The modern gold rush
The internet feels like the modern gold rush. If you’re too late the party, all that’s left is hard work, disappointment and the occasional piece of fool’s gold. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about what is the reason that I write, that I draw, and that I create?
Headline after headline, blog after blog, tells me the only thing that we should do with our work is to monetise it. Create only to hook in readers and monetise their eyes. This is the attention economy. All of us shouting louder and louder, day in, day out, until it’s just one indecipherable cacophony of noise.
In the beginning
I’m 35. I saw the beginning or Facebook, the beginning of YouTube, the beginning of Twitter. I saw the first seeds of blogging sprouting up online. So I’ve questioned myself recently about why was I not an early adopter? And the answer came so clearly it was like I could finally hear myself over all the noise — because I like to create for no other reason other than the joy of creating.
Running a business is not for me. I’m good at it, I have all the right skills, but it doesn’t give me any joy at all. Monetising your work online is a business, and a relentless one at that. One where you’re always trying to be better, to be more frequent, to outperform competitors. A joyless race to an imagined holy grail where one day you can just sit back and relax. But how can you ever relax in a business model that keeps you on a treadmill ever increasing its speed? I often wonder what people’s get out plan is. If you make all your income through monetising your work online, how do you plan to stop? To finally slow down and enjoy life for what it is for — living?
This revelation also made me wonder about how we view writing these days. Are you only really a writer if you’re making money through your work? Is art only ‘real’ if it returns a profit? Being driven by money when you’re making art seems like the antitheses of artistic creation to me. But I very strongly believe that writers, artists and creators should be appreciated and paid to do what they love. So how do those two views work together I wonder?
Art for business’s sake
I realised there are two different models at work online. The first is the ‘art for business’ sake’ model. The attention economy runs on art, because as humans we want to see ourselves expressed in a multitude of ways, in ways we can’t necessarily express ourselves. We’re biologically designed to like art. So you get people who decide they want some of that internet gold rush money and ‘develop’ an art form only to make money. For me, this is what contributes to most of the noise on the internet. People whose motivations are primarily money, exploiting art to get your attention, in order to earn them money.
Art for art’s sake
But then there is a second model. This is what I call the ‘art for art’s sake’ model. This is where artists and writers have found a way to generate money for the art that they create no matter what. If the internet didn’t exist, they would be doing what they’re doing anyway. But this is a much, much smaller percentage of the people that are putting stuff out online. They are the seam of gold that you have to sift through the dirt for. They’re harder to find because their motivation is art first, and so the endless drudgery of monetising your work on the internet is much less appealing.
But when you find it, it’s like a lightning bolt. Something that speaks to you on a deeper level. Something that forms a connection between you and the artist across time and space. And it’s magical.
So what now?
As a consumer and a creator, I’ve decided to be more discerning in what I do. When I consume on a monetised platform, I’m going to find those golden artists and I’m going to support them with my views, my time and my money. And when I create, I will create for no other reason other than for the joy of doing it. And the internet now becomes just a tool for me to share this work with whoever might get some joy or some spark from it.
And as for monetisation? I think I’ll keep the day job thanks. I like regular pay, employee’s rights and pensions. And more than all of that, I like the space and the security it gives me to do what I love the most. Creating.
Stevie Cooke is a London-based writer and content creator. You can find out more about her at www.stevie-cooke.com