Social Poison

Will Goodlet

Is social media killing our creativity? I wonder more and more if it is...

Does anyone remember the film, Jerry Maguire?

There is a moment of realisation late one night when Jerry recognises that the answer to his industry's problems is "fewer clients and less money giving more attention to them, caring for them caring for ourselves."

I sort of feel like that but about social media and the constant pressure to post new images.

There are times when it feels like a treadmill, or like throwing stones in a pond. A kind of repetitive nothingness that prevents one from spending time wisely and more creatively.

Do you ever feel like that?

There's no doubt that there is an argument that social media has made us more creative by exposing us to new ideas, places and techniques. New authors, image makers and generally brilliant things. But there's also an argument that says that it is killing us with cat photos!

I remember the very first time I got on the internet. It was in 1993 and I had to book a half-hour slot in the computer labs at university. I wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
I loaded up some sort of browser window, maybe it was Netscape and proceded to listen to the modem wail for the next half an hour while it tried to render a website on the screen. It never finished and I left the building thinking I'd rather read a book.

Unfortunately, or fortunately, things have changed a little bit! One thing that does seem to have changed is the delivery of knowledge. It arrives in bite-sized packages that are designed not to overwhelm and to fit in with our newfangled coffee habit (and between all the advertisements!)

I don't recall the last time I read a whole book, I don't know if I can anymore, with such high levels of caffeine in my bloodstream and all the digital noise competing for my attention:

Whatsapp, Facebook Messenger, SMS, emails, 24-hour news, Google Plus, Instagram, Vero, Skype, webinars, hangouts, podcasts...Tap, scroll, tap, scroll, tap scroll. Why?

It's Thursday night, my wife is at Pilates, I can eat frozen pizza that cooks in 12 minutes and spend the whole evening working on my photographs. I'm excited!

But instead, my phone keeps buzzing and little messages flash up. I've got to sign in and see what's happening and who's posted and who has liked my photo. It's just for a minute I tell myself!

Pretty soon it's two hours later, I haven't eaten and my wife gets home and asks what I've been up to. "Working " I say.

As a photographer, social is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it has never been so easy to get our work out and seen. We can send a picture off into cyberspace and to promote our work whenever we want. We don't have to get it past a gatekeeper at a magazine or organise a show and persuade people to visit.

The trouble is that they are consumed so quickly. They aren't hanging on a wall in a beautiful frame or gracing the pages of a book. Instead, they are on an algorithm managed conveyor belt. Days, weeks, of effort compressed into a second or two of viewing - if we are lucky. Tap, scroll...

We have to load another pic, and another, and no one can take that many good shots. Pretty soon one starts to send out the average shots too and then the 'behind the scenes shots' and the Instagram stories. Before long, your creative juices are squashed, you are worn out and you just want to crawl into bed. 

I didn't get into photography for this.

I've decided that I've had enough and I've told myself that if I have a spare minute, I have to work on an image, filing an image or writing something. If I don't feel like doing any of those then I have to talk to my family, learn something new,  think, read, walk, play with the dogs, cook or sleep.

I had a good think recently about why I take pictures and In the course of that introspection, I believe I discovered some truths. My pictures aren't made for social, or art, they are made for me. 

I am not ashamed to say that I haven't watched the news in months (I get a dose of Radio news every day and read an article or two) and I'm very careful about what (dis)information I allow to reach me. I think I'm far happier as a result.

I am now a certified, card-carrying curmudgeon! Having read some Edward Abbey, I'd now ban aeroplanes and cars and make everyone travel on their own two legs or horseback! Imagine how much time we'd have to just contemplate.

But despite that, one thing has changed radically. I am happier and I am far more productive. I write, I photograph, I build things with my hands, I make videos and I have fun enjoying the world.

I still engage with Social Media and the internet but I try to limit my exposure. I want to focus on making my work the best it can be and to hell with quantity.

I am enjoying photography again.