I’ve been doing a lot of thinking recently about the weirdness of the digital universe we now inhabit. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the internet, social media, and how it relates to the creative process.
Part of my job revolves around keeping my company’s social media channels updated. So I spend a chunk of my working day monitoring Twitter and Facebook feeds, commenting on things, posting and retweeting stuff, all so that more people pay attention to us online.
It’s a bizarre state of affairs when you think about it: thousands of people are now employed to do this, almost as though social media ‘likes’ have become a de facto currency, a form of ranking in an online hierarchy (much like s3 e1 of Black Mirror – but I need to stop referring to Black Mirror now, as I’ve done it in three recent posts).
A few months ago, I watched a video of a conversation that took place during Ableton’s Loop conference in Berlin. The speakers were discussing ways to overcome creative blocks. They talked about the importance of discipline, setting limits, creating structures, and dealing with the aspects of the creative process that are tedious and boring.
There was a comment made by composer Matthew Herbert that I’ve had rattling around in the back of my brain ever since. He said ‘we need to accept that music is now a form of waste. The same as food and clothes. We’re just sort of spewing it out and no-one’s listening any more’.
He felt that the work that artists and producers spend weeks, months or years working on, is spat out into a digital landscape that is so saturated that most of it goes unnoticed. Without a coherent philosophy underpinning the creative process, he argues, the act of making music just becomes the act of ‘plopping out waste’.
The whole conversation was confronting one of the unintended consequences of the democratisation of creativity and distribution brought by the internet: anyone can upload anything, which brings with it the unprecedented freedom for all of us to express what we think, feel, desire. But The flipside is a world of banality, short attention spans dulled by trivia, and complex ideas reduced to brief, fluttering memes.
(Paul Virilio put this another way: ‘the invention of the ship was also the invention of the shipwreck’.)
This is a bit disheartening if you’re a musician or writer trying to find a voice, knowing full well that most of what you spend your time on (like this blog post) is basically irrelevant and will be immediately be forgotten.
But though the online world maybe awash with bullshit, what we do still have is space: space to experiment, try things out, make mistakes and try again. Even if (maybe especially if) no one is paying any attention.