You know what’s weird? Waking up on a Monday morning with something on your mind, and logging into Facebook to say ‘hello’ to the world, and seeing a post from a person you follow which is about exactly the thing you were thinking about.
it’s not like this person and I know one another (she’s a celebrity) or that we’re even in the same cultural milieu or general surroundings (we’re, unfortunately, not); it’s just one of those things. In this world of ours, one that’s all about connectivity and ‘sharing’ (a vilely abused word, these days), but wherein the actual human connection can, unfortunately, be easily lost, it’s startling to be reminded that, sometimes, other people’s minds are in exactly the same place yours is in.
And, isn’t that a wonderful thing?
Sadly, the place my mind was in this morning wasn’t exactly a happy place – this article, to which said celebrity provided a link on Facebook and about which she waxed lyrical on her personal page – will tell you all you need to know about my thought processes. I’m thinking about this topic – that of the reality of bereavement, mourning and grief in a world wherein social media is king – mainly because, in the last few years, several of my Facebook and (God love me) Myspace contacts have passed away, but their online presences remain. If a person is lost suddenly, can those left behind (or, should they) find a way to mark their social media outlets with the message that their creator has died? We are the first generation who is faced with the sorrow of seeing a deceased loved one’s name pop up in our newsfeeds every year on their birthday, reminding us to send a card or exhorting us to write a greeting on their Wall, or whatever it is. We are the first generation living with a phenomenon like ‘funeral selfies‘ – the very idea of it makes something break, deep down inside me – and it’s a reminder, once again, that the internet is such a powerful thing. It’s powerful enough to change the way we think, feel, and act. It will be the thing which reshapes human nature, in my opinion.
Or, perhaps, it will be the thing which ushers forth the narcissism that has always been a part of human nature, but which has never before had such an opportunity to become central to how we think about ourselves. I’m not sure which I find more strange – the idea that the internet is making us more self-obsessed, or simply giving us an outlet for the self-obsession that’s already at the heart of our existence.
I do realise that I’m writing a blog, here, and that I’m making use of the internet to put forth my ideas and my thoughts and it’s all about me, me, me… And perhaps that’s the saddest part of the whole thing. The culture in which we live is, like all cultures, all-encompassing. You’re part of it, for good or ill, and making the best of it is all you can do. It does occur to me sometimes that this blog will, probably, outlast me; if I were to die unexpectedly, this blog would remain. Nobody would be able to log in and disable it. It would be like an abandoned, creaking, obsolete space station, slowly pinwheeling its lonely way across the vastness of eternity, forever (or, until it hits a meteorite or burns up in an atmosphere or, you know. Whatever.)
That freaks me out a bit.
It also makes me want to write the best blog I’m capable of – if it’s going to be my memorial, then let’s make it sparkle, goshdarnit!
Actually, no. The ‘freaking out’ thing outweighs everything else.
I’m pretty sure that there’s an element of this self-memorialisation in all art, too. It’s not that we feel we’re such incandescent geniuses that the world needs our art to steer it into the future, but it’s more about feeling like we’ve made a difference, that something we’ve written or made or painted or sung has added to the pot of human culture. Even if nobody remembers our name, our art will live on after we do. It’s getting harder and harder for each individual note to be spotted in the clamouring mish-mash that is our humanity, but that makes the urge to contribute even more pressing; the more difficult it is to be heard, the louder we shout. But what if all that’s being created and contributed is ‘art’ which is ever more inward-looking, all about the self, focused entirely on an individual and their view of the world? We’ll have millions of tiny vortexes, all tightly bound to their own whorling hearts, none of them looking out and seeing what’s there, seeing how we can help, how we can – each of us – make the world a little clearer and easier to bear for everyone.
All art is about the self, but – I feel – it has traditionally spoken to the commonality of shared humanness, too. Nowadays, most of the creative content I see, particularly online, has a larger focus on the ‘self’ of its creator and less focus on the connectedness of its creator to their fellows. Social media allows us to make ourselves into art installations. But what’s the point of creating millions of beautiful, individual pieces of art – which are, in so many ways, our lives – if none of them are truly in conversation with anything else?
‘Sharing’ is not the same as ‘communing’; putting forth our art, our words, our social media posts, our blogs, our music is all rendered a bit pointless if we don’t listen to the contributions of others, and recognise their validity.
And yet, there are days you wake up and someone on the far side of the world is thinking exactly the same thing as you, and they’ve expressed it publicly, and you feel a connection. And – if you’re clever – you use that connection to drive forth your own art, and your own humanness, and you realise that you’re living in an age of miracles, and that all will be well.