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Half of Waking Hours Are Now Devoted to Entertainment
An Executive Briefing Paper on Arts, Media & Culture
These are quick summaries of important developments you might not hear about elsewhere. If I were advising a Minister of Culture, this is the kind of regular briefing I’d provide.
But most of us don’t have a Minister of Culture. So let’s act the part ourselves.
The Honest Broker is a reader-supported guide to music, books, media & culture. Both free and paid subscriptions are available. If you want to support my work, the best way is by taking out a paid subscription.
Half of Waking Hours Are Now Devoted to Entertainment
Are you not entertained?
If not, you just have yourself to blame. Your neighbors now spend most of their waking hours getting entertained, according to research outfit Luminate.
This number has grown 22% in the last year.
How is this even possible? Don’t people have jobs? Don’t they have family obligations? Don’t they. . . have a life?
Maybe not. But who cares, just so long as the TikTok videos keep reeling.
An unanswered question: If entertainment is most of modern life, why don’t artists and creators make more money? Meanwhile the Forbes billionaire list is filled with people who create the infrastructure for all this diversion. Surely creation is a more useful skill in entertainment than distribution, no?
Artists Really Are Getting Poorer
Many of my readers already knew this. But now we have some numbers to measure the pain and suffering.
I find a decline in the relative earnings of artists to non-artists from zero to a 15% disadvantage. After controlling for demographic differences, the decline is sharper, declining from a 15% earnings disadvantage to 30%….
When restricting the set of individuals to those with at least a college degree, those with a fine arts degree also incur an earnings and employment penalty even if they work in the arts. These results highlight the increasing financial precariousness of artists over the past decade.
New Editor at the Wall Street Journal Wants ‘Content’ That Is More ‘Accessible’—and Introduces Cat Photos to the Front Page
No, I’m not joking. This is an actual Wall Street Journal front page.
But the cats won’t take over without a fight. The New York Times (perhaps not the most objective source on its competitors) tells us that:
At least 15 veteran editors and writers have left the paper in recent months. Long-held stylistic practices, such as the use of courtesy titles in articles, were disposed of overnight. The Journal’s chief enterprise editor, who had veto power over which big investigative pieces were published and which were discarded, was pushed out.
This may just be the start of the changes under new editor Emma Tucker:
Ms. Tucker’s love of audience data has led some reporters to feel they are being hounded by editors to get more viewers per story. Others have recoiled at her use of the word “content” instead of journalism.
This is alarming for many reasons—but especially because the Wall Street Journal proved that media outlets can rely on subscriptions instead of chasing clicks for advertisers. In fact, that’s the biggest advantage of the subscription model—you can embrace quality instead of clickbait.
I note that the list price of a subscription to the WSJ is $9.75 per week, or more than $500 per year. If I’m paying that much, I want journalism, not content.
The $17,000 Gold Apple Watch is Now Obsolete.
I’ve grumbled here in the past about tech companies manipulating customers and users instead of serving them. This may seem like a small thing, but the end result is a culture that grows more tyrannical and inflexible with each passing month.
A disturbing example is Apple’s recent announcement that its $17,000 gold Apple Watch is now obsolete technology.
Apple’s obsolete label doesn’t just mean the end of software support. . . .It means the end of hardware support: the company will no longer provide parts, repairs, or replacement services.
This makes the Apple watch markedly inferior to every traditional watch on the market. The author, Umar Shakir, continues:
You could spend $10,000 to $30,000 on a Cartier Tank, still get a square watch, and not worry about whether you could get it serviced eight (or 80) years later. As long as luxury watch manufacturers like Cartier exist (or Patek Philippe, Rolex, etc.), you can get first-party repair service.
I inherited a watch from my father—it was the only luxury item he owned. (I wrote about it here.) I plan to give it to my son. I expect he will give it to his child.
It’s a good thing we didn’t buy it from Apple.
If Apple treats its wealthy consumers this way, how do you think it will deal with music lovers? The iPod—once the company’s hottest consumer product—is now obsolete. And just consider that Apple Music allegedly loses money, and anything could happen there. Maybe your song playlists will last forever. But forever at Apple probably isn’t even a decade nowadays.
More Evidence Supports Immersive Music Listening of 10 Minutes Plus
My study of shamans forced me to change my opinions about music. I saw that anthropological studies showed repeatedly that it took about 10 minutes of music-making (usually with a drum) before a shaman fell into an intense trance. I later encountered many other situations where musical experiences were amplified after around 10 minutes.
That’s why I started arguing for longer music tracks. Not always or everywhere—sometimes a 3-minute song is just fine. But we rely too much on short-duration culture.
So I was intrigued by a new study from the British Academy of Sound Therapy—which looked at how people use music to improve their mood and physical well being.
They studied 7,581 people and learned that:
89% of people believe music supports health and well-being.
Music creates an optimal state of relaxation in about 13 minutes. The best music for relaxation has a “slow tempo, simple melody and no lyrics.”
Music can produce feelings of happiness and contentment in about 9 minutes. The most uplifting music has a “driving rhythm, fast tempo and happy lyrical content.”
Music can alleviate sadness, and 13 minutes is an optimum time for achieving this.
All these results converged on a time frame of 9-13 minutes before music demonstrates desired levels of efficacy.
That’s fairly close to my 10 minute target. So I will continue to advocate for longer tracks, extended live performances, and immersive listening situations.
And if you still want to focus on songs of 3 to 4 minutes duration, just make sure to play them three times in a row.
P.S. I spoke about other benefits of longer tracks when I was a guest on Rick Beato’s podcast.
Universal Music Wants Dead Musicians to Get to Work
They called James Brown the “hardest working man in show business.” But he stopped working hard after his death in in 2006.
But Universal Music Group, owner of most of his catalog, may ask Brown to get back to work.
That’s because of AI.
Major labels ought to be afraid of AI songs—which threaten to put Silicon Valley in charge of music creation (see the top two stories above). Tech companies already control music distribution, so you might think the music moguls would fight to prevent further incursions.
But record execs can never turn down a quick buck. So the largest label in the world is looking to license the voices of dead musicians to Google—who will turn them into new AI songs.
Google and UMG’s proposed licensing agreement comes even as some artists including Drake and the Weeknd, both of whom are signed with (UMG), have been outspoken about deepfake music after a TikTok user posted AI-generated songs using vocals resembling the two artists….UMG said the music was “infringing content with generative AI.”
But money talks, especially in the record business—where it’s getting harder and harder to launch new artists. So zombie songs from dead artists are the perfect solution.
Google Is Altering Billions of Search Queries to Reward Advertisers
Just when I thought I knew every scam on the web, Google invents a new one. This revelation came out during an employee’s testimony at the Google antitrust hearings.
We learned about a “a highly confidential effort called Project Mercury”—a scheme to pack more advertising into search results. So even when you’re not looking at advertising, you are still looking at advertising.
Google likely alters queries billions of times a day in trillions of different variations. Here’s how it works. Say you search for “children’s clothing.” Google converts it, without your knowledge, to a search for “NIKOLAI-brand kidswear,” making a behind-the-scenes substitution of your actual query with a different query that just happens to generate more money for the company, and will generate results you weren’t searching for at all. It’s not possible for you to opt out of the substitution.
We have now reached full blown Truman Show fakery—and at the one web service we rely on most.
Shouldn’t this be illegal?
The Masculinity Crisis Is Real
This problem isn’t going away. Men don’t want to be accused of toxic masculinity, but what does healthy masculinity look like?
Where do they teach it? Who is the role model? How do you even begin?
This is not a subject men talk about—which is part of the problem. But signs of dudes in crisis are everywhere.
So I read with interest this account of the “Confident Man Ranch.” Guys get together to help other guys find out what it means to be a guy.
One of the next to speak was a man around my age from North Carolina. I’ll call him Ben. Last winter, his wife told him she wasn’t sure she wanted him around anymore. He’d gotten too needy, too defensive, always tip-toeing around her. Where was the guy she married? The next day, he told the group, he drove to work, spent a half hour with his team, then continued on to a nearby Harris Teeter, where he sat in the parking lot for five hours and cried. He didn’t know where to go. He didn’t know what to do. “The only thing I could do for myself was to sit in my truck,” he said. So, five days straight, that’s what Ben did.
I don’t have solutions for guys like Ben. But somebody needs to find one, or things are gonna get ugly for all of us.
Is It Too Risky to Debunk Bogus Scholarship ?
You may have heard about the Harvard professor who specialized in honesty, but allegedly fabricated her results. The latest twist in this story is a disturbing one—the people who found marked discrepancies in the professor’s work are getting sued for $25 million. The defendants seem to have a strong case, but how long will it take them to prove it in court—and at what cost?
The bigger issue is the chilling effect this has on independent voices trying to uncover academic fraud. In the meantime, honesty may still be the best policy, but an expensive one.
Telling the truth is an absolute defense in a defamation case. When Harvard commissioned an independent forensic investigation of the data that the Data Colada team had called into question, the independent investigation found “an apparent series of manipulations to a dataset prior to its publication”—backing up what the Data Colada team had identified.
But the way the law works is that it’ll take years—and be terrifyingly expensive—for the case to reach the stage where the defendants can even raise that defense. “The system is so broken ... that a case like this will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and go on for years,” defamation lawyer Ken White told me earlier this month. “Realistically, you could wind up going to trial, and even if you’re going to win at trial eventually you’re going to be ruined doing it.”
Is Body Rhythm the New Natural Healing?
While researching my book Healing Songs, I learned that rhythm is a legitimate medical concept. The human body is like a fancy drum, and getting the beat right can make the difference between sickness and health.
It’s long been observed that extended wakefulness can temporarily lift depression, and “darkness retreats” are trending….In 2019 the writer and photographer Matt Colquhoun took part in a trial of “triple chronotherapy,” an experimental treatment focused on individuals with drug-resistant bipolar disorder…..Patients were required to stay awake all night—under supervision — before sleeping at 5pm the following day.
It’s “like Ctrl-Alt-Delete and resets your internal clock,” writes David Veale, the doctor who led the trial in which Colquhoun took part, on his website….Coloquin wrote in a blog post immediately after treatment: “I have not felt this good in two years and it has transformed every part of my life almost immediately.”….
A 2016 randomized double-blind study found that viewing sunlight for 30 minutes each morning was a more effective treatment for major depression than Prozac alone during the same period.
Does Hollywood Care About Indie Films?
The crisis in Hollywood continues to grow with each passing month, and it’s a peculiar one—a crisis of staleness. It’s not just lackluster ticket sales at theaters, or the falling Disney share price. The worst indictment comes from the leaders in cinema, who increasingly distance themselves from the movie business.
That leaps out at you in this recent in-depth interview with Martin Scorsese. He has had a rocky relationship with studio bosses, but the intensity of his critique has increased lately. Here’s a revealing extract from his GQ interview:
What do you think changed with the industry that a filmmaker as talented and dedicated as you just can’t make the films that they want?
“Well, the industry is over,” Scorsese said….Studios, he said, are not “interested any longer in supporting individual voices that express their personal feelings or their personal thoughts and personal ideas and feelings on a big budget. And what’s happened now is that they’ve pigeonholed it to what they call indies.”
He saves his harshest critique for superhero movies:
“It’s manufactured content. It’s almost like AI making a film. And that doesn’t mean that you don’t have incredible directors and special effects people doing beautiful artwork. But what does it mean?…What will it give you?”
And he shares a revealing story about the making of The Departed:
Warner Bros. purportedly asked if one of the two leads in the film, played by DiCaprio and Matt Damon, could live. (Spoiler alert: They do not.) “What they wanted was a franchise. It wasn’t about a moral issue of a person living or dying.” It was about having a character that could survive for another film. Scorsese remembers a test screening where everyone—the audience, the filmmakers—walked out ecstatic. “And then the studio guys walked out and they were very sad, because they just didn’t want that movie. They wanted the franchise. Which means: I can’t work here anymore.”