The show I was just in, IRL: Internet <-> Real Life just concluded on Jan. 3rd & is about to be packed up. (Thanks, Laura Isaac, for all you did for the show!!). It was in Kansas City at the Paragraph Gallery run by Charlotte Street Foundation. In the show, I– along with five other artists– examined the relationship between virtual and embodied life. In fact, we all met online, and that informs my own work in the show. The show considered the physicality of internet connections, the implicit trust in participation, the psychological impact, the possibilities, and how we live with it in our daily lives.
In the spirit of wrapping my mind around another aspect of online life, below is my best attempt at a clickbait list… about clickbait. I wanted to see what I’d come up with. I wrote this weeks ago and am finally posting.
My social media life is six years old. And like a six year old child, I am…
1. Somewhat uncoordinated– I’m random on social media (on again off again, posting a lot then posting nothing, lurking then liking without rhyme or reason),
2. I’m moving towards abstract thinking (well, I’ve been that way from the beginning but I want to keep this kid metaphor going… I think constantly about the bigger picture of how social media used & its impact on groups of people),
3. I’m growing more independent (I don’t need to post an update every day or every week but if I feel like it I can do whatever I want!),
4. I’m changing rules to suit myself (I mess with my twitter account, privating then unprivating it… arranging then rearranging my news feeds, posting nothing for weeks then posting over and over again in one day, I’m on Instagram again! But I don’t know for how long! And I forgot about Vine!),
5. I’m even getting less secure… about this ubiquitous presence in my life (ahh, remember the good old days back when there was no constant connection that followed me all over the place and always begged for updating, leaving a permanent trail of all my moods, likes and dislikes?), and
6. I’m six years older than I was when I started this craziness. And the shiny new toy aka social media isn’t as fun as it used to be, anyway. I use it but it isn’t everything anymore, by a long shot.
My relationship with online life is tenuous. I want access to all the data I could possibly want or need, but I also want to feel unencumbered by other people’s pet issues so I can be free to do what I’m meant to do. I get almost all my information from links other people post, but how long is the list of articles I need to read? Will I ever read them? I can’t possibly read everything that I want, but here I am writing something for other people to read. I’m kind of jealous of people who don’t have an online presence and who mentally live in the space they occupy, not pulled in multiple directions. I know I don’t always feel fatigued about all this, but here I am, writing about it, making more words that will exist eternally on the internet. There’s always been more happening in the world than I can keep track of, but now I have a clearer picture of how much I don’t know. It’s a scroll of overwhelming information.
Then in one flash moment, everything seems to come together. I finally string together the connection of what has led me to follow each impulse, clicking here & there. To catch myself back after I’ve been repeatedly caught up, I need to absorb what I’m reading. Reflect. I collect everything that’s been on my mind and I finally see what’s led me down the paths I’ve explored. I see how disparate pieces of information fit together. I find connection. But only when I give myself room to think, offline.
2. Real life is wherever you are. And I can’t be in two places at once; I have to be mentally present.
Although I’ve been making active choices to live in the moment for the past couple years, I have to work hard to find quietness because I’m connected to so many people. I play white noise on my phone. I find wordless music for when I’m writing, like right now, so that I can direct attention to what I’m writing. But my phone is next to me and I’m still getting texts. Just now, I checked my email. I hear the ping. I mute as much as I can. I try to multitask less, at least sometimes. And make sure I have time when I turn off the internet wheels that are spinning in my head so I can see, feel, hear what’s right in front of me. That could be time with certain people, time in my studio, out in nature, or even just in my house. I need, desperately need, tangible life.
And when I’m on the computer- I get present there. Being online is being in a place, albeit a mental place not a physical one. So if I’m there, I try to keep conscious of each person I interact with. I try to keep it human.
3. Start slow. End slow. I have to find slowness here and there, pressing pause on my mental hamster wheel.
My brain has been on overdrive for a while. So much is happening in the world far and near. Even my own house is a zoo. I find the most meaning in the mornings when I slow down and reflect on what’s important to me. If I start my day any other way, it’s hard to dial down the noise. Commute time also helps. During the day I can’t be afraid of “what am I going to do with myself for the few minutes I have to do xyz without my phone? How will I handle the silence?!” I mean, I do get afraid of mental silence, but when I embrace it, my brain seems to do some important connecting work that I can’t quite put my finger on.
4. And Connect for Real. I use real devices and real effective apps; I need to know the real people I’m connecting with.
Real connection doesn’t only happen in real life. I try to appreciate each online interaction for what it is, a message sent between people on opposite sides of the screen. Like I said above, I try to keep it human. Social media has brought me together with real colleagues & friends more than any other meet & greet thing I’ve done. Online life plays an important function for life and art connections. Without it I’d never stay in touch with all my colleagues, much less my far away friends and family. However, I’ve lost the compulsion to stay online at all costs. I value my online connections but it doesn’t have value unless I’m aware of my tangible life. When I first used social media, I was online quite a bit and I made artwork that was influenced by the experience. I immersed myself in it and thought about it critically. I was on it too much. These days, my brain cries out for some peace and quiet as my workload has squeezed out that daily participation in online life.
I feel the cost of living online, but I also can’t ignore the richness of what I have because of it. I’d lose quite a bit if I withdrew from internet platforms. I’m professionally associated with artists that use Facebook to come together (ProWax–for artists who are engaged with encaustic, one of the mediums I use in my artwork); I communicate with my national/international staff for my editor-in-chief work over Facebook (ProWaxJournal.com– the new issue comes out Jan. 23rd!); I use Google Drive to store files of all kinds as I collaborate with people in various ways; the artists in IRL: Internet <-> Real Life met on Twitter. I do more connecting with artists online than I do face to face. The people I’ve met online and work with because I use online platforms… so many genuine awesome people. I’ve celebrated with them, they’ve shared my sadness, and I have more actual friendship because of that online place. It’s real.
5. Don’t outsource the Like. I use social media interfaces; I need to remember what I actually Like.
When social media was new to me, the awareness of people on the other side of the screen, how we each evaluated each other (sizing up other social media users we’d never met), how groups of people gathered and organized, wondering about my own place in it all– I felt overwhelming unfamiliarity as if I was in a new country. I’m highly interested in social interactions as it is, so the online community was a new way to observe people via the written posts each made. Use of the tools (“like”, “reply”, “comment”, “retweet”, “favorite”) said a lot. I used my personal experience as research into the universal experience. I’d let myself go down the rabbit hole of online life to see how much it messed with me. It was easy to log each follow or unfollow, to take it all personally. Yet, if I didn’t let myself take it personally, I don’t think I could have understood the implications of the new interfaces on social media communities. And that’s exactly what’s so fascinating to me, the way it negatively tweaks the way we relate with each other and how we view our place in the world. That’s what I really don’t like. And I tried to find out how to control the interfaces for my benefit, instead of having them dictate my frame of mind.
Nowadays, I care a lot less about some of those self-evaluation tools. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m older and wiser now. Or maybe I’m just way more busy. I don’t care about new follows on twitter. I don’t check the stats on my blog. I let “likes” on Facebook function as little hello’s, nods between people standing in a room that say “I see you.” I fight the urge to let all those things sum up my worth, who I am. It’s hard sometimes to ignore obvious marks of others’ opinions. It takes conscious eye rolls at myself for when I start to care more than I should.
What’s become so much more important than being seen or heard, though, has been finding ways I can play a meaningful part of the larger world. That’s what I like. That’s what I love. As an artist, I think I’m only on the edge of the artwork I want to make. I want to write things. I want to make things. I like the ability to have a platform because of social media, getting my work out into the world. I really like when what I make becomes part of an art conversation that finishes a loop by going out into the world then returning back to me, making my experience of it complete. I need that bit of audience; people do matter. I want my work to have a presence, and I get a sense of its presence from how it interacts with people. It’s not everything, but it’s something. I just can’t let that something become the only thing.
6. Hack the beast. Keep using social media, but tame the beast.
As we decide how to use online life for our own purposes, is it going to be easier to block it from following us everywhere we go? Will we be able to turn it off and on at will? As I write this, I want to figure out how to do exactly that, and by the time I post this to my blog, I want to know how to tame this beast. OK, let’s be honest. I’m the beast. The hardest one of all to tame is Me. And I don’t think I’ll ever have that beast tamed, but I can monitor the beast, keeping it in check. Down, girl, down!
There’s so much to read, so much to know. I can’t read everything, I can’t know everything. The best way I know how to use social media tools instead of be used by them is to come to terms with who I am and what I want my life to be. I have to define what I’m looking for and stick with it, not be pulled along like a hooked fish behind an out of control motorboat. When I share the work I make, I want to enjoy any dialogue that comes with it. I want to appreciate any audience, be it small or (ahem) large (not happening soon). I want to value what I do with my time, in my art making time & in my people/friend/family/life time. It’s January 2015. I just want to be myself.
For more info on my IRL series, click here. ;)
A couple interesting related articles I’ve come across lately:
What Just Happened?: “the social media phase of the Internet ended.”– venture capitalist/blogger, Fred Wilson
… aack I can’t remember what the other one was! I’ll add it when I remember.
Artist websites for IRL: Internet <-> Real Life, Kansas City, Mo., Nov. 21-Jan. 3, 2015
Carla Gannis, New York City
Carol Salmanson, New York City
Joanie Gagnon San Chirico, New Jersey
Katarina Wong, New York City
Laura Isaac, Kansas City, Mo.
Maritza Ruiz-Kim, Oakland, Calif.
IRL: Internet <-> Real Life Tumblr