Sharing sameness on the gram

I’ve blogged about it before but it’s worth repeating: Instagram homogenizes creativity.

Scroll your feed, and I bet one of the pictures that comes up includes the following: a selfie, a coffee cup in hand, someone standing on a rock, riding in a canoe, or feet up in the sand or mountains, etc. It all looks the same!

Of course, similar cliche-looking pictures can be seen on Unsplash, where I often pluck images to share on my blog.

Thankfully we have accounts like @insta_repeat to remind people, especially adventure influencers, of their mimetic desire to copy each other. The creator of the account is an unknown artist of their own, with no intention than to call out the patterns of sameness in the digital space.

From Quartz

The creator of Insta_Repeat is a 27-year-old filmmaker and artist, who wants to remain anonymous. “I’m not trying to be the arbiter of what photos have value and what don’t. I am just making observations about the homogeneous content that is popular on Instagram,” she told Quartz over email. She says she is baffled by how many shots there are of humans in canoes and atop SUVs—but does see the positives in the repetitive nature of Instagram. “I also think there’s an incredible amount of value in emulation both when someone is learning and continuing their craft,” she says. “Improving upon and building upon what has been done…is an important part the evolution of art.”

The art of conformity is real. If at first, we copy, then we deduce, mixing and meshing what others do until we develop our own unique style. That’s a creator’s ambition anyway, to do something novel.   

Below are some of the most recent posts from the @insta_repeat account. Make sure to follow along for the latest collages.

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Kevin Kelly: ‘I define art as cool and useless’

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Kevin Kelly was the former editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, the counterculture magazine Steve Jobs adored. He also founded Wired Magazine and continues to write books and give speeches worldwide about the future of technology.

Below are some of the most interesting highlights of a recent interview with an online publication The Caret.

Just as Brian Eno believes that “art is everything you don’t have to do,” so too does Kelly think art at its rudimentary level is useless.

I think there’s never been a better time to be a creator. It’s a wholly new era for the ease and power of creation. And I think of art as a subset of creation. I define art as cool and useless.

In the glut of today’s DIY artists with internet reach, it’s even harder to stand out. But there’s no reason to hide: some artists gain a posthumous reputation — Van Gogh for instance — and according to Kelly, all an artist needs is 1,000 true fans.

But this goes back to my true fans theory: you only need 1000 true fans to support your work. With the large market that we have, almost any weird thing that you do, if you really strive for excellence it’s entirely possible to find 1000 fans in the world of that. I see it again and again, where something is very esoteric and very niche — if you have a market of a couple billion people you’ll probably be able to find 1000 true fans.

While Kelly continues to predict the technology of tomorrow, he’s equally sanguine on today’s developments. He scoffs at the notion of a digital detox, as the internet is just too good.

Whether it’s work or a habit or technology, when you disengage, you recharge your batteries and come with renewed enthusiasm and new ideas. But I don’t like the term “detox” because I don’t think technology is toxic. I just think that you gain something when you don’t have it — a new perspective and new ways of looking at things and those are SO valuable. The challenge of the world today is that when everyone is connected 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year, it becomes harder and harder to think differently. And thinking differently is the engine of creation, it’s the engine of wealth. So anything we can do to help us think differently is a huge advantage. And I think one of the most powerful things you can do is turn something off that’s usually on, no matter what it is.

Also be sure to check out Kelly’s interview with Tim Ferriss.

Numb to the pleasure of patience

@rafaeldearaujo

You can’t coax a train out of a tunnel. You have to be patient and wait it out behind the yellow line.

Perhaps the only thing we don’t have to wait for is the next alert or push message. Writes author Michael Harris on how mobile connectivity intercepts our sense of time:

Our sense of time has always been warped by our technologies. Church bells segmented the day into intervals. Factory whistles ushered workers. But the current barrage of alerts and pings leaves us more warped than ever. I’ve been trained not just to expect disruption, but to demand it. Back in 1890, William James wrote in The Principles of Psychology that “our sense of time seems subject to the law of contrast.” No kidding.

He goes on to explain how technology resolves our impatience by numbing us “to the pleasure of patience.” We quell our anxiety with the rectangular glow so the late train no longer puts us on edge.

In chasing any goal, it behooves people to keep the patience. Things always take longer than we think but appear shorter in the telescope of perspective.

The train will eventually come and we’ll hop on, prompting the nerves to jumpstart in anticipation of the next destination. As we grow nervous and impatient, the rectangular glow acts like a pacifier to allay our fears.

When we’re moving along plugged-in at warp speed, we are no longer tracking time. Like a carrot, the clock dangles in front of our eyes, waiting for us to notice its blessings.

Life on infinite scroll

Scroll, tap, repeat, refresh. Novelty hypnotizes us. The fantasy that we can talk directly to celebrities and act like one ourselves for fifteen seconds puts us in a dopamine-infused trance.

The internet’s a stage, with individuals accruing endorsements through the bartering of likes. Remember when tech intended to make the world a better place, not an impulsive and egotistical society led into dystopia by a Tweeting lunatic.

The good news is that our eyeballs are still intact. The scenery outside the sorcery of our rectangular devices is not going anywhere. We can always step out and take a fresh breath of air.

The barrage of distractions creates conflict that runs opposite of concentration. The goal now is agreeing to stay focused, like a referee judging a football match. We are present, reminding other people that they too are still there.

Identifying what matters

The brain is an empty void. It waits to remember until we give things meaning. Otherwise, it clings to the instincts of the amagdyla for its main sensory perception.

Thankfully, our brains are large processors. It knows that survival depends on exchanging information with others. Information is quid pro quo.

But the problem with oral communication is all the selling. Through rhetoric and persuasion, one can rise to have incredible influence. This is, unfortunately, how we got the Kardashians. We make stupid people famous.

Modern life narrows down our perceptions. Praising others, let alone mimicking them, makes us blind to our own self-worth.

The thrill of knowing is internal. It reminds us that we are more interesting than the role society gives us. Nothing means anything if we can’t float with nature and find the question.

We, the data

Dissolved into data, we produce a feast of trackable interactions.

They are the editors as much as much we are the authors. While we create everything, they produce nothing, yet the internet still owns our words.

The attention merchants munch on the aggregate and peel off the niches into targeted prey.

Our eyeballs are the oil, primed, pumped, and then exhausted into tanks of consumption.

Monetization of the ego starts at birth, built for entertainment in the first place. We make, make, make until we are over-marked and sold to the highest bidder.

How algorithms destroy personal taste

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Me?

Taste comes from an amalgamation of sources. It assumes that we’ve dabbled in both good and bad, and actively seek to find new things to recommend.

But in this algorithmic world, taste gets delivered. Whether it’s the next Spotify song or someone to follow on Instagram, we adhere to the machine rather than following our own interests.

Algorithms may save you time but they inhibit the authentic discovery process of sampling. Should we choose to navigate on the basis of originality, we are all well-equipped with own unique perspectives and taste buds.

Say it with me: I enjoy what I enjoy regardless of its potential for receiving likes, going viral, or being found acceptable by an algorithm.

Say it with me: I also do not deny that I am implicated, inexorably, in the Generic Style of my time.

Read Have Algorithms Destroyed Personal Taste?

Variations on a human theme


We’re all variations on a human theme, containing multitudes.

Some of the variations are more versatile than others. The brain’s wiring is more amenable to uncertainty than chasing exactitude.

The rare breeds prefer to keep the ball in the air, playing the piano with no end in sight. Time is constant, and so is their search of novelty.

But every person is their own ‘CEO of Me, Inc,’ for which the fractions of uniqueness are the great equalizer.

Difference is always celebrated. The theme, yet, remains immutable. That is until the cyborgs take their course.

We are a plastic society

We have become a plastic society, with celebrities (not leaders) running the world stage and ‘geniuses‘ creating culture.

While social media gives everyone a microphone, it also permits mediocrity to rise up to the professional level. When these influencers take public responsibility, they can further colonize large parts of our mind. To echo Hannah Arendt on the rise of totalitarianism, evil spreads like a fungus.

But we have a choice: we can stem the tide or turn a blind eye and do nothing.

The history books always prompt its students to ask why no one ever did anything to stop such cruelty.

And now we know why.

The fate of click-bait

At the heart of the web’s self-destruction is contagious media: crazy cat pics and the entire Buzzfeedification of the internet.

Every site, even reputable ones, raced to the bottom because celebrity sideboob and stupid human and pet tricks drove clicks.

Writes Tim Wu in The Attention Merchants:

“Contagious media is the kind of media you immediately want to share with all your friends. This requires that you take pleasure in consuming the media but also pleasure in the social process of passing it on.”

“Contagious media is a form of pop conceptual art” in which “the idea is the machine that makes the art (LeWitt, 1967) and the idea is interesting to ordinary people.”

The clickbait craziness spawned an albatross of more ridiculous news, some of it fake news. As Zeynep Tufekci says in her TED Talk, “We’re building a dystopia just to make people click on ads.”

And now we’re living with the repercussions of confused algorithms and companies like Facebook and Twitter avoiding responsibility.

A cartoon by @lisarothstein. #TNYcartoons

A post shared by The New Yorker Cartoons (@newyorkercartoons) on

 

We are psychologically vulnerable to social media games. If we want stupid, we’ll get stupid. And anything that requires some thought and effort will fade away.

‘Podcasts are the audio of our time’

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“Podcasts are the audio of our time. They can be beautifully produced, as good as a good book, and perhaps they will supersede radio. But there’s something about the knowledge that countless others are listening to the same thing as me, at the same time as me, that can’t be replaced. When I listen to radio from other time zones, I am reminded that I do not move through times of day but rather they move through me. Somewhere in the world, it is always far too late to be up listening to the radio”

Read On The Radio, It’s Always Midnight

The design of the classroom from 1750 to today






The Design of Childhood: How the Material World Shapes Independent Kids by Alexandra Lange 

The design of the classroom is a technology, and you can interpret that in a lot of different ways. Architects can make that look more, and less, typical. But the point is the instruction, the interaction in the classroom, not that it looks more like a circle or more like a square or whatever else.

(via NPR)

The unclassifiable

When we stop becoming someone for everyone, we start to find the right people instead.

That’s not to say we want to remain unknown or unclassifiable. One can still ride the wave of uniqueness and make a big splash.

Do you think Radiohead cares about the pop charts? The band thrives at the fringes, showing fans where sound could be headed, not where it’s been.

People love Apple because they make instruments for creativity you never knew you’d need. It also gives its customers, the curators and creators, all the spotlight.

We don’t have to dumb down our work for the masses when we can make more interesting things for the micro. Wider adoption, should it happen, happens to the ideas worth spreading.