Warning: this post might comes across as snooty, so if you would like to skip to the comments section and tell me what sort of a jerk I am, go for it.
OK, now let’s get to the topic at hand: memes, creativity and the general populace of North America. (I’ll skip the rest of the world for now.)
Recently, Sara Saxen, associate producer for one of my favorite family-friendly MMOs, wrote up this blog post about how she has decided to go without checking in on some of her favorite “mindless” blogs and sites, at least for a while. She mentions Reddit and sites that do nothing but post endless cute pictures of kittens. Basically she seems to be growing tired of constantly taking in content instead of creating content.
Now, I’m no fan of Reddit. Admittedly I have visited it only several times but simply do not enjoy going to sites that have such a large base of readers who are basically young, male and…well, that’s enough. Young and male are about as distant to me as my teens are. I’ve been young and stupid and would rather not hang out with young and stupid online. The curious thing about her blog, or the thing I understand the most, is the way she seems to be craving creativity. A note: she is a creative person who draws and (obviously) writes, and she works at a (seemingly) very creative company, surrounded by creative people. It’s possible she just doesn’t have the time to be as creative as she would like, or is simply going through a withdrawal, not for all things meme-ish but for something original. I would have to ask her on Twitter.
Her blog shines light on a very real issue with the internet, or at least something that I have issue with. I’m 38 years old. I have been a creative person my entire life. My youth was spent drawing, writing and playing in bands. When school just became much too ordinary for me, I filled in the time with art. My teachers seemed to hate me and my artistic distractions more than the class clowns who literally disturbed the class. (I mean that: some of my teachers seemed to seethe with hate for me. It’s really sad, actually.)
My Twitter, Facebook and Google + feed are often filled to the brim with reposts of stuff that was created by someone else. My wife has a Tumblr account, and I cannot tell you the last time I remember someone posting something they created themselves. It’s generally a stream of screenshots, animated gifs, and stolen artwork — with no credit given. Oh, I’ve linked to or shared art or music that was not mine before, as well, just so you know that I am not pretending to be holier than thou. The point is that now I make every attempt to give credit when I can, to use my original content or art or to just avoid the use of something I cannot verify. It’s very hard, sometimes, though.
Now we have “memes.” Look, I’m sure one of you can tell me the exact origin of the word and what it means, etc etc…but let’s just say that I am feeling too lazy to look it up on Google right now. A meme — and correct me if I am wrong — is essentially shit that people share. Someone sees some cool shit, and they share that cool shit with other people. Memes are digital whispers, rumors…they can come in the form of pictures or songs or videos. Basically, they are things that appear, are shared and then are covered over by the next, latest cool thing. They are digital “gossip.”
I follow and know people who — and this is not an attempt to be mean — seem to have absolutely nothing original to say. Of course I am basing this off of my digital interactions with them, but I still find it disturbing that some of the most popular people, Twitter accounts, websites or blogs are the ones that are filled with completely non-original material. Shared materials become shared, and these links make for a good hit count.
I want to verify that I am not claiming that I, as someone who is trying to eventually write about more than games for a living (and I am making progress towards that goal) am somehow smarter or better than people who post nothing but My Little Pony pictures. That’s not it at all, and for all I know that person who posts that stuff is a genius who just enjoys My Little Pony (although I have to admit that the Brony thing seems beyond stupid to me.)
I have learned that this lack of original material on the internet means probably one of two things:
1) The majority of humans, at least in North America, are not creative people. I can expand on what I mean by “creative” but I think we know what I mean
2) The internet simply makes sharing too easy, and so we see the sharing more than the creating. Creating takes time while sharing a picture of a polar bear takes seconds
or (ha! I said 2!)
3) The internet and all of its tools are truly making North America less creative. That means that the accessibility of creative tools, like digital art tools, is helping speed the process of non-creation. People can now, within seconds, “create” a picture that looks pretty cool, thanks to free tools. Sure, they might be creating something, but is it creation “light?” Is that good or bad, or just normal?
Whatever the truth is, I am a bit scared. Or, a bit enlightened. The two might be the same. Here’s how I honestly feel, and I say this hoping that it doesn’t sound like I am a total asshole:
The majority of North America is filled with non-creative people. Most people haven’t the time, the energy, or the creative want or ability to create anything. This means they consume. They watch sports, a passive activity, or they watch movies or read books, but they never draw, write, create or otherwise make anything. Well, they make babies. North American is great at making babies.
Now, for the record, this does not mean I think creativity is better than non-creativity. Actually, I find myself growing jealous over math-brained individuals more and more each year. I wish I could create a game from scratch using lines of code, or could wrap my head around, you know, mathy stuff. I’m no idiot, but my brothers were born with the math gene — I’m simply good with writing stories or drawing monsters.
It’s also important to note that creativity is something that is built into every human, even if it is in a tiny amount. We couldn’t survive or evolve without creativity. Creativity allows us to do even simple things like figuring out the weekly bills.
BUT, I think the popularity of sharing sites and memes has shown me the truth: most humans consume and do not create. Is this bad or good? I think it’s just natural. Again, I hate the fact that this sounds absolutely snooty, but the majority of humanity is built up of worker bees, those who are satisfied with having a family, growing old and dying. (I am not saying that all people who do that are worker bees. But I am saying that all worker bees have that in common. Sort of like saying that “Not all people who wear blutooth headsets are dorks, but all dorks wear blutooth headsets.”)
So, is the internet hurting the creative process, or helping it? A bit of both. The web (especially social media) exposes us to all sorts of creative things, things we might take inspiration from. I certainly have been fired off in a new creative direction thanks to something I found online. At the same time, the internet makes it much easier for people to feel creative because they get 1200 re-shares on their tumblr post that featured an animated gif. In fact, I’ve literally seen (meaning read their responses online) people get angry when they were not given credit for an animated gif they made…a gif that was nothing but a series of stolen pictures. People are being given a false sense of creativity, of being creative.
Memes are one of the prime suspects in the de-creativization of North America. (Is that a word? I don’t know, I just made it up! How creative!) Essentially a meme allows people to get in on a collective joke, while still feeling as though they are one of the only few to understand the joke. I’ve been corrected before because I made a reference and seemingly “got it wrong.” I hate the “derp” meme, but was corrected that it came from an episode of South Park. Sure, I argued, it did. But now it means something completely different than it did then. Can anyone tell me with a straight face that “derp” is not the same as saying “retarded”? I don’t care if it originally came from the bible — what it means now is stupid, retarded, the same as “guuhhh” or making that “retarded” movement when you hit your hand across your chest. Yet, here are some claiming it to mean something else and allowing the phrase to replace a phrase they could have made up, or replace oh, I don’t know, an explanation of how they feel. Explaining things would require more than one word, though, so I guess I understand certain people’s unwillingness to use anything but a meme.
So, there ya go: I think the internet is making people stupid. My innocent-seeming classic example? Loose vs. lose. It’s now appears to be more popular to use “loose” instead of lose. Lose has lost out. We’ve lost lose. Now, don’t go on Sara’s blog and correct her like I did on Twitter one day (it made me look like an asshole) because she is from Sweden. She can speak two languages (possibly more?) and I can barely speak one. So, she gets a free ride on “loose.”
If you’re old enough, you’d have noticed the slow morphing of words like lose to loose and the word “kill” becoming popular in politics when, if I remember correctly, it had always been avoided and replaced with “captured.” Again, no political statement here, just stating how curious it is.
Anyway, I certainly hope North America is not getting stupider, but the test scores and comparisons are showing us that, yes, North America is growing more and more stupid by the day. Stupider. Stupidier. See?!
It should be no surprise that “derp” is so popular. After all, it’s a familiar thing to many North Americans.
I might sound like some sort of elitist snob, but I’m not. I’m not claiming to be smarter or more creative than anyone else. I’m simply noticing a very subtle, but dangerous, trend. No, for the record, I’m not saying that reading will become obsolete and words will no longer mean anything as we replace them with simple grunts and fart noises, but I am saying that those things will be true for more people than ever before.
That’s scary as shit, if you ask me.