The Messy Truth – social media and creativity

In the brutal world of social, artists and photographers can find themselves questioning their creativity and how they measure their success, writes CR columnist Gem Fletcher. How can we protect ourselves from the fallout?

Illustration courtesy iStock/Adehoidar

“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” Andy Warhol

Almost two decades have passed since social media infiltrated our lives and culture. During that time we’ve gone from MySpace’s innocent beginnings of personal branding to the corporate machine of Instagram. Programming has evolved. Communication has changed. Behaviours have shifted. FOMO is real. And Algorithms dictate everything. We were sold the idea of friends TV, a space for ideas, a promise of democracy. Yet the thing we signed up for is no longer there, and we are more addicted than ever.

The sheer pace of social media means we can never quite identify how it has already reshaped our lives, thought patterns and experience of the world. For many creatives it’s been a game-changing tool, especially photographers. It’s the perfect place to share, tell stories, network, and connect with new collaborators. It’s a powerful testing ground for new ideas, which offers immediate feedback. You can cast, location scout, sell products and harness the power of the crowd to fund your latest photo book. Most importantly, it offers a new level of professional independence. It’s removed industry gatekeepers and levelled the playing field giving everyone the opportunity to build influence and a global reach.

Warhol’s quote was so prophetic, social media has allowed everyone to be the star of their own show, but while we are busy utilising these new opportunities, we rarely stop to access the consequences of all this time spent. As with TV and the internet, we welcomed these new platforms into our lives, ushering in a new era of community and social structure without much thought. We didn’t pause to access the risks of such a monumental shift. While we are still awaiting the results of long-term usage, initial research has demonstrated a direct correlation between social and mental health issues.


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The way we interact with technology is now symbiotic to the way we live. “We have an intimate relationship with our tech, which colours who we are,” shares Leslie Berlin, a Silicon Valley academic at Harvard. Most of us will spend a staggering seven years of our lives on our phone, and our consumption is redefining our day-to-day. Accel Qualtrics 2017 study revealed that 79% of millennials keep their phones by their bed and over half check their phones in the middle of the night. Deloitte’s survey showed 55% of UK users look at their phones within 15 minutes of waking up. IZA Institute found that spending one hour a day on social reduces a teenager’s happiness by 14%.