It’s been a running joke between myself and a few of my close friends that I pray for a day when algorithms finally render social media platforms completely useless to me. Bittersweet as this may sound, I think it’s coming very close to that point. The recent opinion piece in The Quietus, provocatively titled Slaves To The Algorithm: How Facebook Is Throttling Underground Culture, captured several of my own anxieties as a creative person who struggles with ideas around “engagement” and “community” as they’re understood today. Two relevant excerpts:
[Techno artist] Rrose laments the loss of quirky or innovative modes of communicating, but their issue always comes back to marketing: “When you log in to an artist’s page, Facebook gives you suggestions on how to ‘improve’ your ‘performance’. They give you tools and tips which make it look like they’re trying to help, but it’s just pushing you into this marketing mindset. I find myself caring about the response to a post, when I don’t want to. I want to focus on my music – that’s how I make a connection to the audience, first and foremost.”
[DJ and producer Hunni’d Jaws] finds FB and Instagram useful for sharing flyers, mixes and compilations but she also describes the pressure of being on so many platforms simultaneously as “overwhelming” and annoying: “I just changed my profile in Instagram to make it more business-y and to see what’s reaching people. I don’t want to be posting lots of selfies, but those get the most likes. I’d rather not get attention through that. I wish that my ‘followers’ would hear the music I’m producing, but of course it doesn’t work like that.”
“Engagement” is frequently negative and “community” is often a fig leaf on blandness and orthodoxy of ideas. On a more personal note, author Sonya Vatomsky touched on the downsides of the current social media climate in a recent Haute Macabre article and their words resonated with me. Sonya sums it up when she writes:
I spent much of 2017 as a freelance writer, with no separation between professional and private life and a constant need to be filled up with information as if it were nourishment; it was draining and exhaustion and bitterness and anxiety started to seep into every moment, every visit to Facebook or Instagram or Twitter.
It’s ironic, of course, that I encountered Sonya and her work via these selfsame platforms we’re chafing against, aptly demonstrating their double-edged nature. If I’m grappling with this as someone who views these platforms as a “nice to have” to promote my part-time work, I shudder to think about the psychological impact to a person in the freelance or full-time creative fields. Is the never-ending psychic tinnitus of social media worth suffering through in the ever-dwindling hope that you’ll be exposed to something enriching, thanks to algorithms that favor paid advertising and “growth hacking?” The answer–for me, at least–is increasingly no.
I’m a big believer in context, so the above is offered as an explanation that I’m working to realign my own priorities and will be concentrating on sharing on this blog once again. Feel free to add this to your blogroll (remember those? Those were good). If you’ll accept a recommendation, Feedly has been very helpful as I wean myself off of social media. So in this spirit, here are several things that have been bringing me delight recently.
“The Strange and Twisted Life of Frankenstein” by Jill Lepore in The New Yorker. How terrific is a long read? VERY terrific, when done well, and this exploration about the possible interpretations of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is extraordinarily thought-provoking. The typical reading of the story as being about “not tampering in God’s domain” has always felt a bit reductive to me, so it’s a welcome change to hear about interpretations of the novel that factor in ideas around birth, social equality, and the emerging philosophies of the time. I also greatly enjoy the accompanying illustration by Henning Wagenbreth.
You should probably subscribe to the RE/Search newsletter. For those of us who remember a 90s-era internet, it hearkens back to that earlier aesthetic and contains a refreshing mixture of editorials, event listings, and stuff to look at/read/listen to around the web. I’ve mentioned this elsewhere, but one of the things I find appealing about RE/Search and editor V. Vale is the perennial attitude of wanting to introduce fellow weirdos to exciting avenues of culture. Reading RE/Search is like hanging out with the coolest person you could meet, back in 1995. Find the subscription box by scrolling down the right column of the RE/Search website.
I’m honestly spoiled for choice when it comes to music, but if I were to select one recent release to share, I’d like to recommend Pvrvsha by Mystagos, just released by BlackSeed Productions. This is exactly the kind of complex, occult-intellectual flavor of black metal I enjoy most. I’ll try to write more words specifically discussing the album, but suffice to say you get all manner of atmospheres here, from ambient to surprisingly melody-driven to gnarly aggressiveness. Listen here:
Podcasts! You ever hear of those things? I’ve got one, and as a person who relies heavily on public transit, I appreciate finding shows that insulate me from having to listen to the general badness of the other human beings in close proximity to me. Two of my favorites are the weird-dad catnip of Hardcore History (why yes, I would like to listen to four-plus hours on the history of public executions) and the lesser-known but also terrific Folklore Podcast. What makes The Folklore Podcast so great is that, unlike a certain wildly popular podcast covering similar themes that I strongly do not enjoy, TFP features interviews with historians and folklorists sharing aspects of their work. It’s like attending a really good academic conference on the most interesting topics possible, from legendary ghosts to Gef (the extra-special talking mongoose). You are guaranteed to learn something that you can then use to disturb and annoy others at social gatherings! Everyone wins.
I finally got around to watching Ninja III: The Domination, a joyful Canon Films romp about a Solid Gold dancer possessed by the spirit of a cop-killing ninja. As if that wasn’t enough, the movie features a credit for “vocal realization” by Diamanda Galas. I’m saddened Ninja III is not listed in her official IMDb page because I feel her involvement in this movie makes her even more of a creative treasure.
Oh, and I have a GoodReads profile now. I’m not really sure how I’m going to use it, but if you’d like to get a voyeuristic thrill from seeing what I’m currently reading, you can add me on there.