Youtube has turned me into a member of the MTV generation

My sophomore year in college I had a roommate who had a few habits that got on my nerves. He would cycle through his mp3s and never be able to play a single song all the way through. He would never be able to watch a half hour TV show, instead perferring highlights on ESPN, clips from Saturday Night Live reruns (back when they aired on Comedy Central), and MTV videos.

It frustrated me that he could never sit all the way through a program without changing the channel. I would listen to entire CDs from start to finish, watch entire movies, and plays. I would go to class and listen throughout the entire lecture. How awful it must be to have that small an attention span, that my poor roomate, has, I thought?

Fast foward 5 years later and after discovering the joys of youtube and other forms of internet video for the past year and a half or so, I’ve turned into him. This is the tragic thing that youtube has done to me.

With so many forms of entertainment being available to me everytime I log into a computer, I want to experience them all and can’t sit still too long at any one thing before something else grabs my attention. Why watch an entire episode of the Conan O’Brien show where you can just see the clips of the skits since it’s on MTV’s site? Why listen to the radio when you can get any song you want on demand? I started taking those shortcuts toward instant gratification and I’m having trouble finding my way out. My primary form of entertainment has gone from two-hour long movies to a one-hour long drama like heros to half hour shows to clips of Monty Python, Conan O’Brien or Mad TV on youtube and it’s affecting everything I do.

I can’t sat still through lectures and often through work I find myself channeling through youtube, a tv show on demand, or some other video or radio station site. I can’t watch TV through the commercial breaks and I’m often alternating between two or more shows. I’m an instant gratification junkie, in short, and I’m fully aware that’s a more chaotic and less peaceful place that both society and myself have fallen prevy to.

How is this a problem? Well, aside from the obvious answers of all the ways a shortened attention span makes it more difficult to focus on anything and get anything done, I feel like we can’t fully appreciate anything at all as well. Remember Beethoven’s 5th symphony? Oh, silly me, I forgot that you folks in generation X won’t dare listen to anything unless it has words being sung/screamed loudly accompanied to a keyboard, guitar, drums and bass, and you folks in Generation Y, live in a world where only rappers are considered true musicians, so that’s pretty much synthesizer, drums and bass (see we’ve already shortened our attention span from 4 instruments to 3).

Anyway, Beethoven’s 5th symphony is that one that goes Dum-Dum-Dum-Duuuuum, Dum-Dum-Dum-Duuuuum. It’s a very dramatic piece that even my 5-second attention span college roommate had downloaded on his computer but that well-known part of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony is only the 1st movement of four parts. If you listen to the 2nd part of the symphony, it’s very boring and insipid on its own, the third is kind of iffy, but the 4th is where it all comes together. When you get to the fourth, you realize that the second and third movements were put there for a reason: to provide contrast to the 2nd and 3rd movements. The symphony takes over 30 minutes to listen to (or maybe it’s 20 or 40, I really am just guessing here, but it’s at least 4 times longer than your average song on the radio, put it that way. I couldn’t find on wikipedia, google, amazon, my desk encyclopedia or this old music textbook how long the symphony was) which very few people in Generation Y has the patience to do but it is that much more rewarding to get to movement 4 . And that’s exactly what we’re missing when our attention spans get reduced to wax: The metaphorical second and third movements of the movie, tv show, album and quite possibly life itself.

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