Periodically I take long breaks from drinking from the fire hose of social media, and it's during these times that I realize with great poignancy how little value there is to be found in the constant drumbeat of self-analysis - both personal and communal - that has come to dominate public online discourse.
As an enthusiastic consumer of all types of media it has, in recent years, started to feel as though we are drowning in egos; dissolving into a million fragments of artless navel-gazing and opinion. With every 'think piece' and 'long read' I peruse, I feel less informed, and more assailed by someone else's desperate need to be seen and heard. Media and the personalities that define these spaces (the definition of which are increasingly blurred across digital platforms) have devolved into an arms race of attention among creators with their constant cries for recognition, validation and confirmation of their deeply held beliefs.
While it's often dressed up in terms of critical thought and the pursuit of justice, this trend of personalizing every trial, tribulation and trauma in society feels like it's just another reason to talk about ourselves in the most adolescent and unenlightened way.
The copious digital prophets of doom, splashing in their puddles of cynicism are more interested in having their personal fears read and shared than in doing anything productive about them. The reactive, hostile takes about who and what is wrong, and why everything is falling apart - not because of those who are most vulnerable by bad policy and politics - but because the author's ideals are not embraced by others, over whom they wish to feel superior. The desperate clinging to identity, and the insistence that suffering as a virtue entitles one to more and larger audiences resulting in digital pissing contests.
For me, the most compelling art, music, literature and journalism is that which removes the creator from the center of the work and treats any creative product as discovery. True genius (which I've had a rare opportunity to encounter in my forty-six years) tends to operate in a state of awe at their own ability to receive and convey creative energies in a unique way. For them, that is the reward for engaging in the creative process. It is an honor to stand as a lens through which pours universal truth and light. Creative corruption, however, occurs when they begin to look at this as their own personal source of power, and one that they should command according to their desired ends.
Yet, even if one enters the digital fray with this kind of creative purity, I think it becomes impossible not to sully it with the addictive pursuit of higher and higher scores in the game of online thought supremacy.
Today, we see the commodification of creativity now at its peak. We've captured the magnificent beast that is artistic inspiration and penned it up, letting it out only when we think we are able to fully control it, and only to produce something that serves a predetermined agenda - whether it be political, social or economic. We've sanctioned a handful of elite creatives to frame the public discourse - those who can create our respective authorities' desired propaganda on demand - and given them a societal stage that they may occupy conditionally.
The creatives who have found respectability and a paid occupation in this modern world are more often than not as aware (subconsciously, at least) of their own enslavement to the guarantor of their incomes, and the opinion of a public which is itself increasingly focused on ego gratification. They are aware of the unwritten rules - lines that must not be transgressed - marketability, bourgeoisie sensibilities, popular moralizing and the need to never, ever be seen as a political liability. Perhaps this adds to the anguished navel-gazing. The sense of being confined, of having their creative impulses forever at the mercy of some agenda that diminishes the power of their art.
Our collective arrogance in the face of creative power, actively diminishing it as merely a tool in service to our limited intellectual, spiritual and political demands, will eventually undermine our best efforts at control. Some things cannot be contained forever.
To receive and channel creative power is an intense experience. It requires great strength of mind, body and spirit to take something like that inside and push it back out in a way that is true to both the source, and to the artist as a lens. The creator is as much a medium as the tools they use to express their art. Many an artist or writer who was not up to the challenge burned out quickly in the heat of this power. Those with longevity have found that they can only sustain their activity through disciplines that keep their channel clear for the long term - they are as more a servant to the process as they are masters.
But can there be a more rewarding way to exercise one's agency as a human being? To submit to the process of creation, and to taste that power as it moves through us into the world?
There are more worthwhile pursuits than trying to being heard or seen by people who don't have the capacity to understand, or who simply don't want to.
Creative freedom demands that we, as creators, remain free in every other way, too. Can we do that in spaces where every move is tracked, every click is counted, every thought measured and weighed against a fickle tide of public opinion? Where ideological battles shut down even innocent questions, those springboards of possibility? Can we produce the kind of truthful art, music, literature and journalism if our ability to create rests on the opinions of others, as it so often does online?