[Originally posted elsewhere November 2011]
We have become accustomed to being astonished nearly every day. Without even exerting much effort, we are exposed to the most amazing feats of strength and agility on YouTube videos, and read about the most outrageous exploits of men, women, and children the world over.
And why not? We have the entire world’s events at our fingertips to choose from. The Internet has made it possible to disseminate interesting and astonishing content with such ease, that none of us give it a second thought. In other words, the sample size has increased from a single village to all the villages in the world. This is largely because the tools of creative capture and production have been put into the hands of ordinary people the world over – the cameras that most of us carry around in our pockets, attached to our phones, are more powerful than any cameras on the market were just 10 or 15 years ago.
The result? We have become completely accustomed to being astonished.
I happen to believe that many of these “astonishing things”will continue to be astonishing no matter how many other amazing things we encounter, because they tap into our innate beliefs about the ways that the world should work. When we see or hear something that conflicts with these innate understandings, astonishment is the result.
However, there is probably also something like “astonishment habituation”. In much the same way that the quiet hum of a fan in the room disappears after we are exposed to it for a minute or two, we are so used to astonishing things that the nearly amazing does not register quite the way it might have otherwise.
One really important result of this is that it’s very difficult as an individual contributor to astonish an audience on a regular basis. In fact, those that are most successful at astonishing audiences do so by honing a single astonishing feat and repeating it over and over again, rather than astonishing the same audience time and time again.
In this environment, being a creator of interesting things is a difficult proposition. However, with such an explosion of interesting things to sort through, the job of filtering for the truly astonishing is an important one – curation really matters.
The bottom line – unless you have an astonishing act that you can take, circus style, from town to town, maybe the best role for creative types today is curation, or finding amazing things that touch you in interesting ways and sharing those with some commentary with others.