Cultural creation in the era of technological abundance: The Tribune India

Avijit Pathak


Has technological abundance, especially in the field of communication and cultural creation, led to a new form of psychic restlessness and anxiety? As social media, from Twitter to Instagram, and from Facebook to YouTube, envelops our daily existence, do we constantly seek exposure, work tirelessly to produce something that goes “viral” instantly, and trying to find our essence through statistics? viewers and subscribers? Is “share, like, subscribe” becoming the vocabulary of our time that even a six-year-old gets used to?

Of course, no one can deny that these new communication technologies have played a facilitating role. For example, it is through YouTube that we see an array of new talent articulating their creative skills in various fields, from music to political satire, or from cooking to travel.

Due to the decline of the monopoly of the big names in shaping the logistics of cultural production, we can now discover, say, a rural woman with a good knowledge of local food and indigenous recipes; or a young student as a fantastic singer. Even Bollywood celebrities might envy the popularity of many of these YouTube bloggers. No wonder, almost anything is available on YouTube these days, whether it’s a lecture by a professor or a talk by a new age spiritual guru.

Facebook has helped many of us connect, redefine the art of relating, and rediscover ourselves as writers, poets, cartoonists, photographers, and above all, messengers of all kinds of information. Plus, when fancy names tweet, they’re faster than newspapers and TV shows.

No wonder, these technologies have become immensely popular. From crowded local trains to cafes, there seems to be no escaping the smartphone; we never get tired of watching, posting and messaging.

It is therefore futile, one would say, to be puritanical and condemn the popularization of social media in the name of an abstract “high culture”.

Yet even as we recognize the flourishing of communication and cultural creation, it is important to remember that technological abundance as such does not necessarily guarantee cultural, moral and psychic refinement. After all, if we don’t work on our political/ethical/aesthetic sensitivities, social media, far from causing cultural sanity, could lead us into a noisy and challenging realm of psychic numbness.

We have to understand this dialectic: taking countless selfies through the sophisticated smartphone does nothing to improve its photographic art; sending viral messages via Twitter to obtain an amazing following is not a literary act; and telling day after day what you cook, eat and buy on a YouTube channel has nothing to do with the art of storytelling.

Indeed, if we have sharpened our tools, we have not granted sufficient importance to the development of our artistic and intellectual faculties. So, is it any wonder that amidst the endless stream of WhatsApp messages, Twitter-induced bullets, Facebook posts, and YouTube videos, we also find ourselves in a deserted cultural landscape.

Otherwise, how to explain the immense popularity of a daily blogger showing us day and night how she eats mutton, chicken and biryani eggs? Or, someone showing off a posh resort toilet in a hill station, the act of consuming a sumptuous breakfast, and then “owning” the “place” – the sunset point? Or, how to explain that it is through the same social networks that we disseminate and consume toxic messages, symbolic violence and community hatred?

There are two problems. First, the rapid growth of social media must be tied to the mood of the times – everything must be fast and instant! And this obsessive speed denies what the art needs – concentration, endurance and reflection.

For example, you cannot evolve as a good singer if the thirst for instant fame distracts you from rigorous practice and constant learning. Nor is it possible to make an enchanting travel video unless your travelogue is a meditative reflection on the journey called life. Only then is it possible to capture the silence of Himalayan peaks or the whisper of a deodar tree.

In other words, owning the technology doesn’t necessarily make someone an artist. But then, when the certificate of a million subscribers and countless “likes” becomes the only criterion to define the value of its creation, the art suffers.

Second, this terrible addiction to the immediacy of social media simulations is destroying what we all need to maintain our sanity – the art of being invisible or the cultivation of meditative silence and mindfulness. In fact, this chronic urge to be in constant circulation through WhatsApp messages, Facebook posts or our comments on almost everything on earth often causes the mass production and consumption of trivialities.

This is not an information revolution; it is information pollution. Perhaps, we must continually educate ourselves.

In fact, the generation for whom YouTube bloggers are the only icons, or parents who want their children to create a channel and achieve instant fame and money, or our famous gurus and politicians who are inseparable from their posts Twitter should be persuaded by great teachers to realize that, for example, Franz Kafka wrote “Metamorphosis” without rushing; or that without the intensity of the inner bubbling, it was not possible for Vincent van Gogh to paint the melancholic sunset; and the illuminating light that Ramana Maharshi’s silence used to radiate, no YouTube blogger can capture through their best camera.

Are we ready to take a break?

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