It is no secret the prevalence of social media to the fabric of our technological lives. By technological lives I mean of course a life lived technically or with the use of technology, in its mechanically electric form. The latter because, simple pulleys, wheels, and the like would be, anthropologically considered, ‘technology’, but not as we know or use that word today.
Technology has become synonymous with gadgets, and ease; ease of communication through email, Instant Messaging, text messaging, and now the incredibly invasive thing we call social media; ease of commerce through the exponential reach of followers of followers ad infinitum; ease of record keeping through the digitisation of every bit of information possible—all to the apparent chagrin of our environment both socially and ecologically. Storing exabytes (1,048,576 TB) of data does have its repercussions—especially with the exponential demand for more and more space—as far as emissions and energy usage is concerned. All of this ease has cropped up fairly recently in our lives, but already we feel inseparable from it.
Much like we have now determined internet access in general to be a ‘human right’ due to its largely acknowledged benefits (while acknowledging none of its shortcomings), we have also assumed social media as integral to human life.* This, in my opinion, has more to do with the uncontrollable growth of these systems than it does with any conscious desire to induct these technologies into the class of human institution.
For it seems, evermore than before, that to bring a personal aspiration to fruition today, like that of writing or any of the arts which are not utilities with explicit uses, one must degrade themselves, their ideals, and their product by utilizing social media or its style in order to give any relevance whatsoever to their product. Social media itself was created inherently to be a utility that we might use—to connect, to remember, to record—but it, in its permeation of all spheres of life—commerce, love, reputation, socializing—has morphed into something else entirely, more sinister and harder to recant, might we decide to.
Let me for a moment detract to speak on pursuance of those artful disciplines which are not useful in our current sense of the word. Enjoyment has no use but for itself, or to ‘feel good’, which is close enough to itself for enjoyment to be regarded as self-fulfilling or self-evident. There is no requirement that a person must enjoy things they cannot use, but the lack of want is a peculiar habit that has only grown in society following the pervasive implementation of technology into every corner of everyday life.
We are far removed from understanding those peaceful words of the Zen poet Basho: “Sitting quietly, doing nothing, Spring comes, and the grass grows, of itself.”
So far, in fact, that should we find ourselves in such a situation, we would only think of it as of the utmost benefit to our future utilitarian needs—a complete obliteration of the purity of contentment, by forcing it to serve some future stresses or uses. This is not to say that there is a strictly put down ‘pure’ use for siting quietly, or the like, either, for using the situation goodly or badly is all the same: used. The more central thing is contentment. Content to sit quietly doing nothing in the presence and movement of our so complexly describable ecology, without describing it or using it like it wasn’t worth its own time. In this lengthy and insufficient way, I hope I have presented this certain, rather inclusive and different way of measuring the use of something, in meaning and the abstract, or in the literal and present. Now back to the point at hand.
So the attitude we now have toward a thing’s use—in thinking at wartime that artistry is useless—completely devalues the work of the artist, such that the artist must compromise independency and sometimes creative influence in their own project and thought, in order to simply exist as an artist.** And now, in this new age, inclusion into the world of social media is demanded, pitting artist against artist on the scoreboard of their following, their engagement, their “influence power”, and market worth; all depending on their willingness to devote a considerable amount of time, or money to pay someone, to ‘pitch’ their own self to the amoebic mass of “Internet People”. Its a scattershot strategy, designed to fail.
Those dystopic ideas of social ratings, which determine our social freedom, are becoming—I am put off by thinking they have already become—true, with this current manifestation of social media, controlled almost entirely by algorithmic processes which hardly any user understands, and are completely devoid of a human’s capability to appreciate the artists product. Instead, based on those criteria mentioned above—following, engagement, ‘likes’, so forth—god forbid we fall short on any of them, or surely the unintelligible algorithm would, in its way, push our artists to the back, so to speak, of our feeds and so increasingly our minds. We are thus being corralled and influenced by a mere computation, albeit a novel one.
It is up to the individual to create the art, and likewise to appreciate the art. “Stop and smell the roses,” isn’t talking about roses, but about the potential beauty around you if you’d … just … look—not for uses, but for pleasure, and leisure. Alas, in our world today, there is much to be overwhelmed and overworked by; to the point of assuming, like the man in wartime, that there is no time for the frivolity of art or the artist’s concerns. We have an intense and growing divide socially, which is bleeding directly onto our politics; all of which is noted as doing no favors for our deteriorating environment. It’s a mess by all accounts; except to that spirit of the artist that decides to stop and smell that rose, that one you walk plainly by everyday; and, hoping to impart the pleasure, this spirit inspires the mind and feeling of the artist to write a poem or doodle a picture or whatever be their medium.
The artist is practical without definable use—a righteous defiance, and absolutely integral to the spirit of a society, a culture, and a species. Being so, and being so put in the predicament I have non-exhaustively ruminated on here, it would be pertinent at the very least to support those artists which you are aware, to validate them, encourage them, and reinspire them; they, and all of us, thank you for it.
*This, and the following, is perhaps untrue in large parts of the world; yet it is also perhaps true of a large portion; so, I will limit these deductions to the society in which I live—American. They may be drawn to include those other countries or cultures that it applies, but I do not wish to make too broad of statements lest the whole point of my writing be disregarded on semantics.
**An artist may need to be defined; and luckily my definition is broad: any person to use materials about them in order to express some internal thought, experience, emotion, or feeling, with only a secondary—yet necessary—purpose of effective relation to an audience.