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)

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

  1. What if I pay attention to what I am paying attention to? What if this is a dream within another dream? What if this is Inception?

  2. He is so special! Pure Light and Love! Thank you for sharing with us YOUR MAGIC 🦋 Blessings from a new Youtuber 🌹

  3. Idk if it’s because I love powerful speakers or if time is doing him well, but I’ve never found him more attractive. 👌🏼🔥

  4. Damn Joseph you really summed up a lot of ideas I have been trying to wrestle with for the past few years.
    Thanks man, this helped a lot to hear

  5. Very sincere & good point!!!! I fucking hate IG. I agree it’s designed to make you feel addicted. I’m not anymore. Thank you for opening my eyes & the strength, you’ve shared to me 🙂

  6. i really liked the instagram example that he has given. I also learn that Work hard in silence and the success make some noise,which mean stay focused and enjoy what ur doing,then see the magic happen. When the magic happened you'll never know❤🙂

  7. Just look at how many people think the height of hilarity is simply repeating a meme they've seen a hundred times already, just to get attention, not for something they made, but just for copy pasting garbage

  8. Amazing mind-open stuff, glad I took the time to watch this today…..
    ……
    ……
    ……
    ……
    Hey guys, please come and check out my Youtube chanelllllll!!!!!!!!!!

  9. Oh. my. gosh. I was just talking to a friend about this yesterday – how much better, happier, and more focused I feel since not being on fb, as well as less time on any social media platforms — despite all the voices saying "You have to do this for people to know about you." You nail it. What a brave talk. Terrence Malick seems to be doing just fine and he doesn't do any of this stuff. Just realised you also have a podcast which I look forward to getting started listening to asap. Blessings.

  10. Hes my favourite actor! I love Joseph Hollywood should feel blessed to have him. They better start giving him more roles!

  11. That… was … fantastic! So many non verbal things to just appreciate in another human passionate about an idea. Brilliant!

  12. I was under the impression that actors were all about getting attention????? Isn't that the construct of their life's work? I'm confused by this.

  13. I don't usually listen to actors (as they are professional liars) but this is so obviously honest – because we all know its true.

  14. It’s reasons like this I’m in love with Josephs’ soul! He touched a valid point in todays’ society. Us as a humans are all the same. If we could stop putting such disdain towards each other and showed compassion; even towards those who do harm. We could quite honestly be unstoppable! We would becomes Gods! Owning the stars, our planet, and the fate of time

  15. 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 ah, it’s a powerful feeling to get attention. I’m an actor, so I’m a bit of an expert in ah, nothing, really. 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 ah, 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 because it’s sort of the opposite feeling because it doesn’t come from getting attention, it comes form paying attention.

    When I’m acting, I get so focused that I’m only paying attention to one thing, right. 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, but my attention narrows. And, everything else in the world, anything 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 I get to be an actor. So, there’s these two powerful feelings. Getting attention and paying attention.

  16. Honest advice from my own experience: close your IG, Facebook, any social media account. Try for one month. You will see the amount of time you dedicate to someone's network. Stop being products, people 💓 Peace.

  17. I’m not an actor, but I took some classes many years ago. Our teacher used to say:

    “Be interested, not interesting.”

    This has been most useful advice for me when interacting with people and with the world.

  18. I found all the points informative and interesting except the one he mentioned about social media so How does craving for more followers makes you less creative?

  19. But when you're in sales, you need all the attention you can get so people will know you exist. If people don't know you have a product to sell or you have a product they can buy from you then you basically don't get that much customers. 🤷 Trying to get attention is not always a bad thing. 😄

    The problem is when you want to get more attention to something without getting too much attention to yourself. Hmmm. 🤔 I'm thinking that might not be too possible unless you have an alias like Bob Ong or a mask/helmet like Marshmello.

    Anyway, I love being in the flow. Very annoying when other things/people disrupt your flow.

  20. i watch old stuff from tv that are talking about knowledgeable stuff like art, classical music, philosophy, etc. i always think man, i wish we had some knowledge on the TV now. we might not have it on the TV but damn am i glad to have Ted Talks.

  21. Getting attention for creativity?? Posting selfies every two seconds to get likes on Facebook and Instagram is not creativity, and that is what most people nowadays do for attention lol
    But if you’re an actor and have some talent and some asset to provide something in return for an attention then its perfectly valid and you should not put yourself in the same category as some idiot posing for a selfie on social media –

  22. I am feeling that he is an extremely competitive person and just started realizing how much his competitiveness is starting to make damages.

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