There was a time when video footage of hilarious mishaps was a rare and valuable commodity. It was 1987, and every week on German television, viewers tuned in to “Pleiten, Pech und Pannen” (“Disasters, Bad Luck and Breakdowns”) hosted by a not-so-funny, but charmingly coiffed Max Schautzer. This was a show dedicated to sharing amateur footage of people’s embarrassing moments and mishaps. The audience then voted on the “funniest video of the week” and the winner walked away with the coveted “Golden Raven” trophy and some cold hard cash.
Back then, capturing these moments on video was like striking gold. Camcorders were an expensive luxury item, and it was rare to catch these moments on camera. Having a compilation of the best camcorder clips in one place was something special. But now, things are different.
Thanks to smartphones and social media, we can watch videos of people slipping on banana peels all day long. There’s an endless stream of videos on TikTok and Instagram, and we can scroll through them for hours on end. We’ve gone from limited supply to a never-ending stream of content.
But why are we so obsessed with these videos? Some might argue that our desire for this type of content has grown to ridiculous proportions, especially since March 2020. When the pandemic hit, millions of people found themselves stuck at home, bored, and unhappy. They turned to low-effort, easily consumable content to pass the time. Even with billions of people posting videos online, only a few are actually good enough to satisfy our insatiable appetite for entertainment.
As someone born in 1973, I remember a time when real life was the primary source of entertainment. I watched the world around me, not just on TV, but in the flesh. I knew how people reacted to real situations because I lived through them, not just watched them. But today’s young people might not be so lucky.
With so much content being created and consumed, what happens when reality becomes a distant memory? When the majority of our experiences come from consuming cultural content, what does that do to our perception of reality? Will we eventually lose touch with what’s truly important in life?
I guess consuming low-effort content in moderation can be a harmless source of entertainment — and I do it, too. Consuming too much of it can have negative impacts on an individual’s productivity, creativity, attention span, mental health, and empathy. We need to find a balance and prioritize consuming content that is meaningful and enriching.
So, next time you find yourself mindlessly scrolling through TikTok or Instagram, take a moment to think about what you’re consuming. Is it a reflection of reality or just another manufactured form of entertainment?