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. I liked you when I found out you played magic and now I'm a BIG fan because of your views on this subject.thank you for addressing the problem.

  2. We need to learn how think as team players intellectually and not be fed baselines on how to act feel and think 😉
    Love and Respect

  3. It doesn't make you less creative you're an idiot.
    I'm sorry I usually don't call people names or label people but… because you're not that creative you needed a subject so you created a subject that's b***** because you want attention!!

  4. This is a really fabulous talk: poignant and valuable. Thank you, JGL! I’ve never been one of your “followers,” but I am a long-time fan. ☺️

  5. I realize this guy talks exactly like i would in front of an audience. Funny, straight to the point, a bit nervous but a good moral message at the end. Cheers

  6. Jaron Lanier and others have said all of this way better. Too bad it takes someone like a famous hollywood actor to reach the mainstream.

  7. His point about Instagram is great and his love for creative process is just really inspiring.

    Also all who follows him on Instagram knows how much hatred he has for that app lmao, you can see that on his Instagram bio

  8. But he makes a very relevant and curious comment "They've selling users attention to advertisers". Who even looks at ads when they tweet or use facebook? Does anyone have an answer ?

  9. I dislike that I feel like recent Ted talks within the past year or two have become unformative repetitive and boring. Where when I discovered them years ago they were amazing and all over the place in topics and super informative and mind expanding on so many topics that Id never have thought or heard about if not for it. Not the story now days.Now it's mostly random famous celebrities getting excited about getting attention on the Ted Talks Stage. Then people liking because there favorite celebrity talked about something which they can relate to them with; most often about psychology and behavior.

  10. How ever, there are some genuine students who practice their best to keep their concience away from collective stained perceptions and have no need of striving for getting attention of the shadowy, and crowded world. They don't say hear me. Instead, they practice transparency, honesty and sift ideas and actions which are worthy of humanity and reject any fluffy views, ideas, and messages, which had/have been valued in the lives of many speaking…

  11. I felt he was talking about islam without knowing, i mean the flow where we have to concentrate on one thing, and that we have to practice regularly ils totaly applicable on the prayers in islam, and also how we should not do act to get intention this also exist in islam

  12. Yea I mean I struggle to spend more than a minute at a time on instagram or facebook or twitter or reddit. It's just massive quantities of pure bullshit and I can't take the raw lack of productivity.

  13. Relax and focus. Good advice. It's far too easy to slip into old habits and get sucked into social media flame wars. One does get tired of hearing about how every conceivable story out there somehow features you as the bad guy. Holy cow, just move on for crap's sake. Learning new stuff does feel more intellectually stimulating and empowering than paying heed to whatever the mob is cooking up.

  14. I guess the same goes for money. First you're like aww I wish had $2000. When you get $2000, you feel like you need more. "Money is the means to no end."

  15. Chapeau bas! before, i really respected him as an actor .. NOW i do respect as a (creative) human being if this makes any sense.

  16. Now I'm inspired to ride more and create more photos and videos even though I'm not getting enough/any attention. Thank you.

  17. Thank you 🙇so much, and you are 👌perfectly ▶️ my intention was to make 👫 easy to use it and very little soft 📰pressure on their minds. and also observed that 😦what 👭people 🤔think 🆎about it So, the subject matter is very 🔆lightly in mind. that's a good thing for me.

  18. I believe the message Joseph is making here is actually very important to the stability of our current and future generations in terms of mental health, authenticity of creative output, and overall happiness. Thanks Joseph!

  19. That was a great talk. As a stand-up comic, I realized months ago that I'm not in competition with other comedians. Rather we are forming a network so that we can attract fans/customers for all of us. So it was nice to hear him talk about not being in competition with other artists. Inspired by Joe Rogan, I started dedicating 1 hour a day to joke writing. This is a fun creative process, however why else would I be writing if it wasn't to gain attention. My goal as a comic, is to make people laugh. They pay attention to my jokes, and maybe they laugh. How can I sit down to write without being motivated by wanting attention? Thoughts anyone?

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