Saturday, July 11, 2009

carving out space

Some insight and advice from Bill Wasik.

"...traditionally, you come to New York or wherever you are, somebody who has power or has experience picks out something you did or picks you out and says, hey you've got something. Many people have those formative experiences.

...today, [...] the way that you're going to know you had your break is going to be numbers. It isn't going to be a single person, like an established poet, or an established musician coming up to you after a show or responding to a piece of writing you sent them and saying, I really believe you can do it. Instead, it's like this giant hive mind will pluck out something that you've done and say, this we love, this we bestow the pleasure of 2 million hits on. From there on out, you're going to use those cues you get from this giant machine to tell you what to keep doing and to tell you what to stop doing. And that to me is potentially scary in all sorts of ways. The hive mind selects for a certain kind of thing, it selects for culture that is instantly digestible, it selects for culture that is sensational in a certain sort of way."

So what do we do about this? You write, "We must become judicious controllers of our own contexts, making careful and self-reflective choices about what we read, watch, consume." How?

"There are probably people who will happily surf the Internet hive mind for as long as it keeps on going. And I wouldn't begrudge them that. I'm more trying to speak to people like me, who on the one hand are really viscerally engaged with the online culture, who understand rightly that it really is the locus of almost everything exciting that's going on in the culture. You can't ignore it. But on the other hand we feel that being constantly plugged in is taking too much of a toll on us.

I would say that if there's one thing that's causing the novels of the world from getting written right now, it's surfing the Internet. I do think that a lot of creative people want to be working on their craft, they want to be thinking big about what they should be doing and my belief is that the culture is encouraging them to think small. To me, the challenge is to try to find ways to partially unplug ourselves. To carve out spaces in our lives away from information. Away from the sort of constant buzzing of the hive mind. I think some of these constraints can just be arbitrary. Tuesdays, I'm not going to look at the Internet. I think that can often be effective. Another way of working on it is to develop more effective filters of information. Instead of just freely clicking around from site to site to site, and before you know it, you've spent four hours following your whimsy every which way, instead pick out a few sources of information that you feel like are not just crucial and well-done, but also fairly broad based and representative. To me, the most important step is recognizing that you can't possibly take in all the information that's out there. [You need to] make a wise intervention into your information consumption and try to make it manageable so that you can live a happy life and save time for the thinking of higher things."

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