There is a great fascination with the newly participant culture that has sprung up online.
No longer are “the media” controlling what we get to see, no longer are those of high status and income the only ones who can produce the ideas and representative works of (“high”) culture – or rather, the ones to get them created.
No, pretty much anyone (with at least a smartphone and an internet connection) can create content, and that same content may prove so great as to “go viral” and become, and maybe also make its creator, famous.
At the same time, though, the very nature of the medium shapes not only the interaction, but also the kinds of content that stand a chance. Beautiful photos, preferably HDR if not of cute kittens, funny cat images of all stripes and colors, simple affirmative messages, spoofs of popular TV or movie scenes or music videos…
The very TED talk about the kinds of videos that go viral on YouTube, while purporting to be about the fantastic participant remixing that is taking place online – having “deep thoughts about silly web video” (as the comment on the TED website states) – is actually something of a funeral requiem to thoughtfulness and meaningful living:
Then again, there are thoughtful and engaging TED talks and lots of other great online content – but look at the example of the video that’s considered the great new content with which people engage, which gets the creative juices flowing. It’s inane.
Not that entertainment hadn’t always been a major “concern” of everyone who simply had more than the very basics, at the very least as bread and games to keep the populace happy – or anyways, keep them occupied with something other than their position and the power plays keeping them down.
It has become all the more ironic, though.
Now, there are great chances for learning more, for participating not just in conversations about the future but the creation of a better future – and now, not later; directly, not just passively. And what do we see happening? Inane entertainment, if sometimes participant in novel ways; and endless discussions from irreconcilable positions about which one of them is the one and only true perspective.
In fact, if you want to have success in spreading your word and increasing your visibility, you are told to be rash and extreme. Online statements that raise great emotions will be the most fervently defended by those of the same opinion, and most vehemently opposed by those against, and thus also commented on a lot and probably shared widely, giving them even greater attention.
Meanwhile, the truth lies in the middle (though probably not the easy, simple answers that are oftentimes sought after saying that), and the participant creativity we and, in fact, the world need(s) lies not so much in the sharing and contributing online as it does in getting creative in and with our own lives.
“Hacking” new skills and remembering that it doesn’t take universal admiration or record achievements for them to be of good contribution to our lives, but rather the concurrent learning of virtues that are embedded in and again expressed by those skills – if they are to be of any good beyond that of narcissistic self-representation.
Experimenting with other ways of living and making a living; getting in better shape, achieving good health and fitness not by living badly and hoping for a pill to solve all one’s problems, but by taking on the power – and the responsibility – for one’s life; seeking ways to be content with less (of unnecessary but supposedly just normal stress and stuff) and seeking to create a meaningful life, and life work, instead…
There are lots of things that can be done, can be learnt, can be tried – and talking about the journeys along those paths in online conversation, finding that one is not alone in sharing these interests and becoming able to learn from people who would, before the internet, have been too far away to interact with, can help with that.
Interacting with people from other walks of life and other places and points of view can similarly be easier online and serve to expand one’s own views, learn and grow. But again, it only does so if we do not only go online into circles of like-minded people, into just exactly our own “tribes.” Rather, it takes having – and for that, seeking out – such people of other opinion and view. For that, though, you can’t just look at the things that go viral, look for the next funny vid. I’m sorry, but you’ll have to think. Think beyond the confirmation biases and similar heuristics (“shortcuts of thought”) that always plague us. There’s a lot about that to be found, but most just don’t want to find it, but only to find themselves and their ideas supported and justified. Well, some things are real, some aren’t. Bread and games – or 9-to-5 jobs, hustling and online fun – aren’t going to cut it if you want a better life, and if we want a future in which we participate and to which we contribute rather than just remaining passive consumers; no matter if we can still remix funny videos.
It makes a world of a difference whether the web is just another “set of tubes” where you switch channels and are now able to react and create, angling for “likes” and similar currency of attention, or whether you live more attentively, more actively, and use the web as a tool that is helpful in that, supportive – but only as a medium, not as the message…