The point in history, June 1883. The place, the magazine, The Chautauquan. The words; "If a tree were to fall on an island where there were no human beings, would there be any sound?"
Well, dear reader, I can almost hear the tension in your eyes. I've only just started and am I about to launch into a discussion, nay, a dissection of those very words, from a Metaphysical viewpoint? Surely it would be remiss of me, not to mention the 18th century philosopher George Berkeley? Perhaps if not by name, then by exploring the subjective idealism of the statement? Well then, perhaps we should take a moment to explore Albert Einstein's physics-based response to that very same, almost poetically expressed, moment of prose?
Of course we're not; you know me better than that. No, we are not even going to talk about trees. Nope, somewhat obviously, I am going to talk about Instagram ...
To start with, if you don't know what Instagram is, then I do wonder how you've even managed to subscribe to this regular column.
It's all about the clicks; the clicks on the 'gram. I'm not a big poster myself, I'm more of a consumer of its content. I am an avid clicker, though. Scroll, double tap, scroll, repeat endlessly until you run out of time or your boss shouts at you. The double tap assigns a heart/like to the square image. It is a micro confirmation that the image is "worthy". The greater the number, obviously, the better.
It's not much a leap to imagine the post-reward-stress-check loop-trap that is in play here. There are people who will delete posts, if they don't get what they think is an appropriate level of "worth". It's a real problem.
But that isn't what I want to talk about.
Think for a moment of the photo itself. Specifically, the "worth" value of that photo... just before it's posted on the 'gram? By the measure we have expressed above, it surely should have a worth-value of zero; no clicks yet.
Mmm, that doesn't feel right, does it? I mean, you have already decided to post it, so it must have some value. Perhaps it is a different, lesser type-value measurement. Perhaps it has a "value" beforehand, that is then overridden once it appears online? Yes, that must be it.
Let's see if that works with words.
Well yes, it does. For me, the process of creating words goes something like this. 1 - I think of something random, as described in my piece Creative Place. 2 - Start writing it. 3 - Hope that as I am writing it, the conclusion will present itself before I run out of words. 4 - Format & share.
At 12 noon on every Tuesday, it is freshly delivered to you. Then starts a rather frantic pressing of the refresh button by me, to see if anyone is actually bothered to open and read it. After 25 hours, I get an automated email detailing the stats.
It's kind of stressful.
You can see how the create-post-reward loop is similar to the 'gram.
Surely that is just a do-reward loop. We all know they are a good thing? I mean, that is how you teach a dog (of any age) to do tricks.
If the tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
If I took a photo, and no one, and I mean not another living soul, ever saw it ... Or I wrote some words, and no one ever read them ...
What value is placed in those examples? The value placed on the photo before it is posted to the 'gram, is based on the intent to post. It's different, but it is based on the potential action. The same pattern works for a body of words.
What happens if there is no intent, and no audience? Does that mean that the photo or words have no value?
That doesn't right to me. It feels like it has a value. That value measurement is not based on a potential or actual audience. It is based on an internal, my eyes only, proposition. We instinctively know this.
Why do people delete photos and words that don't have a high enough worth value?
The answer to the question is about the tree falling, and does it make a sound? ... The answer is actually No. It does not make a sound.
You see, sound relies on having an audience. It is an expression of the effect of someone hearing it. No someone, no sound.
Hang on though, the tree does still fall? I mean, we are surely not saying that just because the tree doesn't have a sound, that the tree doesn't actually fall?
Of course we aren't saying that! The tree most definitely does fall.
Nigel, I'm getting confused about all this. It all sounds dangerously close to metaphysics, and you said that we weren't going to talk about that ...!
OK, deep breath; I'm almost out of words.
Measuring a falling tree purely by the sound it makes is just as absurd as measuring a photo just by the size of its audience. The tree still falls; the photo is still taken.
We spend an awful lot of our time pausing, hesitating, stopping, from doing creative things before we have even started them. Based on the perceived audience value. Based on the other-people value. Based on the approval of others. We constantly use that kind of measurement.
The tree is still a fallen tree. Your creative expression is still your expression. The fallen tree, and your expression, are both independent of their external measurement.
Stop worrying and measuring. The only true measurement for your creative expression is that inward sense. That internal wonderment. The pure sense of self-worth, of creating something.
This body of words exists, even if no one ever reads it. I kind of like the purity of that.
I'm a carbon-unit who writes; a Carbon Writer. Life & culture are my default topics, mixed with a little English wit & sarcasm. Full of mostly true stories, I occasionally remember to write them down. Found in a crowd, or contemplating in a corner. Habit of talking to anyone. Author.
- Nigel Derbyshire