What if art has always been, in some deeply human way, cathartic for us? What if we used art as a way to respond to the heartache and the fear and the thoughts and emotions we had no other way to explore or express?
What if we once responded to the world in the medium that worked best for us; the songwriter moved to song because she was so pissed off by something, the photographer moved to make photographs because he saw something that moved him or aroused his curiosity, or the sculptor or playwright or painter – whatever – did what they did because it was the most powerful way they could find to be in the world and deal with the uncontrollable, the beautiful, the frustrating, the profound injustice?
What if art – the best of it – the stuff the still moves us, like (in my case) Picasso’s Guernica, served the function of a release, the pressure finally building until our heart and minds screamed, ENOUGH! and let it out in the medium that best suited us?
And what if social media, for all the good it brings, also acts as catharsis? What if it too gives us an immediate way to explore and express the harder realities and emotions? What if it gives us a constant pressure release, always hissing, never building to the point where the muse gets involved? What if social media, or the way we’ve chosen to use it, is robbing us? Impoverishing us? What if social media is a good thing, or a mediocre thing, that is standing in the way of greater things? It’s not Twitter’s fault, it’s not Facebook’s fault. They’re technologies. Mere opportunities. Opportunities to do a thing once reserved for art, for our creative efforts?
What if the rabid way in which we choose to use social media (I’m talking to you, duChemin) robs us of the chance to stew in things a while and craft a more refined, more intentional, but no less impassioned response to the world. What if the constant hissing of the relief valve of social media – and this might be my biggest concern – is so persistent that we’ve all stopped really listening? What if no one cares because they just can’t f*cking absorb it all anymore.
What if less is more? What if the miracle of these tools is not the thing we once hoped it was? Or, more to the point, what if we’re not using it mindfully enough and it’s slowly allowing us to cannibalize the thing we love while the world watches, half-heartedly, from their browsers?
What if the combination of short attention spans, the immediacy of social media, and the ubiquity of our photography is contributing to the decline of perceived value in our work? Or maybe it’s just lowering the demand. Or both.
This isn’t a sermon about social media. The world doesn’t need one more prophet casting woes. It’s a sideways glance at something I worry might jeopardize some of the most important aspects of my life. It’s a call to myself to be more intentional, to put my time into creating, to nurturing the muse, and to protecting what painter Robert Henri called the art spirit. And it’s an invitation to critically examine the role of social media in our lives, as we should any influence or tool. In the book Technopoly, a book that should be required reading for this generation, Neil Postman asserts that we can either use tools or be used by them, and that the line between those is deceptively thin. We will never live our best lives, nor create our best work, when being used by the tools we pretend to master.
This is a follow-up to my thoughts in my last article, Paying Attention. I wrote both of these to engage with the questions in my own mind, and to share them with you in case they’re helpful. As is often the case it is probably more important that we asking the questions than that we agree on the many possible answers those questions provoke in us.
Embrace the Irony, Share this Post.
Good questions. I really make an effort to limit my “social media” time and to work on things that are really important to me. I also make an effort to capture images of the world that move me and illustrate the magic of life, here, now, on this beautiful globe, floating in a most mysterious uni-verse.
But honestly – I know too many people complaining about social media but still using Facebook, Instagram etc. on a regular basis. Almost everyone I meet is complaining about it, is indignant about social media in general but in the end more or less all of them are nothing else than extensions of their devices, begging for recognition…
I understand what Jay Scott said in the other post but I disagree, I am sure he could have done so even without social media.
Being almost 50 I am lucky that my generation grew up in an analogue world – so at least we know that there is an alternative way of living. Even though I am self employed I am not on Facebook, LinkedIn or some similar platform. People keep telling me “If you don’t do this you’ll miss so many chances to get assignments…” They might be right – I might miss opportunities, but still: I survive, safe precious life time and get other opportunities.
As a climber and mountaineer I’ve learned to trust my instincts and my experience and to deeply appreciate the real world.
The happiest person I know is a buddy who doesn’t own a computer anymore, since three years not even a cell phone. He calls himself “the last cave man”, but he’s the only person I know who really is deeply satisfied and the only one I know who is really free.
Thoughtful post. Nicholas Carr in his book “The Shallows” points to research showing that those who have “grown up” in the digital world are losing their ability to think linearly. Versus those who have grown up in an analog world and are transitioning to a digital environment…That the creativity we crave is being replaced by digital alteration of the brain.
Your comment regarding “being more intentional” is insightful and should be considered. The intentional creation of a master photograph requires one to slow down, put it on paper, or glass, or tintype, or whatever the image requires and live with it, modify it , recreate it, etc….. Holding a “masterpiece” (whatever that might be) in hand that has been created intentionally over months or years can not be replaced by anything the digital world offers..
May you continue to create masterpieces David!
Love your questions, David. Thank-you for sharing them.
Thought -provoking questions. This summary (and the full read) of a Rebecca Solnit essay was equally inspiring:
“Previous technologies have expanded communication. But the last round may be contracting it.”
I’m heartened to see these questions and concerns raised with increasing frequency.
Thanks for the link to this article, Nikki. A lovely, well considered piece.
Well said. Less is more. And I think people are slowing recognizing this. You see it in the blogs about minimizing, tidying, tuning out. I wonder if social media is to this generation what drugs were to the boomers in the 60s; it all equates to turning on and tuning out.
I wrote a longer comment but decided against posting it as it would make sense only to me. So, I will just say “interesting read, David.”
Quick one, no time to expand (…and I know that if I don’t react now I’ll never do so). For me the following article was quite an eye-opener:
…especially his metaphor of the slot machine. The danger of technology/social media is that it provide instant and frequent gratification (e.g. getting likes for photographs posted on FB). So why bother suffering through a longer creation process if a quick fix is just a click away? It really comes down to fighting a kind of addiction, come to think of it…
Irony embraced – post shared 🙂
Sometimes I grow weary at certain platforms, others I loathe. What I have found is that for as much as I don’t find myself compelled to check certain places more than a few times per day, I cannot deny the connections some spaces have enabled.
Without those connections, and even the digital applause that makes my work visible to more people, those continuing relationships and growth in being connected to the local scene, I don’t believe I would have the same access to the calibre of models, hair and makeup people and other professions in the industry.
For me it’s not the likes, and the drama occasionally is tiresome, but the opportunities to create better work because of the more skilled people, is why I cannot disconnect. That said, twitter has been of little value to me lately, except for you, David Hobby, Joe Mcnally, Chase Jarvis and the few other inspirational folks that make it worth reading. Not interested in Snapchat. IG has been very helpful but could use some personal curation and the rest are mostly afterthoughts, except Facebook which I don’t care for. That’s where everyone is, like it or not, so shall I remain because of what it has brought me.
“What if the rabid way in which we choose to use social media… robs us of the chance to stew in things a while and craft a more refined, more intentional, but no less impassioned response to the world.”
You are right on the money.
So right, my first instinct is to share this on social media.
… but is that the right reaction? Or should I let it stew a while?
World is a harsh, harsh place right now. Certain things cause us to stop and take stock. That’s never a bad thing. Your posts lately sound like you have a lot of thinking going on. Hope you come out the other side of all that thinking with a soft landing. You create a lot of goodness in this world. I believe it’s important that those of us who benefit from the goodness you share remember to say thanks, now ‘n’ again, and let you know that your thoughts and images really do make a difference. So…thanks. And good luck with your sorting, and thinking, and paring down. Simplifying is also never a bad thing.
This is exactly what I’ve been wondering too, yet not sure how to disengage without going off completely. I don’t want to do that, so the best I’ve come up with is to turn it off for big chunks of time. I find when I go back that I haven’t missed much at all.