Re-consumption and Being a Creature of Habit

creatire of habit.jpg

I am a creature of habit. I run the same route, while listening to the same playlist, and come home to eat the same breakfast. 

My repetitive patterns are a source of great amusement in my house. My wife and children delight in mocking my repetitive life choices. They wonder aloud how I cannot be bored by listening to the same playlist or watching the same TV show over and over. 

It turns out that I require little diversity in my life and I like what I like. 

Based on recent TV and movie trends, I am not alone. Everywhere you turn, something old is becoming something new again. Whether it is fashion, food, or media, people are reveling in things from the past. To that point, The Office and Seinfeld are dominating Netflix, and fifteen years after airing it’s final episode, Friends just landed a record breaking syndication deal. Granted none of these shows are as good as West Wing, but we can save that debate for another time.

My love of all things patterned is not new and has been a part of me for as long as I can remember. But be fair, that’s just how children are. They crave predictability, patterns, and a sense of control. And if you ask my family, they will confirm that I am nothing if not an adult child.

It turns out that at an ever increasing rate, people are re-watching almost
as much as they are watching content.

A 2012 research paper by Cristel Russell and Sidney Levy explained this phenomenon as Temporal and Focal Dynamics of Volitional Reconsumption, which is a very long way of saying watching or reading the same thing over and over again. They break down the reasons for this behavior into four categories.

  • Joy: People who watch it simply because they enjoy the show.

  • Nostalgia: Humans like to revisit things from our past because of how it makes us feel.

  • Experiential control: KNOWING how the experience ends gives us a a sense of control in an uncontrollable world.

  • Re-consumption: By re-engaging with the same materials over and over we can more easily understand ourselves, our choices, and how our past differs from our present.

According to Russell and Lindsey, my desire to watch a 12-year-old episode of The West Wing is less about it’s political plot lines and more about experiencing a degree of quiet and control. It is a time where I can hear or think absolutely of nothing else, with no expectations of productivity or attentiveness. 

Teenagers today live in a whirlwind of expectations, academic and otherwise. They feel as if nothing is in their control as their minds, bodies, and feelings change on an almost daily basis.

This is where the redundancy and repetition of band, choir, and orchestra can be a source of comfort and quiet. Just as with media, students re-consume music for the same four reasons we all re-consume things:

  • Joy: We do it because we enjoy the activity of making music.

  • Nostalgia: We enjoy seeing progress and how it makes us feel.

  • Experiential Control: The predictability is a source of comfort.

  • Re-consumption: It helps us to understand ourselves and how we differ from others.

I think your music class serves a similar purpose for your students.

Spending months on end rehearsing the same materials, in the same way, provides an element of stability and control that is a source of comfort for many. They need not worry about what test is next, what they are going to wear, or what people will think. The ability only to focus on a tiny little dot (on a staff or on a drill sheet) with no other expectation is as much a source of distraction as it is an exercise in focus. They revel in the fact that the dot will remain unchanged and be a constant in their life. It is the same dot that was focused on yesterday and will be the same dot they will focus on tomorrow. Through it all, as the season comes to a close, they will grow nostalgic as they can see the incredible growth (musical and personal) that has occurred in such a short period of time.

Now if you will excuse me, it is 9:00 p.m on Tuesday night, and my couch and Martin Sheen are expecting me.

Have a great week.