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Entertainment: The Occupation of Our Minds

When he's not writing poetry or political articles, Ralph fills his time by researching various topics that are influencing society today.

The number of people who constantly check their phones is growing.

The number of people who constantly check their phones is growing.

"Are you not entertained?" We all remember the famous quote made by Russell Crow in the movie The Gladiator. He was clearly disgusted by his own actions in the gladiator arena—a senseless slaughter of other men to serve the bloodlust of the attending populace. Yet, the simple line he shouted is profound is today's world, but not because of his disgust, but because it brings the understanding that people crave entertainment above all else.

Entertainment has become increasingly more and more important to human beings, especially in western civilizations. The last decade has seen a volumetric increase in websites, mobile apps, and related forms of passive recreation connected with wireless technology. What used to be found under the umbrella is still there, albeit in a diminished form. Television and movies, video games, concerts, art exhibits, plays, operas, and sporting events continue to attract a wide audience. When the additional, newer forms of entertainment are added to the collective, it becomes so large and so accessible that one must wonder if entertainment is now the most important thing in life.

Apple's original iPhone released in 2007

Apple's original iPhone released in 2007

From TV to the iPhone, the Evolution in Entertainment

Examining the entertainment segment of the economy is a common way to understand its importance. Using a 2014 Consumer Expenditures study produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, we can examine the percentage of household income spent on various categories. In order, spending was on housing, transportation, food, insurance, health care, entertainment, clothing, cash contributions, education, and other smaller listings.

It’s clear that entertainment spending is the highest non-essential outlay of money in America. The study includes audio and visual equipment and expenses, pets, toys, hobbies, and fees and admissions to events, plus others, as entertainment. Over time, expenditures can change based on environmental factors. Healthcare spending spiked with the government’s decision to make changes to the overall healthcare system. Yet entertainment spending has steadily grown, rising nearly 60% in the last two decades alone.

The growth is attributed to home-based entertainment and mobile electronics, with location-based entertainment remaining fairly stable. Facebook came online in 2004, YouTube followed in 2005, then Twitter in 2006, and the iPhone in 2007. The iPhone drove entertainment spending to three years of above-average spending, even in the already rising metric. But more importantly, the iPhone ushered in the age of entertainment-on-demand.

With a smartphone, the average American had immediate access to the internet, to games, and to apps, which were being developed at breakneck speed. Even though the expense of owning a smartphone was very high at the inception, the perceived need for access to information drove sales to record levels. As smartphone use became more commonplace, a new dynamic of behavior emerged.

The "Smartphone Stare"

In today’s world, it’s quite easy to identify the behavioral dynamic, and it’s directly related to the smartphone. Every place where people congregate, such as an airport or shopping mall, one can observe what seems like nearly everyone with their eyes firmly glued to their smartphone. Each individual is experiencing their own version of online enjoyment from their devices, yet they often are in a larger social group while doing so. It’s a version of togetherness with a high degree of disconnectedness in an unexpected harmony, and it’s always occurring.

Just a few decades ago, the same social group probably would have been talking or interacting in another way. Now they are each glued to the glowing monitor of their phones and communicate by text message to people standing right beside them.

Layered Entertainment

It seems as if every free moment is spent engaging in some form of entertainment, including some time where entertainment is added as another layer. The ability to listen to music or a podcast while mowing your lawn is an example of layered entertainment. Standing in a line is now an opportunity to update your social media status. Eating fast food is a perfect time for posting a review of the food you are eating on one of the many popular rating sites. Even using the bathroom is now prime time to read a story on your iPad.

As a society, we’ve managed to make entertainment the mortar that fills in every free space available in our day and, as shown, even does double duty. People consult their smartphones from the minute they are awake and as the last thing they do before going to bed at night.

Americans' consumption of media is over 11 hours per day.

Americans' consumption of media is over 11 hours per day.

Time Consumption

As technology improves, the expectation is that the availabilty of entertainment will grow. Americans over the age of 18 are consuming over 11 hours of media daily. Teenagers are already consuming over 9 hours of combined media daily, meaning more entertainment than sleep. Tweens are spending 6 hours daily on entertainment.

The trend with additional entertainment consumption with age isn’t surprising as many parents try to limit kids for total access. What these statistics clearly reinforce is the position entertainment has on the value scale for people, especially adults. In fact, by the time-spent statistic alone, entertainment appears to be the most important thing in everyone’s life.

Pokémon GO: an interactive game that will certainly be copied.

Pokémon GO: an interactive game that will certainly be copied.

The Future Looks to Be "Entertaining"

The looming question is why entertainment has become increasingly more important. From the perspective of an entertainment producer—this could be an app designer, musician, or dancer—the product of their work is primarily to make people feel something. There are exceptions to this loose rule, but in general, most people do not subscribe to a form of entertainment that doesn’t make them happy, or scared, or shocked in some way. As long as the provider of entertainment is putting out content that keeps them interested, people stay plugged in.

The emotional younger generation has a stronger need than prior generations to be constantly stimulated mentally, and the available forms of entertainment provide that. It’s a similar feeling that is observed in people addicted to drugs, where people simply cannot figuratively survive without their entertainment. Take away someone’s smartphone and watch how they react, to get a real-life version of the withdrawal symptoms.

Entertainment is not going to disappear, nor is it going to get less influential in our everyday lives. As the world grows closer through connectivity, more experiences will be available and more secrets will be revealed, all in real or near-time. Interactive games like Pokémon GO are already emerging as the next level of all-consumptive forms of media.

But at What Expense?

The problem with this model is that if the time spent on entertainment continues to grow, then it must come at the expense of something else. Eating, sleeping, spending quality time with family, and work all are on the table as potential candidates to fall to entertainment. These are all being eroded right now, and one can only imagine what condition they will be like in another decade. Our citizens are increasingly becoming slaves to the media and slowly detaching from reality to become a citizen in the virtual worlds of tomorrow.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.