I’m old enough to remember when the Internet was first piped into homes around the UK. An ugly new sound screamed down our telephone lines indicating a precarious connection to the World Wide Web via a 56K modem, so we could childishly creep around our new dark playground. I distinctly remember my mother yelling up the stairs, “Get off the internet!” because she needed to speak to my nan. You see, in those days, you couldn’t use the telephone and connect to this information superhighway at the same time. I realise now, that was our first digital battle between authentic communication and digital white noise.
Our relationship with the internet has evolved at fibre-fast speed, but our consideration about what we put out there is still in a Neolithic mindset. For example, in the past, we might consider writing an actual letter to someone who had hurt us; throwing away sheet after sheet of A4 paper until we had perfected an honest, considered document of displeasure. Now, some think nothing of sending out a tweet that says “Fuck you!” followed by swiftly pressing the block button. In our digital landscape, that person has essentially been shot, buried and erased from our browsing history. The reality is, we’ve discounted a person’s life and worth in favour of our own inability to resolve a conflict and learn tolerance. Why? Because it’s easy. But everyone loses.
My friend, JBR tweeted the following the other day.
Instagram has the potential to be the world’s greatest art gallery. We could fill it with creation and artistry, big ideas and inspiration, but instead the vain and the needy post soft-porn and congratulate themselves on how well their nipples are lit instead. And in turn, because as humans we are always learning from the tribe, like toddlers, we practice the same narcissistic behaviour – stripping to our underwear for a selfie, but ultimately crying because we don’t have enough followers or didn’t receive the most likes. I can tell you from being friends with these kinds of people, that they’re really not ‘living their best life’. They’re just doing what others do. And to those people, I wonder what their potential really is. It has to be more than that. Why do they think so little of themselves? Some may call it body or sex positivity – but I see nothing positive about their warped perspective of their own self-worth and the fickle gratification garnered from a valueless Disneyfied thumbs up. A human life should always be worth more than a piece of meat. And know this, the thoughts of others when they look at those images are only carnivorous.
JBR’s tweet made me realise that the social media term ‘feed’ is the key. So I’ve put myself on a diet. Now as I come across accounts with nothing to offer my learning or craft other than abs and ego, I unfollow. My social media accounts have never felt more artistically nutritious; my mental health has never been better. Why? Because I’m using this time not to gaze at others, but rather to explore what it’s like to just be with me – to be. To find out what I need, rather than this conditioned desire to want the impossible all the time.
I have spent my life working in the theatre as a director. I understand that as artists, we all have a need to express ourselves – but that expression should always be coupled with a curiosity surrounding a subject or problem. The greatest artists are fundamentally those with facility to access imagination, interpretation and communication – wrestling both with harmony and discord and of course discipline. Our job is to try and understand and play with life, but now because we are bored, directionless and audienceless, the majority of what’s being streamed is nothing more than self-indulgent tedium. I scroll through EVERY social media channel and can’t help but repeatedly stumble across people sat in untidy bedrooms, belting out vowels and looking at me in the same way as a hooker might on Pornhub. It’s not art, it’s showing off. It’s lazy. And it’s boring.
Why? Because the Internet is not a performance space, regardless of this revolution to turn it into one. We learned storytelling from a need to communicate in person in reality, out of necessity – our senses developed to allow us to interpret that a flick of the eye meant someone liked someone, and a well-chosen pause indicated that you’d had enough of another. The actor, like all other humans must have a need to speak, and we are at our best when we know we’re fulfilling a meaningful action, rather than just talking for the sake of it. No matter what resolution your camera may be, it will never substitute the real. Indeed, I’ve found myself often in Zoom meetings, communicating with many others and afterwards finding myself exhausted and unfulfilled. The reason is we’re all just talking – we’re not communicating as our nature requires.
Furthermore, we artists must not belittle our craft or ourselves. Our craft is informed by the world around us, and for most of us, the world is currently only a well kept living area and the brain-burning glow of our iPhones. We work hard to mine the real value of our projects, and as humans that sense of achievement and realisation by authentically connecting with an audience, material and company is where the real satisfaction comes. You just won’t find that on YouTube, no matter how much you convince yourself it’s there. Please, consider how you can connect with others authentically like my old mum was trying to do in the 90s when I was on the internet, otherwise you’re just part of the white noise.
by Andrew Keates