To know what people really think, pay regard to what they do, rather than what they say. – George Santayana
The real world is a difficult place. I think we forget that when we spend most of our time in digital spaces and imaginary worlds. In those places everything is reversible – you have a delete key and an undo button and anything that is wrong goes away and anything that is left is right.
Except, it often isn’t. It’s left all right but that doesn’t mean it’s good or complete or finished or useful. It just is – digitally perfect and devoid of reality.
But of course that’s not fair. The artifact is the responsibility of the creator and if someone pushes something imperfect into the world then that’s their decision and if it’s any good then it might survive and if it’s not then it will be forgotten. And that’s ok because that’s how things should be.
I might have written about this before but I might as well remind myself what I think. I’ve been reading the odd bit of material where someone self-promotes their stuff, trying to big it up, place it in a higher context and claim that it is the apex of a particular kind of knowledge. It’s not and that gets pointed out by the kind of people who feel like they have to point out stuff that they think is wrong. And, of course, they do this on social media.
So, I ask you, does it matter what people on social media think about what you do? Should you engage, respond, get angry or be happy if someone likes your stuff and says nice things or hates your stuff and says bad things. Does opinion matter?
Well, it does to most of us because ego is a fragile thing and we like to be liked and we don’t like it when people have a go at stuff that we create. But here’s the thing. Once you’ve created something and put it out there, into the wild, whether it survives or not is now up to it and its environment. Take the self-promotional thing I was talking about earlier. In this case it’s a model of a particular kind of thinking. If it’s any good then people will try it, and write about their experiences. They’ll reference it in their papers and it will become a widely cited piece of work. If it’s any good, that is. If it’s really good it could become a seminal piece of work – the grandad or grandmom of a field.
But if it’s not, no amount of self promotion will save it. It will die, abandoned by even its adherents as they see that the idea has no following. Followers matter because it’s people who review what you’ve done and decide it’s worth having in the world that eventually enable your creation to live or die. You can’t flap a bird’s wings for her – she has to fly on her own.
Now, what this leads to is that you can do things the known way or you can set out into the unknown. And the known way includes the way you’ve done things so far. If you have a pattern, a flow a way of doing things then you might need to ask yourself what happens if the world as you know it ends? What happens if you run out of road?
Take my own writing process, for example. Over the last few years I’ve established a rhythm – a flow of starting and finishing and coming up with something and getting it out into the world. And, as you do more of something, the more it becomes its own thing.
That makes me nervous – I’m not sure why. It’s like I have to test that when something is working it’s going to keep working by trying to break it. So, I’ve broken my process and it results in all kind of confusion as I try and work out what that means and what I should do next. For example drawing on paper rather than digitally creates all kinds of new questions – from the quality of the paper to how it reacts with different pigments and markets and how to get it into the computer and do something useful with it. And then there are those lines – and what you do with them and whether it’s ok to go outside them every once in a while.
There are questions about what you’re trying to do with the work you’re doing. Is the objective to create as much as possible or is it to work towards less but better? Do you try and get it right the first time or do you work towards a finished product in iterations? People do all these things in different ways in different contexts and it takes time to figure out what might work for you or for me. But you can’t think your way to the answer, you have to set off into the dark, onto the dirt track and just start walking. Hoping that there is something out there for you.