollars. It’s quite good.

Unfortunately (but not unexpectedly), the vast majority of what lurks below is crap. Stuff like Brain Dead, from Breaking Glass Pictures and Vicious Films. Don’t worry, Gentle Reader, I’m not going to review or discuss the film. This isn’t the blog for that. And that isn’t the film.


Easy to digest quickly…

I want to talk about Brain Dead in the context of the way I watched it, speaking to how we process content in the age of new media and streaming video. Once I established the film was going to suck (which usually takes less than 2 minutes), I watched the rest of it entirely in fast-forward, only stopping for the over-the-top gore and the occasional naked lady. Basically, I watched an hour and a half film in less than eight minutes.

Here’s the kicker. I got the narrative and actually could write a balanced review of the movie if I had to. Obviously, I have a better than average working knowledge of the genre so I could fill in the blanks. Once my brain got the formula for Brain Dead, I was then able to absorb the plot in hyper speed. This is more than rushing through to get to the good parts.

I really could watch the movie.

I believe many of you could do the same thing, providing the variables were right. For example, if you dig chick flicks (no comment) I bet you could FF Maid to Order and get it completely.

This ability is more than just a function of rote filmmaking, although no question that’s a factor. I think as a species we’ve adapted to a world of streaming content and chew through it faster and faster. More channels. More screens. More friends. More, more, more!

Some of the reasons are as follows and I think fascinating from an anthropological perspective:

1. Highlight reels. ESPN and others condense content like crazy. 4- hour ball games are shortened into 45 seconds of big plays and scores.
2. Pornography. Zooming to the money shots. If you don’t know what I’m talking about you’re a better man than I am, or lying.
3. The Internet. So much. So little time.
4. Twitter. 140 characters. ‘Nuff said.
5. Email and text. Who needs to beat around the bush? We get to the point. Do you really need (or ever read) anyone’s email after the first paragraph?
6. Globalization. The world does not go to bed when we do. Things are happening around the world around the clock. You snooze you lose.


More of a road runner?

Ironically, advertising was a major precursors to all this. Having to manage narrative and selling strategy in 30 seconds or less, we all became conditioned to making and receiving short-form content.

Implied in all this is the notion that we are no longer doing a good job at listening and learning. On the other hand, maybe we’re doing a terrific job. Remember the Evelyn Wood School of Speed-Reading. Zipping through pages was considered a great gift, almost magical.

I’ve written about “content zombies” several times. Judging from the amount of views and comments, it’s a popular topic: Content Zombies! Endless Choices/No Time

6 Responses to “Are we brain dead or smarter than ever? The horror and wonder of life in fast forward.”

  1. tracy said

    “Ironically, advertising was a major precursors to all this. Having to manage narrative and selling strategy in 30 seconds or less, we all became conditioned to making and receiving short-form content.”

    I’d rather let USA Today and music videos get the rap as pioneers in our “Short Attention Span Theater” epidemic!

  2. I would argue people feel rushed because their environment overstimulates them, and their brain continues to function in that mode whether it needs to or not.

    We are not nearly as crunched for time as we think we are. Several studies recently have pointed out we have more leisure time now than ever.

    For me, it’s about quickly scanning the floodgates of information, and then immersing myself fully in that which is worthwhile.

  3. jim schmidt said

    There is very, very little of true value in movie theaters, on-line or on tv. Most falls under the subhead of mindless diversions that keep people from feeling real emotions. Things that connect–a Kubrick film, the Beatles, a Raymond Carver short story–should be slowly savored. Ignore the rest.

    • SRP said

      On the other hand Carver’s excellent stories were, as you point out, “short: as were some of the Beatles earlier tunes. “Love me do” “Please, Please Me” are delectable but they are merely sweets!

  4. In my opinion, I think there has been a fundamental shift in Americas time perspective due to a global paradigm shift caused by advancing technology in conjunction with new competitive markets. We as a highly industrialized nation feel that we are entitled to instant gratification in the form of entertainment due to our perceived place in the world as a whole. Yet, we must continue to push the envelope of productivity. So, we condense our entertainment to bite sizes to “save time”. Though the continuing problem is that our success of creating bite size entertainment has been the proliferation of short attention span because our culture states that time wasted (waiting in line, waiting in traffic etc.)is productivity wasted. We view productivity wasted as a failure rather than see positive value in expanding our culture by experiencing entertainment. So, I think we are a culture that has become increasingly absorbent to data (TV shows, music, pop culture, etc.)and beginning to become brain dead in relating and understanding others.

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