Why We Stopped Giving a Shit — And How to Make Us Care Again

Joan Westenberg
8 min readSep 11, 2023


If you’ve ever poured your heart and soul into creating something meaningful — whether it’s a piece of software, a novel, a startup, or a song — you’ve likely confronted the sobering reality that most people just don’t care anymore.

This widespread apathy stems from a deeper issue that has been simmering for decades: the systematic devaluation of creative work. The seeds were planted with the advent of the internet, which made virtually everything easily accessible. While democratizing access has tremendous benefits, it also cheapened the perceived value of unique, hand-crafted creations. The Napster phenomenon demonstrated this dynamic in action, decimating music sales. The subscription economy further diluted the distinct worth of individual works. Mediocrity drowns out excellence in a cultural landscape saturated with abundant “good enough” content.

The Genesis: When the Internet Broke the Scale

To fully grasp how we arrived at today’s apathetic attitudes, we have to rewind a few decades. The inception of the internet fundamentally transformed the calculus of value and abundance. Physical and digital goods are fundamentally different — the former is inherently scarce, while the latter can be endlessly replicated. When creative work gets converted into downloadable digital formats, it loses its tangibility and rarity.

Pre-internet, purchasing a book meant walking into a store and picking up a physical copy with heft and texture. It represented a tangible cost of production and shipping. Buying an album required a similar effort. Even software came on discs you had to buy. The internet removed all those barriers and frictions. Suddenly, you could download virtual versions of books, music, movies, and applications with a few clicks. Costs dropped to zero, and abundance skyrocketed.

This explosion of abundance, however, corroded perceived value. When you can summon nearly any creative work instantly, individual pieces lose their distinct worth. The economics of digital ubiquity demand a race to the bottom. As abundance surges, prices and appreciation plummet.

This dynamic played out most prominently in the music industry. Napster, the first widely popular peer-to-peer file-sharing service, dealt a body blow to music sales and revenue. By allowing users to share music files online freely, the value of buying albums collapsed. Once tracks were digitized, they could be endlessly copied and distributed. Scarcity vanished.

The music industry tried suing Napster, but the technological genie could not be returned to the bottle. Even after Napster shut down, new platforms like LimeWire and BitTorrent emerged to enable illegal file-sharing. Music sales entered a free fall: global recorded music revenues dropped from over $20 billion in 2000 to around $15 billion in 2010. An entire generation came of age, equating music to free MP3 files rather than purchasing albums.

Napster’s long-term effects on the music business highlight how digital ubiquity breeds devaluation. When something switches from scarce to abundant, perceptions of worth decline. This phenomenon recurred across other creative industries in the 2000s, from books to movies and software. While consumers enjoyed lower prices, creators struggled to sustain their craft. Something vital was lost in this exchange.

The Subscription Economy: The Mirage of Value

Fast forward to today, and subscription services like Netflix, Spotify, Audible, and Adobe Creative Cloud dominate media consumption. This model resolves the tension between abundance and value. You gain unlimited access to vast libraries of content and tools for a flat monthly fee. Both consumers and creators win, right?

Not quite. The fundamental devaluation issue persists, just in a different form. You're no longer paying for individual works when you pay a blanket fee for unlimited movies or music. Monthly access inherently diminishes the distinct value of each creative endeavor. After all, how much is any one movie worth when your $10 Netflix subscription lets you binge-watch dozens of titles? The economics of subscriptions dissolve the perceived value of specific creative efforts.

This also applies to productivity software sold via subscription. Take Adobe’s Creative Cloud, which gives you full access to all Adobe apps for $50 monthly. Most users need one or two programs, like Photoshop or Premiere, but get the whole bundle. This dynamic puts downward pressure on the perceived value of each application. When everything is available for a nominal fee, nothing seems particularly valuable.

This mirage of value ultimately shortchanges content creators. When revenues come mainly from bulk subscriptions, compensating individual artists fairly becomes challenging. The more subscribers, the more diluted earnings per stream or downloads across creators. By bundling endless supply, subscription services lessen the earnings potential of individual endeavors.

The Dilemma of Modern Creativity: Struggling to Stand Out

These technological and economic shifts have culminated in a dilemma facing every modern creative professional. In a world saturated with nearly endless content, how do you make something that stands out and captures attention?

Firstly, today’s creators compete not just with other high-quality, contemporary work but with the accumulated outputs of decades past. The sheer volume is overwhelming. Old movies, songs, and shows on Netflix or Spotify do not disappear. Combine this with millions of new works annually, and you have a hopelessly crowded field.

Second, creators contend with the pervasive cultural mindset of “good enough.” When options feel endless, people get paralyzed and default to whatever seems passable. With minimal effort, you can binge a show on Netflix or stream an album on Spotify. Convenience and cost trump quality. When “good enough” prevails, excellence gets crowded out.

These factors pressure creators to constantly churn out content to stay visible. Value deflates when supply exceeds demand to such extremes. For cultural goods, overabundance breeds mediocrity and bland homogenization. Investing time into carefully honing quality feels pointless when new material flies off the digital shelves. Volume trumps all.

This partly explains the proliferation of low-effort content on platforms like YouTube, where clickbait and sensationalism reign. But even for artists committed to excellence, the cacophony of competition is exhausting. The mountain grows taller daily, and it becomes harder to rise above the noise.

The Road to Revaluation: Making People Care Again

There are still ways to cut through the noise and make people care. It requires swimming against the cultural currents by doubling down on what modern society lacks: authenticity, scarcity, community, and uncompromising quality. We can revive appreciation and ascend above the fray by emphasizing these principles.

What passes for authenticity nowadays? Real human authenticity is a rare gem in a world dominated by AI-generated art, deepfakes, canned social media personas, and cheap imitations. But, people intrinsically crave it.

Authenticity means being genuine and transparent about who you are as a creator. It resonates when people sense the human behind the work. Flaunting perfection is phony; being vulnerable breeds empathy.

Staying authentic also means being honest about your creative vision. Do not warp it chasing trends or mass appeal. Let your unique essence shine through. Audiences crave that kind of realness and respond when they feel that soul-human connection.

Authenticity is the ultimate currency in a crowded digital world rife with artifice. It immediately gives your work gravitas.

The problem today is not scarcity — it’s absurd overabundance. In this environment, artificial scarcity becomes vital.

Some ways to introduce scarcity: issue limited edition runs of your creative work, offer personalized or customized experiences to a few fans, give exclusive pre-release access to engaged community members, or auction off limited collaborations with other artists.

You can limit ad spots or sponsored content opportunities on the business side. Drops and limited merch work, too. These tactics reintroduce some barriers, which correctly boost perceived value through induced scarcity.

Scarcity helps creative endeavors stand out against endless abundance. But utilize it judiciously, or it looks gimmicky. The most effective scarcity nourishes human connections through shared experiences of something rare.

Fostering community used to be extra credit for artists — now it’s an essential survival strategy. With so much competing for attention, you need your army of brand ambassadors.

A dedicated community acts as a mutually beneficial ecosystem. You provide value — entertainment or inspiration — and they repay that value through engaged feedback, word-of-mouth promotion, and creative contributions like memes, fan art, or remixes.

Nurturing a community also breeds the priceless social currency of belonging. Done right, fans feel like part of a tribe, not just passive consumers. The deeper those roots, the more they will champion your work.

Sharing the creative process also strengthens connections. Let fans behind the curtain witness the vulnerabilities and triumphs. The journey becomes a communal experience.

In the digital bazaar, community-building is not just smart marketing — it’s how you stand out from transient, interchangeable content.

Quality Over Quantity: The Ultimate Differentiator

Finally, we arrive at the most direct yet difficult solution: make exceptionally good shit. Seriously, blow people’s minds with your creativity and skills.

In a crowded sea of “good enough,” excellence is scarce and valuable. It stops people in their tracks when they encounter work so pure in vision and flawless in execution that it stands leagues above everything else. Their first thought is: “The person behind this really gives a damn.”

Excellence means not just quality but innovation. Strive to redefine genres and set new creative bars. Experiment, polish, and revise until you have something undeniable. Bring your full humanity and make something important to you.

Of course, this level of excellence requires immense focus over an extended period. It shuns instant gratification and hacks for the reward of significant works that outlast their era.

In a clickbait world chasing easy dopamine hits, excellence is a long game. But that’s precisely what sets it apart. And when achieved, it ripples across culture, drawing others upward in its wake.

Integrate, Don’t Isolate

These strategies — authenticity, scarcity, community, uncompromising excellence — constitute guideposts for revaluing creative work. But real change requires rethinking how we operate in isolation and integrating into a greater whole.

The problems we face — fractured attention, content overload, value dilution — are collective in nature. The solutions must be similarly collective, transcending individual efforts. There is untapped power in multi-disciplinary collaboration and creative cross-pollination.

For example, musicians and poets can pair words and melodies in revelatory ways. Visual artists can bring new dimensions to stories and apps through their aesthetic gifts. Builders and designers can craft physical environments that come alive when animated by community and commerce. No creation has to be an island.

Our fractured culture reflects our fractured selves. To create cultural experiences that resonate deeply, we must connect the fragments into coherent wholes. The deepest truths emerge from the synthesized contributions of complementary perspectives.

This ethos of creative integration requires checking self-importance at the door. The final work matters more than ego. Through openness, vulnerability, and collaboration, we raise each other higher.

I’m Joan. Transgender. Solopreneur. Tech writer. Founded studio self, a marketing agency, community, & product lab.