It is relentlessly ironic that much critique of the internet tends not only to be voiced on the internet, but frequently leads to new bits of the internet coming into being. No attempt to reshape online space or experience has ever made it smaller. The desire to create my own website arose from a frustration with social media which has been growing since 2012, and for which there seems to be no easy remedy. Any introduction to this site goes hand in hand with this slow-cooked discontent, so I think it merits some elaboration.
It’s worth noting that I have never shaken the habit of navigating social media with the mindset of an (online) artist, even on my personal accounts. What this means is hard to pinpoint, but banking my creative self-worth on the attention that it receives on social media from a young age has certainly shaped the way I engage emotionally with the internet. Many people come online for entertainment or communication alone, but I’ve always been here primarily out of a desire to share whatever I have created. I believe that digital media and online space has an immense artistic and creative potential which is often left untapped – largely because of the constraints of mass corporate social media. It’s less time consuming to make a Twitter account than it is to learn to code. I imagine this site will still depend on social media for traffic and any discussion of its contents, but I’m curious to see how that works. How do independent platforms of a kind which flourished in the earlier days of the internet co-exist with these massive social networks?
My fundamental frustration with social media begins at the level of minute categorisation. The internet manifests through code and language, and this means that everything that exists online needs to be specifically named, at the very least. Designators such as tags (or post type, or other modes which may or may not be formalised) are the building blocks of defined ‘types’ of profiles, which construct defined communities within a social network. Think of Tumblr (if that isn’t too much to ask): thousands of blogs exist purely for personal use or entertainment, but those which are ‘successful’ in terms of sharing their output are those which can be easily placed: artists who exclusively post art, ‘aesthetic’ blogs which never deviate from their look, people who try, relentlessly, to be funny about a specific topic. This kind of categorisation is not an original product of the internet, but there’s something about the way in which social media merges personal and creative/professional presentation which makes this process far more intense and binding.
Categorisation is an imperative for consistency. In certain (creative) communities on Instagram, it is widely acknowledged that profiles are judged not by individual posts, but by the consistent ‘look’ of their feed. The same expectation hounds online artists everywhere. No matter how technically accomplished you may be or how interesting you think your individual works are, you won’t find an audience without consistency. The key to success is to find a niche and stick to it, posting work with the same sort of style, subject, aesthetics - and posting it frequently. Such a system doesn’t leave much room for experimentation, and I find, broadly, that most online discussion of art focuses on an artist’s output as a whole rather than any detailed examination of individual works.
But I don’t wish to moan about being a ‘small artist’, and I don’t think that this website is a magic spell to overcome the fundamental workings of online communities. My problem is not with my inability to be consistent in my work, but rather that social media sites have put pressure on me for years to believe that I should. My ADHD is the impediment here, but I don’t think that my experiences are exclusive to the neurodivergent.
As a young teenager on Tumblr, I used to feel bad every time I got into something new and wanted to talk or make art about it constantly. It was a fear of abandonment enhanced by the pressures of online performance: I worried that the people who had followed me because I posted about a different topic would get annoyed and leave. The answer? To parcel off my interests into different sideblogs – one for this anime, one for this game, one for the humanities. Then I did the same thing on Twitter, and I still do, and I hate it. It is very hard to delete these extra accounts, because they become little extensions of yourself. All of this left me with a profound feeling of fragmentation and self-alienation. Myself as a whole was all mixed up, a chimera of quickly-changing and unrelated interests – and nobody wants that, in art or in life, right? Cultivating any kind of creative profile on social media brings on this imperative to make oneself desirable. And in a landscape geared towards self-indulgence and personal interest (as fandom is), it can be difficult to draw the line between oneself and one’s profile as an artist.
Diverse creative portfolios are also ‘fragmented’ by the formal limitations of social media, which force you to scatter different kinds of work over a variety of platforms and profiles. Twitter and Instagram give you poor image quality and almost no control over precise formatting, but offer more engagement than sites designed for art or long-form writing do on their own. Again, I think this stifles experimentation. It’s easier to like or share an illustration and keep scrolling down than it is to open a link to a longer piece in a new tab. Even such minute efforts are of material consequence.
Again, even if creative work manages to resist being pushed by social media into familiar, pre-established forms, the pressure is still there. But that’s not to say that all work that is posted on the internet has no life of its own elsewhere. And it’s not that you can’t find success by posting links to your blog on twitter. But most of these other sites – Medium, Ao3, DeviantArt – also function in a similarly to a social network, and come with their own pressures, conventions, and limitations. Social media works through categorisation, and I’m more interested in picking at the seams of these categories than creating new ones.
I imagine that these burdens do not weigh so heavily on those who do not use the internet to display their creative work, or who maintain a strict boundary between their online presence and material lives. But I feel that I cannot easily erase the continuity between my life on the internet and the work I produce - it feels somehow violent to sever the increasingly vague line between my online and material self. Instead, I’d like to build on that line, and see if I can rescue it from digital melancholia, listlessness, and sterility.
Social media’s rewards of constant engagement and attention make churning out easily consumable work at a very fast rate the most desirable mode of production to my stimulation-seeking brain. All of my energy for larger, more thoughtful projects is drained by the emotional overstimulation of merely being on Twitter. So I decided to strike out on my own. I chose not to move to a pre-existing blog site because I wanted as much freedom as possible – the ability to host an art gallery, webcomics, or interactive fiction. Although that’s an ambitious hope, considering my vacillating productivity.
I’m sick of having to choose between “photo post – text post – chat,” I’m sick of word limits and unwieldy threads, sick of toeing the line between highbrow and lowbrow, fandom and academia - and I’m sick of aesthetics, brands, and digital taxonomies. The idea of blurring categories may be the only truly consistent thread running through the work I mean to host and link to here.
In material terms, I want this site to be a hub for anything I do, organised carefully but loosely. This ‘blog’ is intended as a place where I can write without having to worry about defining the work as ‘academic’ or ‘journalistic’, or even as fiction or non-fiction. I’d like to promote independent digital media by reviewing things like games and comics, and to write about my favourite works of fiction as I have been meaning to for years. But I also have things to say about travel, fashion, and art history. And a lot to say about culture and the internet. The ‘works’ section of the site hosts a catalogue of projects such as longer and more refined written work, links to fanfiction, translations of ancient Greek poetry, and, perhaps, comics or game projects. Again, the latter are an ambition, not a reality. But I don’t really know what I’ll really produce here. Possibly nothing. Possibly nothing good. We’ll see.