How craving attention makes you less creative | Joseph Gordon-Levitt

How craving attention makes you less creative | Joseph Gordon-Levitt


First of all, thank you
for your attention. There’s nothing quite like
being in a room full of people like this, where all of you are giving
your attention to me. It’s a powerful feeling, to get attention. I’m an actor, so I’m a bit
of an expert on, well, nothing, really. (Laughter) But I do know what it feels like
to get attention — I’ve been lucky in my life to get a lot more
than my fair share of attention. And I’m grateful for that, because like I said,
it’s a powerful feeling. But there’s another powerful feeling that I’ve also been lucky
to experience a lot as an actor. And it’s funny, it’s sort of
the opposite feeling, because it doesn’t come
from getting attention. It comes from paying attention. When I’m acting, I get so focused that I’m only
paying attention to one thing. Like when I’m on set
and we’re about to shoot and the first AD calls out “Rolling!” And then I hear “speed,” “marker,” “set,” and then the director calls “Action!” I’ve heard that sequence so many times, like, it’s become this Pavlovian
magic spell for me. “Rolling,” “speed,” “marker,”
“set” and “action.” Something happens to me,
I can’t even help it. My attention … narrows. And everything else in the world, anything else that might be bothering me
or might grab my attention, it all goes away, and I’m just … there. And that feeling, that is what I love, that, to me, is creativity. And that’s the biggest reason
I’m so grateful that I get to be an actor. So, there’s these two powerful feelings. There’s getting attention
and paying attention. Of course, in the last decade or so, new technology has allowed
more and more people to have this powerful feeling
of getting attention. For any kind of creative
expression, not just acting. It could be writing or photography
or drawing, music — everything. The channels of distribution
have been democratized, and that’s a good thing. But I do think there’s
an unintended consequence for anybody on the planet
with an urge to be creative — myself included,
because I’m not immune to this. I think that our creativity is becoming more and more
of a means to an end — and that end is to get attention. And so I feel compelled to speak up because in my experience, the more I go after that powerful
feeling of paying attention, the happier I am. But the more I go after
the powerful feeling of getting attention, the unhappier I am. (One person claps) And — thanks. (Laughter) (Applause) So this is something
that goes way back for me. I think the first time I can remember
using my acting to get attention, I was eight years old at summer camp. And I’d been going on auditions
for about a year by then, and I’d been lucky to get some small parts in TV shows and commercials, and I bragged about it a lot,
that summer at camp. And at first, it worked. The other kids gave me
a bunch of extra attention, because I had been on “Family Ties.” That’s a picture of me on “Family Ties.” (Laughter) Then, the tide turned — I think I took it too far
with the bragging. And then, the other kids
started to make fun of me. I remember there was this one girl
I had a crush on, Rocky. Her name was Rachel, she went by Rocky. And she was beautiful, and she could sing, and I was smitten with her,
and I was standing there, bragging. And she turned to me
and she called me a show-off. Which I 100 percent deserved. But you know, it still really hurt. And ever since that summer, I’ve had a certain hesitance
to seek attention for my acting. Sometimes, people would ask me, “Wait a minute,
if you don’t like the attention, then why are you an actor?” And I’d be like, “Because that’s not what acting’s about,
man, it’s about the art.” And they’d be like, “OK, OK, dude.” (Laughter) And then Twitter came out. And I got totally hooked on it,
just like everybody else, which made me into a complete hypocrite. Because at that point, I was absolutely using my acting
to get attention. I mean, what, did I think
I was just getting all these followers because of my brilliant tweets? I actually did think that — I was like — (Laughter) “They don’t just like me
because they saw me in ‘Batman,’ they like what I have to say,
I’ve got a way with words.” (Laughter) And then in no time at all, it started having an impact
on my dearly beloved creative process. It still does. I try not to let it. But you know, I’d be sitting there,
like, reading a script. And instead of thinking, “How can I personally identify
with this character?” Or “How is the audience
going to relate to this story?” I’m like, “What are people going to say
about this movie on Twitter?” And “What will I say back that will be good and snarky enough
to get a lot of retweets, but not too harsh, because people love to get offended,
and I don’t want to get canceled?” These are the thoughts that enter my mind when I’m supposed to be reading a script,
trying to be an artist. And I’m not here to tell you that technology
is the enemy of creativity. I don’t think that. I think tech is just a tool. It has the potential to foster
unprecedented human creativity. Like, I even started
an online community called HITRECORD, where people all over the world collaborate on all kinds
of creative projects, so I don’t think that social media
or smartphones or any technology is problematic in and of itself. But … if we’re going to talk
about the perils of creativity becoming a means to get attention, then we have to talk about
the attention-driven business model of today’s big social media
companies, right? (Applause) This will be familiar territory
for some of you, but it’s a really relevant question here: How does a social media platform like, for example, Instagram, make money? It’s not selling
a photo-sharing service — that part’s free. So what is it selling? It’s selling attention. It’s selling the attention
of its users to advertisers. And there’s a lot of discussion right now about how much attention we’re all giving
to things like Instagram, but my question is: How is Instagram getting
so much attention? We get it for them. Anytime somebody posts on Instagram, they get a certain amount of attention
from their followers, whether they have a few followers
or a few million followers. And the more attention you’re able to get, the more attention
Instagram is able to sell. So it’s in Instagram’s interest for you to get as much
attention as possible. And so it trains you
to want that attention, to crave it, to feel stressed out
when you’re not getting enough of it. Instagram gets its users addicted to the powerful feeling
of getting attention. And I know we all joke, like,
“Oh my God, I’m so addicted to my phone,” but this is a real addiction. There’s a whole science to it. If you’re curious, I recommend
the work of Jaron Lanier, Tristan Harris, Nir Eyal. But here’s what I can tell you. Being addicted to getting attention is just like being addicted
to anything else. It’s never enough. You start out and you’re thinking, “If only I had 1,000 followers,
that would feel amazing.” But then you’re like, “Well,
once I get to 10,000 followers,” and, “Once I get to 100 — Once I get to a million followers,
then I’ll feel amazing.” So I have 4.2 million
followers on Twitter — it’s never made me feel amazing. I’m not going to tell you
how many I have on Instagram, because I feel genuine shame
about how low the number is, because I joined Instagram
after “Batman” came out. (Laughter) And I search other actors, and I see that their number
is higher than mine, and it makes me feel
terrible about myself. Because the follower count makes everybody feel terrible
about themselves. That feeling of inadequacy
is what drives you to post, so you can get more attention, and then that attention that you get
is what these companies sell, that’s how they make their money. So there is no amount
of attention you can get where you feel like you’ve arrived, and you’re like, “Ah, I’m good now.” And of course, there are a lot of actors
who are more famous than I am, have more followers than I do, but I bet you they would tell you
the same thing. If your creativity is driven
by a desire to get attention, you’re never going to be
creatively fulfilled. But I do have some good news. There is this other powerful feeling. Something else you can do
with your attention besides letting a giant tech company
control it and sell it. This is that feeling I was talking about, why I love acting so much — it’s being able to pay attention
to just one thing. Turns out there’s actually
some science behind this too. Psychologists and neuroscientists — they study a phenomenon they call flow, which is this thing that happens
in the human brain when someone pays attention
to just one thing, like something creative, and manages not to get distracted
by anything else. And some say the more regularly
you do this, the happier you’ll be. Now I’m not a psychologist
or a neuroscientist. But I can tell you,
for me, that is very true. It’s not always easy, it’s hard. To really pay attention
like this takes practice, everybody does it their own way. But if there’s one thing I can share that I think helps me focus
and really pay attention, it’s this: I try not to see other creative
people as my competitors. I try to find collaborators. Like, if I’m acting in a scene, if I start seeing the other actors
as my competitors, and I’m like, “God, they’re going to get
more attention than I am, people are going to be talking
about their performance more than mine” — I’ve lost my focus. And I’m probably
going to suck in that scene. But when I see the other actors
as collaborators, then it becomes almost easy to focus, because I’m just paying attention to them. And I don’t have to think
about what I’m doing — I react to what they’re doing, they react to what I’m doing, and we can kind of
keep each other in it together. But I don’t want you to think
it’s only actors on a set that can collaborate in this way. I could be in whatever
kind of creative situation. It could be professional,
could be just for fun. I could be collaborating with people
I’m not even in the same room with. In fact, some of my favorite
things I’ve ever made, I made with people
that I never physically met. And by the way, this, to me, is the beauty
of the internet. If we could just stop
competing for attention, then the internet becomes
a great place to find collaborators. And once I’m collaborating
with other people, whether they’re on set,
or online, wherever, that makes it so much easier
for me to find that flow, because we’re all just paying attention to the one thing
that we’re making together. And I fell like I’m part
of something larger than myself, and we all sort of shield each other from anything else that might
otherwise grab our attention, and we can all just be there. At least that’s what works for me. Sometimes. Sometimes — it doesn’t always work. Sometimes, I still totally get
wrapped up in that addictive cycle of wanting to get attention. I mean, like, even right now, can I honestly say there’s not
some part of me here who’s like, “Hey, everybody, look at me,
I’m giving a TED Talk!” (Laughter) There is — there’s, you know, some part. But I can also honestly say that this whole creative process
of writing and giving this talk, it’s been a huge opportunity
for me to focus and really pay attention to something
I care a lot about. So regardless of how much attention
I do or don’t get as a result, I’m happy I did it. And I’m grateful to all of you
for letting me. So thank you, that’s it, you can give your attention
to someone else now. Thanks again. (Applause)

100 thoughts on “How craving attention makes you less creative | Joseph Gordon-Levitt

  1. Not sure how I feel about the elimination of gatekeepers in the creative fields. Now there is just so much undeveloped, or just plain bad, art/music/books to sift through. Not everyone deserves a platform, not everyone has talent, and MANY are in it for the wrong reasons as Mr. Gordon-Levitt describes here . . .

  2. Wholesome! This actually made me understand a part of my deeper self. This mindset sure will answer a lot of things I’ve been struggling with. Thank you!

  3. creativity in essence is about self expression. If your looking for attention, obviously you're focused outwardly and self expression only flows from the inside to outside, Not from outside in.

  4. It's true. The more I do something because I wanted attention, the more self-conscious I become, the more I can't express myself creatively.

  5. Instagram is getting so much attention bcos we are all bored in our real lives and kind of aimless sometimes. If it’s not fb, it’s insta, if it’s not insta, it’s YouTube, if it’s not yt then it’s simple google or Wikipedia… lol.. the thing is your mind is not in control of you and it wants to get addicted to something or the other.

  6. That’s why love is so amazing, it puts you in a state of flow you give your partner all of your attention and love each other.

  7. Good talk. Yes attention, very powerful thing. Especially when all else falls away and only the task at hand is real. Fears, doubts, pain. Like Alex hannold free climbing. Michael Jordan shooting a game winner. A prime Tom brady in a 2 minute drill. These people mastered the ability to pay attention.

  8. Everyone gets this type of distracted & lately I’ve been realizing what he’s saying myself & im glad I heard him say it too👌🏽needed the reassurance and motivarion

  9. Not here my friend……I have a fairly ambivalent feeling towards Social Media. I like the instructional/inspirational videos like TED Talks on YouTube. I am not of this generation and that probably works in my favor. I love art…..I am a big fan of Joseph Gordon-Levitt. I love music, film, books and imagery in general. I have been making it a point to looking at the the sky every morning…..but I am hooked on always having my personal music soundtrack. The Walkman, CD Walkman, iPod, Apple Music makes my walking in the world…all the better. BUT I am aware that it also is a barrier to others and myself connecting.

  10. So the commissioner in The Dark Knight Rises is named Gordon and this guy's middle name is Gordon. Also, as a detective he isn't allowed to believe in coincidences.

  11. I have always liked this guy…from third rock from the sun until now…..this TED episode has shed light on this man and how truly humble he is…..this man's character is a relief to see.

  12. I think the idea of seeing everyone as collaborators instead of competitors is extremely valuable and necessary, especially in our individualistic culture. I first got this idea from the amazing book 'The courage to be hated' by Ichiro Kimishi and ever since i started applying it i feel like it just lifted a lot of weight from my shoulders and makes being together with others much more pleasant and uplifting. It's such a simple yet strong idea!

  13. Makes sense though.. The urge to get attention takes up so much space in your mind that the consequence is obviously losing focus or crativity…

  14. My Instagram account completely disagrees with the notion that the organization is helping me get attention. 😂. I have much less followers than anyone in these comments, in those seats and the speaker. 😂

    I do agree with the speaker, those that compete for attention on social media seem less fulfilled. Yet the advertising and sponsorships are attractive.

    Creating value, in opposition of claiming value.

  15. Hmm ok now immo pay attention to get attention and hopefully with time i will start to pay attention instead to be creatively fulfilled. This theory is complicated but its reality at least

  16. I've noticed this with youtubers, the bigger they get the less creative their content becomes now I could be wrong but I think that might because their brains have become more focused on the attention their videos get instead of their videos themselves

  17. 8:35 comparing yourself to others by things like followers or net worth is very unhealthy and can be an addiction of sorts, it can make you feel inadequacy about yourself and terrible about yourself

    10:00 flow, paying attention to just one thing nad not get distracted by anything else

  18. this is funny because, he was spot on- presumably sober- but in a way that people are when they are drunk or stoned. He gushed a bit. hmmm. we will have to digest this for a little while. you seem authentic, but will follow up for more verification later.

  19. I've worked in a creative field for over 20 years and managed creative people for over 10. I can tell you from experience that to be truly happy as a Creative, the work has to be its own reward. The minute it ceases to be, creative fields like graphic design, acting, writing, etc. are some of the most miserable professions. Doing good work and feeling satisfaction in that work brings way more joy than applause, awards or even big paychecks.

  20. "Always without desire we must be found, If its deep mystery we would sound; But if desire always within us be, Its outer fringe is all that we shall see."
    – Lao Tzu (Tao Te Ching)

  21. Happy Birthday Joseph Gordon Levitt. May the Peace be with U. From Harlingen Texas. February 17, 1981
    February 17, 2020 through February 17, 3020 🎂🎂🎂🎂🎂

  22. Joseph Gordon Levitt
    Show
    1. Bobby Morgan – That 70 Show 1998
    Movies
    2. Slowen Lo – Star Wars Episode 8 The Last Jedi 2017
    3. Ethan – The Night Before 2015
    4. Blake – The Dark Knight Rises 2012

  23. I always comparing myself with others that more good than me, and that's make me unconfidence to do something. Althought i have know that is a bad things, but so hard to avoid it

  24. also creativity often involves thinking , to an extent, outside the box, meaning that creativity is initially going to be ignored because people either instantly take to unique things or take a long time to warm up.

  25. i definitely think wanting attention has hindered my creative process, and i never really GOT the attention anyway, but it's definitely played on my mind more than focusing my attention. UGH.

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