This originally appeared on misteragyeman.blogspot.com on December 12, 2014.
I’ve been musing too much, it seems.
I had plans for this blog. It was supposed to be two months of randomness, with blueprints for impractical architectural projects, and infographics detailing the seven characteristics that make actors ‘great’. I wrote memos for it and everything. It’s been three months now, and all I’ve done is preach to myself. I’m going to shake things up soon. On Tuesday, I wrote a rap. That’s right; I said ‘Recognize’ in it.
For now, more musing.
Art is partly about making things, and partly about sharing things. Now we have legitimate artists who get paid and everything for interactive installations which practically leave out the making altogether and focus on the sharing. Which is more important? It’s an interesting discussion for the world to have.
Beyond the world of art, the discussion continues. About four years ago, I read somewhere that serious writers always carry little notebooks in which they jot down their thoughts. Impressed, I stole one and began thinking and jotting. I’ve stopped now- the jotting, not the thinking- after filling several of the things. Looking through them, it turns out I haven’t published much. What I seem to be interested in sharing are the entries marked ‘FB’ or ‘Nuggets’. ‘FB’ stands for Facebook, and over the years most of my deepest, coolest status updates seem to have been drafted in these spiral notepads. It’s not a thing I confess with pride. Even when the thought was relevant, the complexity and earnestness of the process makes it really cheesy. The label ‘Nuggets’ sounds so wannabe-guru, it makes me wince.
Social media is all about sharing. Now we all go about our individual days gathering things to post online. Snapshots of signboards with misspelled headlines, cool quotes from random sources, thoughtful descriptions of experiences we’ve had- it’s all a big game of look-what-I-found. It’s a good game. I always liked the idea of ‘Show-and-Tell’, which forms approximately thirty percent of American elementary education in Hollywood’s opinion. It’s a good way for us to touch each other’s lives. But, as the movies teach us, there’s always kids who will cheat and buy something incredibly cool to show, instead of bringing something that already means something to their lives. I’ve had slow days when I’d just go to Wikiquote and browse quotes from Woody Allen and Douglas Adams to copy and paste. It’s a sort of gray area; I do love these witty people, and it’s a fun thing to share with my friends who will also enjoy them- and yet somehow it feels divorced from the expression of real, happening life that gives social media its ideal. I’ve seen people randomly flip open their Bibles, looking for a quotation to share. Is it wrong? It’s Facebook. ‘Wrong’ as a concept is hard to relate to Facebook.
There’s another way that we manifest this eagerness to share. On social media, sometimes I come across videos and articles with interesting headlines or from sources I like, but I haven’t the time to check them out. But I like the idea of the thing, and I share it. It used to be a sort of bookmarking mechanism, the way I intended. I’d share anything that looked interesting, so I could find it later and check it out. But I’ve found that I rarely read articles I’ve already shared. Somehow I’ve done my social duty by them, and moved on. I have begun to wonder if I haven’t slipped into a sort of mindset where my Timeline has become my interactive installation, and everything I come across is just a random bit to stick onto my masterpiece. Am I sharing for its own sake, as a way to connect- or is it a persona I’m building? Do I sometimes say things I don’t really believe, or hold back things I feel strongly about, to serve this persona?
Most artists deal with this. When you look at your first draft, you have to squash the pride of making so you can focus on shaping it into something people will want to connect with. There are different schools of thought on the right way to do this. There’s the people who are proud of their ‘realness’ and ‘rawness’; they look down on the ‘polished’, ‘packaged’ people, who in turn snigger while they count their money. But now with the internet we all have audiences, and this problem of perception has been magnified.
Another side to this issue: as a civilization, we have become more forgetful. We have alarms and reminders and bookmarks to keep us informed on personal things, and the great media machine to tell us about the world. If our aids let something go, we lose it too. This isn’t a new problem; people have been arguing that cultures with oral traditions are stronger than cultures with written ones, and so forth. But our aids have gotten so good that we’re now allowed to be much worse. When I learn these days, I find myself thinking, ‘there’s always Wikipedia, you know’. It reduces the need for commitment.
When these two conversations overlap, something interesting happens: the internet becomes our vent. We share so we can forget. I used to do blog rants on the economy and civilization and such, quality rants which cunningly substituted the question mark for the exclamation point. With relish I would inform the Machine that I had seen through all its little tricks, then I would dust off my hands and go play XBox. Recently a friend mused on his Timeline about the possibility of some conspiracy, some connection between an issue in the news and a similar scandal from a few years back. I was worried. I followed the thread and discovered, my, there might be. I went back to the Timeline to find out how this would affect me, and discovered the conversation had ended, pretty much. Other discerning people had come and remarked how they had also seen the connection, and congratulated the author of the post for his perspicacity. I still don’t know if the government is scheming to destroy my life in a more tangible way than the Dumsor is doing. But I have some very smart friends who know all about it; they were kind enough to tell me so.
If you know somebody who has a way with words, this problem follows you offline. I’ve often been guilty of this; killing a useful conversation by framing the problem in some witty way, like that somehow solves it. Even when people are aware of this thing, it just kills discourse. It hangs in the air till somebody goes ‘Ah, well’, and we move on. I’d like to blame social media for this phenomenon; it’s made all of us better writers. After a few online arguments, you learn how to redraft your punches to defuse every hater’s wisdom. Even worse, when something nice happens, our first reaction is to think of the cool people we know who will appreciate the awesomeness of this thing. When there’s a nice sunset or some cool thing, we don’t enjoy it for its own sake. We take a picture and share it, then we enjoy the effect. Are our lives poorer for this? I can’t tell. It’s just different.
This isn’t at all an antidote; it’s just a useful exercise to do if you never have before. You know how bad things happen in threes? Often something annoying happens, and you bite down your response. Then it happens again. And again. Then you go somewhere else, and a vaguely-related incident becomes your justification for bringing down Armageddon. We call it the straw that broke the camel’s back. Substitute the straw for a flower, and see what happens. When something nice happens to you, don’t rush to share it. Don’t do anything about it. Don’t shout or shake your head; that’s all venting. Just let it stew. Then it will happen again, and again, then you’ll see a vaguely related caption on the back of a passing trotro and it will almost hurt to fight the giggles.
Try it. It’s fun.