When I started my first blog it was to chronicle and log my thoughts as an art student. A resource I added to regularly.
At the time, each week I would have a new challenge; a new task to creatively respond to. I spent several days each week surrounded by people exercising creative thought. I tried a wide variety of different artistic mediums whilst on the course, with access to a workshop filled with exciting tools and printmaking materials. To give you an idea of the scope of the experimentation my foundation course encouraged, I decided to pursue Graphic Design, but my final major project for the year was essentially Performance art.
This creative experimentation would become somewhat of a problem later on when I received a place for a BA Graphic Design Communication degree and had trouble distinguishing the difference between what Art is, and what Design is. I struggled with being “commercial”.
I now work a desk job, and for the same reasons that a lot of us face it is a career I am coerced to follow by the state. That doesn’t mean there aren’t aspects of my job I enjoy; but I would choose to do significantly less of it, if it were an option.
I sit at a desk in an office with the same, small, number of people for eight hours a day, five days a week. I almost invariably either type code into a computer to make something appear in a browser – like this website for instance – or write long emails to people in order to justify the value of my labour. I’m in charge of what I make, how I make it, and the end result is finished to a high level.
But I wouldn’t have chosen to make it.
Finding the solution to the problem is creative, but the end result is only partially my creation. And the bit I do create is the scaffold that someone else’s creation hangs from.
My creativity in this process boils down to finding the most efficient way of putting a jigsaw together, and writing the instructions to tell a variety of different machines (that work in different ways) to put the jigsaw together as identically as possible.
I am not alone in existing like this.
But I yearn for my more creatively free past.
Like many others I have been assimilated as a cog into the intricate machine of the global economy. To subsist, I must follow the same eight hour cycle with the same companions, colleagues and friends. The economy is finely tuned to exhaust me just enough that I can stay (reasonably) sane, but that the energy I have remaining for side projects is sufficiently limited. I can just about fit in enough time to meet with my band once a week or so, but much more than that and I start to lose resources to expend.
I occasionally see my friends
I occasionally have some recreational time
I occasionally sit, numbly looking at a blank page, waiting for the ideas to form.
If I’m lucky, they come to me. They don’t often.
But is that really surprising if all I’m doing is bouncing ideas off the inside of my skull. Diversity of input leads to diversity of output. Monotony of input leads to monotony of output.
It is well known that monoculture leads to infertile land. Turns out, as is often the case, nature actually knows what it’s doing pretty well. If you grow a whole bunch of the same plant, in the same place, with the same dietary needs, those elements get leeched from the soil. Permaculture and forest gardening are getting increased interest from growers as more people cotton onto this.
Growing a range of plant species, and keeping a range of animals in the vicinity, these are essentially a kind of biomimicry. An attempt to artificially recreate natural ecosystems – a finely tuned balance of prey and predator, of organisms that have evolved to compete, outgrow, and achieve a state of equilibrium that monoculture always upsets.
Dominance of one organism is an inherently unstable position, because a great concentration of that organism leads to competition over similar resources that, because they are all used in a specific way, start to dwindle.
A high concentration of a single organism also presents an attack vector for parasites and disease.
When the internet was first gaining traction, cross-linking was a very important method of discovering new sources of information. Blogs, RSS feeds, and search engines were the only tools for finding content on the internet unless someone sent a link directly to you.
Today there are a handful of websites that most people go to regularly to catch up on news, entertain themselves. Facebook and twitter being amongst the most popular. These websites have started to supplant more organic ways of browsing the web. Rather than letting you find material that interests you via the sheer Brownian motion of your web browsing session, a computer program (that even its’ creators barely understand) tries to profile your interests. Based on this profile it attempts to feed you material that, rather than being tailored to please you (though this may be a side affect), is most likely to monetise your time using their platform.
The other side effect of this curation of what users see is the creation of closed ideology echo chambers; online spaces of ideological homogeneity. The equivalent of shouting into a room and having your own opinion shouted right back. These spaces can encourage extreme views, with little analysis of those views, when used without caution.
We are being digitally herded into camps of thought, massaged into rubbing up against one another in just the right way to create profit for someone. But the side effect of that is a dearth of cross pollenation of ideas. A uniformity of identities and a drawing of hard lines of battle that two opposing sides can line up along.
It encourages a kind of us and them mentality that is easy to get sucked up into, and engaging with only seems to make the problem worse. It feels like a situation that could easily be used against us. I can think of one particularly bitter argument about a pressing but incredibly abstract concept that people barely understood tear that has drawn such a division. I wonder how that time could have been better spent.
And suddenly we’ve been put in a position where we are forced, nationally, to look at ourselves and the society around us with a much more critical eye. We’re being forced to ask who the really indispensable people are, we’re relying on specific groups of people to hold the structures we’ve built around us together whilst everyone camps out in their houses.
The end of the world as we know it (and I feel fine)
Yes, this has been a long run up to discussing the COVID-19 pandemic.
I sit and type code into my computer part of the day, and another part of the day I sit and type these words.
Each day we collectively convince ourselves that things will return to normal. I work a full eight hours – and more – to secure the income I will absolutely, most definitely need when the wheels of the machine start turning again. If they do start turning again. Times are uncertain, the disease we’re so earnestly guarding against has few symptoms to distinguish itself from a seasonal cold, people are fighting to stay afloat, fighting to pay rent, fighting for paper to wipe their arses with. And in the midst of this it appears that there is little obvious plan to deal with the situation because the wheels have to keep turning. People are losing jobs, unable to afford rent and food, and when they get sick, hospitals are running out of vital equipment. People are dying too.
However the vast hole the state has appeared to have left for the people to fend for themselves within has started to sprout mini aid networks. People who never talked before are banding together, helping one another, and building their own support networks where the state failed. People are self organising into working groups, creating projects to share resources and information amongst themselves. They are talking more directly to one another than they have been allowed to do so in years, because suddenly the relationship we have with our neighbors could become an invaluable lifeline at a moments’ notice.
People are buying seeds, and taking more interest in subsistence farming.
The homeless are being assigned temporary housing.
The air is almost completely clear of traffic, motor travel is being kept to a minimum.
We are being forced to consider how self-sufficient we can possibly become, and in doing so we’re having to teach each other new skills. Diversifying the roles we play in each other’s lives.
When the pandemic clears we will be forced to consider what a return to ‘normality’ means. The individual debt that has accrued start to be sought. People will have to ask how fair it is that, when civilisation was brought close to a standstill, those who were put in the most precarious positions have to reimburse those who’re most secure.
For me the question is, will people use this pause to ask how reasonable this situation is? When we have all violently been forced to look directly at one another, and how we treat one another, will we ask why?
We are far from equal, even under the pandemic. The rich have larger homes, are able to weather the storms. Some of the poor(er) work some of the most important jobs to keep things ticking over. Shipping food and goods, running our local grocers, stocking our shelves, delivering our food. Maybe this is enough to bring people into contact with a new idea.
In a time when we’re algorithmically encouraged to argue ourselves into more and more extreme extreme versions of opposite sides of an argument, can this be used as an opportunity to look at one another as people?
Maybe, maybe not.
If we could ‘return to normal’ tomorrow, would we choose to?
I think this is the perfect time to take a step back and try something new. Maybe the ideas will flow better now I’ve got these ones on a page.