Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • 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,