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Social Media and the Creative Arts

The advent of social media changed everything for the freelance creator. Suddenly there was a whole new way to be seen. You could show off your art, your writing, your code, your cooking, to thousands of new faces who were all hungry for something just a little bit different. If you didn’t have the scratch to travel to tradeshows or major entertainment watering holes, you could still meet people, you could still establish connections that would allow you to bring in new work without that massive cost outlay. Your career could, in a word, become viable. AND as a bonus, it was something you could control.

There’s tasty stuff in here, but is it worth navigating all those thorns?

You didn’t have to rely on a big-name artist or producer noticing your work. (The famous scene in Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure about getting Eddie Van Halen in their corner comes to mind). You didn’t have to consider shoving your script under the bathroom stall door or arranging for your art to get hung on the walls of Superstar #5’s hotel suite or any of the other really off-the-wall ways in which creators have tried to be seen.

As online media took off like a rocket, social media gave you this tool to add to your pitch. An audience. Having 25k+ pairs of eyeballs on Twitter, or MySpace or Facebook or *any* social media platform became part of your “secret sauce”. As a creator, in particular as a freelance/contract creator, it gave you an edge over other creators of equal talent. Skill + Eyeballs became the new equation when trying to land a gig. And it worked okay for a while. Authors/Artists/Designers could all bring parts of their audience with them, boost sales for whatever new project they were working on and everyone got paid a little closer to what they were worth.

But now the worm has turned. Big Brands want those new fans, they regard getting access to those fans part why they hired creative A over creative B. They reap the benefits, they get all those lovely new eyeballs, but when a freelance/contract creator comes under attack, they walk away. They throw up their hands and say “Well, clearly they’re *your* fans. You handle the hate, you handle talking to the cops about doxxing and changing your phone number, that’s all on you. It’s against our policy to make a statement of support for non-employees.” And at the end of the day, if the vitriol outpaces the support, they wash their hands of the whole thing and go find a shiny new creator to work with. “Sorry, man, you’re just too toxic. You’re baiting a bad element.”

The creators are being thrown under the bus as a front-line defense against angry fans and bad publicity.

Which means that having a social media presence, having a fan following is now becoming a liability for any given creator, rather than an asset. Creators are being encouraged to keep their heads down, to avoid feeding the trolls, to no do or say anything that might upset the brand they’ve been hired to enrich. They are being asked to be good little girls and boys and take the hits and bags of sh*t and Your Tube rants and swatting with a smile because nobody wants them to hurt the Brand.

But, look, if the Brand is going to ask for that. If they are going to ask you to just let the sh*tstorm roll over you in service of their content, then they need to pay up for that service. Just like a Brand has to pay extra for exclusivity, for you to create content just for them alone, or not allow your personal marketing to cross the streams, they need to start ponying up for hazard pay, especially if the toxic elements of their fans are an established quantity.

Anybody who dips a toe into creating for some of these established Brands becomes a target. It doesn’t even matter if they create something the fans don’t like, the harassment systems in place, trolls and bot-farms and protest groups, now kick in the moment you announce you’re working for Brand A or Brand B. You put your feet in the water and the sharks start to let you know they’re watching, that you better not f*ck up their childhood because WATCH OUT.

But, like so many new things, the solutions are still to be hammered out. Creatives (myself included) are notorious for following our passion, for jumping at a chance to create for something we love. And there are a lot of us out there. On any given project you might have twenty equally-talented creatives waiting in the wings and the only way you get that contract is if you don’t ask for that support, if you agree to keep quiet, to take those hits for the Team without complaint.

We all need to work together to fix this, and it won’t come quickly. It might even take a couple of years for creative support to come together under contract. But the more creatives who insist on it, the more commonplace it will become until, eventually it will just become boilerplate and included in every contract.

Autonomous cars and personal space

Image result for self driving car map

The vision that keeps getting served up, when self-driving cars finally become ubiquitous, is that of a fleet of vehicles capable of computationally precise pathfinding. By talking to one another, they will be able to tool down the freeway, bumpers within inches, rearranging their groupings so as to allow for maximum aerodynamics and most efficient travel times. It’s well within the bounds of these vehicle designs, computers can react thousands of times faster than we do and if we give them the ability to communicate with one another, cross-platform, they can do a brilliant of of staying out of one another’s travel path.

But as we know, or many suspect, the best, most efficient solution is not always the “best” (for human-comfort orders of “best” at any rate).  The auto-pilot on an airplane can land it in a storm with little problem, but the decision making keeps the plane intact, with little regard for the comfort or even safety of the passengers. The world is riddled with examples of human “best” taking the lead over efficiency.  Everybody wants a window or an aisle seat, people will take the time to wait for the next elevator if the one arriving seems too full (even if it is still well within its weight capacity). What is “best” for a computer is simply not always “best” for a person.

This got me thinking about customization, user preferences for these kinds of vehicles. I mean obviously you *can* drive with your bumpers within 5 inches of each other, but anyone who’s had their hands on the wheel is going to be more comfortable and familiar with the “two second rule”, where a driver maintains a two-second gap between your car and the one ahead of you. Granted there are a few there who seem to have no concept of personal space while maneuvering a 2000 pound pile of carbon fiber and steel, but by and large, most drivers leave a comfortable distance between the cars around them.

And as you sit, safely ensconced in your self-driving box (assuming you’re not distracted by a film or some quality “personal time”), you may not at all enjoy your vehicle tailgating someone else or someone else’s vehicle tailgating yours. The most efficient mode of travel may simply be nerve-wracking to anyone who hasn’t grown up with it.

I imagine that the initial solution is going to be the allowance of “user preferences”.  You can choose wake times and ringtones on your phone, so it follows that car manufacturers might allow a user to set things like minimum distance to the car in front of them, or maximum tailgate distance (in fact, aggressive human drivers may be able to take advantage of gaps in traffic left by two cars whose owners requested a large buffer around them). Cars would communicate these preferences between each other and roll that into their driving calculations as they go.

An Internet Analogy via the Futility of a Horny Spotted Towhee

I’m sure they have a word for this, the rest of the birds that litter my yard post-sunrise must have seen this kind of obsession more than once, Spotted Towhee.  Repeatedly flinging yourself at an imaginary enemy, ignoring any and all actual challengers in favor of this one, true nemesis. Your development has been stunted, sidetracked by a challenger of your own making, by your inability to simply turn your head to see that there is more to do in a day than just batter the glass.

When you arrived, you had a girl.  I saw her. Shy and dim-colored, you told her you’d be right back, didn’t you.  That you just had to prove this one guy, this one imaginary foe you saw through your pane of glass was wrong.  Then you would be free, then you could be together. But every morning, every time you look, there’s another one.  And another. It’s like they don’t hear you, like they don’t understand that you’re right. There’s always another bird in that little window.

Where is she now Towhee?  Did she get tired of waiting while you ranted and raved at your glittering screen?  This perfect specimen of opposition that exists only because you keep going back to call it out, rather than stretching your wings and considering the rest of the world.

I’ve blocked you from the object of your obsession more than once now.  Chased you off, spent time and energy, erected barriers of tinsel and fabric to keep you from seeing that imaginary enemy. Tried to get you to see that your time would be better off spent building your bower, on paying attention to that shy lady bird who waited every night for you to finish your screed.  Instead you flung yourself at an illusion until panting and spent, energy poured out in a tirade that feels like a real fight, that feels like a defense of that idea you hold most dear.  But your dear has left, flown off with another bird who was more interested in being there than in being the victor over an imaginary foe.

And at the end of the day, when that shining pane of glass finally goes dark and you pick and pluck at the remnants of cheese puffs and bits of bread the other birds felt beneath their notice, you feel strangely unfulfilled.  There was no victory. There was no triumph. There was only a null response as the other bird vanished due to a change you couldn’t comprehend. Look up, Spotted Towhee, look out into the larger world. Forget the glass, forget the enemy that cares not for winning or losing.  Go find another shy bird and be free.