The week has been a little frenetic, and I've missed a couple of posts here. It is to be expected with various other deadlines looming. But they are now resolved.
One thing that I did a week ago was write a post directly into my Google+ stream. I wanted to see how it would go, see if it might attract any attention. As it turns out, it got some nice attention (for me) being +1'd some 30 times, reshared 9 times and, most importantly, attracting some really interesting discussion that traversed fantastic terrain.
What I also learned is that Google+ posts have a habit of streaming by and being lost after a few hours or a day. If it isn't picked up as it rolls by, it won't be picked up. Nobody is likely to stumble upon the post now unless they were really trawling or did some unusual search. The lesson is that meaty posts don't belong in Google+, not unless you have an army of fans who hang after your every word and will spread the gospel to the corners of the earth.
So, for the sake of posterity, for the sake of sharing my thinking about the world in general, I will repeat the post here. It is unchanged (except spelling and to change the picture which I disliked almost immediately after it was posted and could no longer change). In the future I would love to explore some of the discussions that erupted from the post, but that would make this FAR too long.
|The long tail of mediocrity. Source: Robyn O'Neil|
Over the last few days I've been finding myself increasingly torn by a thought that comes up more and more here on Google+. It is this idea of finding yourself as an actor, building your tribe, a kind of uber-self-actualisation. Be all you can be, live a life unfettered in the pursuit of your art, form tribes of common interest around your work.
This vision I find immensely exciting. It is a vision of opportunity, of potentiality, or finally having the opportunity to create yourself and your world as you would have it. It seems to fit a world where the securities of an industrialised economy are in ruins, and are rapidly being replaced by the security of connection in a connected economy.
And so it is all good. But it's not.
The disadvantaged of the new age
This excitement has an accompanying nagging fear, and it can be very simply stated as this: "What about all of the unconnected? Those unable to command attention? Those who do not want to build a tribe, but just want to be left alone?" These will be the disadvantaged in a new, connected, patchwork economy age.
Related to this - the connected age has built in a structural feature where a very, very few superstars arise above a vast plain of mediocrity. This has nothing to do with talent, effort, value, and everything to do with the structure of a black swan, long tail world as described by Nicholas Nassim Taleb.
Now I'm not fussed by the superstars, but I am deeply concerned by the long, long tail. The people of the long tail will see very little come of all of their efforts, and that is not because their art is crap, but because that's just the way these systems play out. These people will also be the disadvantaged of this new age.
What of the disadvantaged?
They are the blue-collar workers made unemployed and unemployable by the off-shoring of jobs, and conditioned into believing their trade matters. They are the white collar workers who realise that their long trudge of learning and relearning skills, adapting to the vicissitudes of every new management fad as it comes around, all of that was in vain. They are also the triers, the people who battle away to build an audience but miss, the writers who self-publish unread masterpieces.
This is not an insignificant matter. It is not fixed by slapping them on the back and telling them to "get their art", to "try harder". That response is horribly insensitive and belittling. It is akin to telling a dental patient to get over it. It is also totally beneath the new elite that is forming.
Yes, that's what it is
The people here in Google+ and whatever other connection facilitation tool else are the new elite in formation. It is an elite driven by connection (as elites have always been), and it is happening before us. Like it or not, if you read this you are most probably on that hard-scrabble road to the pinnacle of this new world that is becoming. You are, to reference the image, striving to rise above the masses.
I am not intending to load judgement into the word "elite". It isn't bad or good. It just is.
The problem, and the reason I am torn, is what world is this elite going to create?
Is it going to create a digital version of the English gentleman's clubs, complete with blowhards, overstuffed cushions and mocking laughter at the plebian fold over there in Facebook (or wherever)?
Will it make a "red in tooth and claw" world, where there is perpetual battle for the scarce resource of attention? Making incursions into the tribes of others, each forever striving to lift themselves out of the long tail. Yes, I am aware that the new world creates opportunity for all. A rising tide lifts all boats and all that - but haven't we heard that before to justify corporate welfare for the wealthy? And do we really believe this just happens?
Or will this new elite seek to create a world where there can be many, many fields of excellence? Where the tools, skills, gifts of the elite are shared freely and openly to benefit the disadvantaged. Where the elite don't just become the New Boss, playing a game with a set of rules only they can win, but forever change the face of this place?
How might such a new world be done?
I don't know. What I do know is that it almost certainly won't be done by "living life according to your own rules", by this hyper self-actualised world that sees yourself focus on yourself. As a Religious Education teacher told me, perhaps from the bible, "there is no smaller package than a man wrapped up in himself".
I think it is more likely if we harness an immense empathy, if we truly understand the different needs of different people.
The disadvantaged are refugees from a world they have lost, they are mourning certainties they once held. They are in a foreign land. We are natives of that land. It behoves us to be thoughtful, respectful, gentle. To craft tools that precisely do not require them to play here, but let them make their own field for their own game. Their own infinite game. An infinity of infinite games
This is huge. It is the core to what we do, what I try to do. It is a perpetual conversation in translation, an unveiling and disruption of archetypes that sit deep inside us. A struggle to ground ourselves with our real world, that IRL world outside the screen where stuff is happening. Nature stuff. Spirit stuff. Creating a world that doesn't chew up the planet.
Thank you. Truly
This is, well, big. And long. And probably arrogantly tedious and condescending. Thank you for persisting.
Thank you in advance for any engagement, sharing, rebuttal. And apologies in advance for my own inability to meet my own standards. I am but human. As we all are, even if we are perhaps also artists and all of that.
We are all but human.
Image source: Robyn O'Neil from http://robynoneil.com/upcoming/. It is a still from a video "We, The Masses" (trailer below).