Too Many Things, Not Enough Time

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Go ahead and try to define time.  Go on.  I’ll wait.

It’s hard, isn’t it?  My definition would probably be something like this:  ‘Time is a thing that happens because it does’.  You can measure it, sure, that’s why watches exist.  Things happen in a certain amount of time.  But that’s not a definition, really; we’re not defining what time is, merely how things work because time exists.  Then there are phrases like ‘a point in time,’ as if time is fully continuous and yet certain moments within it can be pinpointed.  Time is weird.

Despite the non-definition of time, I can conclusively say that we don’t have enough of it.  Even Gandalf didn’t have enough time, saying in The Lord of the Rings, “Three hundred lives of men I’ve walked this earth and now I have no time.”  Old people wish they had more time.  Young people wish they had more time.  We all live and die, or at least all evidence supports this; due to the number of people alive who have not died yet, the human mortality rate is only 93%.  Because statistics are fun.

Beyond the large, philosophically weighted implications of the limit of time, which I will not discuss further, there are other, smaller indications of the lack of time.  The banner phrase representing this idea is thus:

“I can’t believe you haven’t watched/read/played/heard this movie/book/game/piece!”

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Let’s do some math, shall we?  Don’t worry, there won’t be any integration, derivation, or long division of polynomials.  Simple arithmetic will do.

Fernando works a standard 8-5 accounting job totaling 40 hours a week.  He goes to bed at 11 on weekdays in order to get up at 7; Fernando likes his sleep.  After eating dinner with his wife, Ortega, Fernando has 3 hours of free time each evening.  On the weekends, Fernando runs errands, goes to church, and naps.  Let’s say he gets another 12 hours of free time between those days.

Fernando has 27 hours a week of free time, time he can choose what he wants to do.  This translates to 1404 or so hours a year.  Fernando enjoys baseball and football, along with watching a couple shows on TV and Friday movie night with Ortega.  Let’s say Fernando watches half of all the baseball in the season, three quarters of the football games, and watches three 20-episode shows, along with one movie per Friday.  His free time would look like this:

3 hours/game x 80 games = 240 hours

3 hours/game x 12 games = 36 hours

1 hour/show x 20 episodes x 3 shows = 60 hours

2 hours/movie x 52 movies = 104 hours

Total:  440 hours

Of course, I didn’t include any time spent reading, or travelling, or vacations, or interneting (which we all know is a big time-waster), or whatever.  So, Fernando has used up about a third of his total hours.  Not so bad, right?

However, let’s take a look at the total amount of content that was produced in the categories in which he is interested:

162 games/season x 3 hours/game x 30 teams/2 (because each game features 2 teams) = 7,290 hours

16 games/season x 3 hours/game x 32 teams/2 = 768 hours

39 new shows for 2012/2013 x 1 hour x 20 episodes = 780 hours

677 films released in 2012 x 2 hours/film = 1,354 hours

In those four categories, 10,192 hours were produced from new content in one year.  Fernando, remember, only has 1404 hours.  This is a big problem.  Also, we’re only looking at the new content.  Those four categories, combined, churn out 10,000 hours of new content every single year.  This adds up.  After five years, Fernando, even assuming he spends all of his free time watching these things, will have missed out on 43,940 hours of content.  That makes 1,830 days or, interestingly, five years of content remaining.

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The aforementioned exclamation–“I can’t believe you haven’t seen ___!”–really irks me.  For any single hobby, there is so much content produced every year that it is simply impossible to be fully appraised of what’s going on, even if you only keep up with the quality content.  Perhaps a movie aficionado whose hobby is entirely watching and discussing movies keeps abreast of the new happenings while simultaneously interested and informed of the classics.  However, the closer you get to total knowledge of one subject, the further you get away from another.  It’s just impossible, unless you can stop time or don’t sleep.

Realistically, there are very few things which one can legitimately say, “Man, you haven’t seen this!  That’s crazy!”  For instance, Star Wars is one of those things–Star Wars is a cultural touchstone and has heavily influenced generations of filmmakers and sci-fi/fantasy creators and fans.  Something like…Top Gun?  Not so much.  Great movie, great soundtrack, but if you’re not into movies at all, it’s just not a must-see.  Likewise, everybody should read at least part of the Bible, even if you discount its religious importance–the Bible is, like it or not, a cornerstone of Western civilization.  Haven’t played Tetris?  That’s a sin.  Haven’t played Call of Duty?  Eh.  It’s important to note the difference between good content and must-experience content; the latter is much smaller than you might think because there’s just not enough time.

I am a pretty avid gamer, but I have not played Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time or Final Fantasy VII.  I enjoy reading, but have not read Great Expectations, Moby Dick, or Catch-22.  I enjoy movies, but have not seen Gone With the Wind, The Maltese Falcon, The Godfather.  I love to ride rollercoasters, but I haven’t been to entire parks with must-ride coasters.  It happens.

So, choose what you watch/play/read wisely.  Every piece of content you experience means that there are a hundred other things that you never will.  But you know what?  That’s ok.  The more content, the better–creativity is one of the most important things to cultivate, in my opinion.  To be creative is to be human.

Genre Nonsense

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Let’s say I’m bored.  Let’s also say I like soccer, and, because of the immense time on my hands, I decide to start a soccer league.  Because I’m bored, like soccer, have time on my hands, and am a stickler for organization, I decide to start multiple soccer leagues.  The first one I start I call ‘Soccer League’, because in this scenario I am also , apparently, extremely lazy and creatively impaired.  Soccer League uses MLS (Major League Soccer) rules.  My second league I name ‘Christian Soccer League.’  This league is intended for Christians who enjoy the game of soccer.  My third league is called ‘Atheist Soccer League,’ and is intended for those who don’t believe in God (I was skeptical whether or not to include agnostics here; but I guess I won’t really ever know for sure why I didn’t).  My final league is called ‘Football League,’ because it is intended for foreign immigrants seeking community and a league that doesn’t have the word ‘soccer’ in the title.

This organization sounds fine and dandy, doesn’t it?  Soccer League will play solid MLS style soccer, the Christians can have their hedge of protection and a minimum of seventeen ‘Father God’ utterances in the pregame prayer, the atheists will get to scoff at said prayers, and the Football League may or may not even speak English at any point.  Everybody seems happy.  Organization!  Yay!

Unfortunately, I seem to have overlooked a key part of organizational structure.  Of the four leagues, only my first league has any indication of what kind of soccer is going on.  I can’t very well say that Christian Soccer League is playing ‘Christian’ soccer, can I?  That’s absurd.  That tells me nothing and gives me no indication, no information about the core event that’s going on.  There isn’t ‘atheist soccer’ or ‘world soccer’ going on.  Just soccer.  My logistical decision to divide the leagues this way is not valid if you are interested in what kind of soccer is being played.

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A genre is, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, “a category of artistic, musical, or literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.”  It is a classification tool we use to navigate through the sea of creative enterprise.  Without genres, we would be aimlessly lost, searching for Kenny Loggins and ending up with Metallica.

The most popular software platforms on the planet use genres to classify music.  For instance, iTunes uses quite a few genres in its database.  Open up an iTunes store and you’ll see a few dozen genres by which you can search:  pop, rock, hip hop/rap, dance, R&B/soul, alternative, singer/songwriter, electronic, country, Christian & gospel, world, reggae, classical.

What should spring to mind as you read this list is that some genres are not equal.  Rock, pop, country, and the like specifically describe the music.  These genres are giving you relevant, important information about what are about to hear.  They are like the first league–Soccer League–organized by style, by form, by content.  Then there are oddly weird genres: World?  Christian & gospel?  Classical?  These labels tell you nothing important about style, form, or content.  Rather, they are giving you ancillary information that, while interesting and informative, is not of prime importance if you want to actually organize the music.

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Simply put:  there is no ‘classical’ genre, no ‘Christian’ genre, no ‘world’ genre.  They don’t exist.  As much as Christian music is a profitable enterprise and a legitimate musical community, it is not a legitimate genre.  Legitimate musical genres are formed through the sharing of similar musical properties.  In other words, the music itself is judged.  What does it sound like?  What instruments are used?  What sorts of songwriting is preferred?  Lyrical content, religion, or place of origin are not sorts of qualifications that should be used for genres.  These sorts of genres are bad genres because the core content, the music, is totally overlooked in place of emphasis on other random qualities.  For musicians in these genres, it forces them into a warped interpretation of their craft and can they can sometimes be subjected to a minefield of bizarre judgment.  Didn’t reference Jesus enough in your new album?  Well, then, you’re not a real ‘Christian’ band.  Off you go.

Unfortunately, there’s not much of a solution.  Spotify and iTunes genres are so well-entrenched that an overhaul of the system is not likely.  This is even more of a problem for genres like ‘classical,’ as our society revolves so mightily around popular music that classifying art music amongst it is extraordinarily difficult.  The last movement of Beethoven’s 9th lasts about half an hour and cannot be broken up into happy little chunks without destroying perspective and, therefore, the piece itself.  So, it gets lumped in with Palestrina masses and Copland fanfares, all of which are radically different from each other, because of no good reason.  If, at random, you take two pieces of music from the classical genre pile, they are likely no more alike than a cat and a blender.  However, the previous two are lumped together, while you better hope the latter two are not.

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So, what can you do?  I, for one, would love to banish the ‘Christian’ genre forever.  Art is art, and it should be judged as stuff.  It’s ridiculous to do use a similar banner for other activities.  “Hey Carl, let’s go Christian Drive to the Christian Mall where we can Christian Shop for Christian Music.  Afterwards, we can go play in the Christian Soccer League against our opponent Tribulation Force!”

Genres are sometimes nonsense.  Evaluate art based on what is most relevant, and you’ll be all right.  Who knows, you might glean some interesting insight along the way.