Critical Section


entertainment

Sunday,  03/02/08  10:04 PM

... Posted after spending the entire day skiing at Loveland Pass, Colorado.  A day well spent 8) ...

<musing>

So I’m thinking about entertainment.

I confess to be confused about computer gaming.  Some of the best and hardest computer development is behind modern games.  I just read about some guys who created a Playstation emulator for the iPhone.  Think about how hard this was, it is unbelievable.  First of all the iPhone isn’t an open platform, you have to hack into it just to get stuff to run.  Beyond that, the form factor and user interface are far different from a Playstation, to say nothing of the available computer resources like the CPU and video system.  This was an almost magic endeavor.  And to what purpose?  Running games written for one platform on another.  The end result is “mere” entertainment.

At some level entertainment is a useless enterprise, no matter how great the entertainment, it is transient, no useful work is performed.  In many different areas of human endeavor the highest calling is entertainment.  Pretty much all art falls into this category; some of the most valuable individual works by humans are visual art, “mere” entertainment.  Novels command more attention and prestige than nonfiction works, yet they serve mostly and merely to entertain us, whereas nonfiction educates us.  (Although I grant novels often educate, and stimulate thinking and introspection.)

Visual arts are entertainment.  Movies and television shows are entertainment, along the lines of novels.  Movies are considered more prestigious by far than documentaries; the most successful “documentaries” are really thinly disguised movies.  Yet all movies do is entertain, while documentaries communicate facts.  Interesting.  (Movies can educate, and stimulate thinking etc. just like novels - but their value is not associated with this; it is purely associated with their value as entertainment.)  Movie stars are among our society’s highest earners, and command significant prestige, fame, and recognition for their entertainment.  Often this just boils down to, we like looking at them.

Music is entertainment.  Musicians earn a lot, and command a lot of prestige, fame, and recognition, yet in the end they are only entertainers; no net work is created.  Their “works” can be recorded for posterity and played back infinitely, but ultimately they do not in and of themselves accomplish anything tangible except entertainment.  (They do inspire and motivate us, and stimulate thinking, but the worth of a musical work is tied solely to its entertainment value.)  Musical performances are among the largest and most sought after gatherings of people, all to be entertained.

All sports are just entertainment.  Our present-day sports stars earn more money and command more prestige, fame, and recognition than leaders in any other field, yet all they do is entertain us.  (Although I grant, they can inspire and motivate us, too.)  At some level a star quarterback contributes far less to society than a star scientist.  Sporting events are the largest and most sought after gatherings of people of all, and they exist solely to entertain.  Consider the relative audience shares and levels of interest for the Super Bowl and a public debate among scientists [or for that matter, politicians].

Weird.

And consider the things we spend money on… consider the gifts we gave each other this past Holiday Season.  Are they for entertainment?  As I look around my house, my most expensive and treasured items serve only to entertain.  As I think about presents I gave, many of them are to entertain their recipients, and others are to enable their recipients to provide entertainment.  (Does wine count as entertainment or is it useful? :)

Finally consider the most precious resource any of us have – time.  How much of it do we spend entertaining ourselves, as opposed to doing useful work?  And how much of our useful work is creating entertainment for others?

I’m not sure I have a point.  I was just struck that the whole concept of “entertainment” is fascinating.  Why would people labor so hard to entertain each other, instead of working on something “useful”?  The answer is – people will pay more for entertainment than for things that are useful.  So why is that?  It seems misdirected, doesn’t it?  And massively inefficient.  We should all be spending all our time doing useful work!

</musing>

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