Via Ted Gioia’s hugely informative newsletter I came across a report from entertainment data analysts Luminate looking at trends in Q3 of 2023. In it they claim that 50% of people’s waking hours is spent engaged in entertainment. 50%! They don’t reveal their data or methodology so I can’t say how valid that figure is, but they are serious analysts so it’s not plucked from the air. Don’t people work? What I guess this attests to is the portability of entertainment – you can be watching TV, listening to a podcast as you commute, work out or walk the dogs. Even at work you can be consuming music as background. Entertainment is everywhere, even if you might have doubts about the 50% figure.
That’s a lot of hours, a lot of attention, and a lot of money for somebody. Gioia makes the point that a scant amount of this money is going to the creators, who are getting poorer. It also raises a few questions for education. This government continually bashes non-stem based degrees, and we’ve long had the idea that ‘media studies’ is the epitome of a “Mickey Mouse degree”. I read quite a lot of music biographies, and one of the common threads is “they met at art college”. This is not because they were particularly interested in art, but because going to art college was what you did when you didn’t know what you wanted to do in the 70s and 80s. These local art schools (Britain had the most per capita in the world) were particularly important for working class people to enter the arts and entertainment world. And now they have largely closed down apart from the prestigious ones. Plus you need to take out student loans to attend them, which is not something you could imagine the members of The Clash, say, doing.
The current educational ecosystem then is not one conducive or encouraging to the development of arts. Which seems runs counter to the trends in the Luminate report, where time spent of entertainment is increasing year on year (soon we’ll have to abandon sleep to fit those entertainment hours in). It’s true that you don’t necessarily need to attend art school to become a creator now, the internet lowers those barriers to creation. However, as each wave of media becomes professionalised then so does the need for skills around it.
There is a risk that the damage the current climate causes is not felt for several years. As Jeff Tweedy puts it in his autobiography, “creation creates creators”. Removing a layer of creative impetus takes out a wave of creations, which in turn would have inspired further creators.
While the obvious focus is on arts education and places that foster such an approach, entertainment derives from, and requires input from all sectors – science, engineering, computer science, history, etc can all be required to create games or tv series. But entertainment goes beyond this also – listening to a popular science podcast is entertainment, or watching a history YouTube channel. Sneering at the arts or creativity doesn’t do anyone any favours. Perhaps one of the side benefits of the AI angst in education is that it will force educators to integrate creativity more into assessment.
I don’t have any neat solution to this, but I feel this disconnect between current Government and media attitudes to the arts and creativity and the direction of social attitudes to entertainment is an area that higher ed needs to be taking an active role in addressing.