Can the Metaverse Save Creativity?
Relentless activity and immediate gratification have become the hallmarks of our culture but what’s it doing to our creativity? To be perfectly blunt, it’s killing it. Commodified digital life is a world of incessant input and rapid reward. I don’t say this as an indictment. I share it as my own experience of being a creative who lives an avid social media life. I admit, I’m a total sucker for TikTok’s A.I. algorithm and its ability to share thoughtfully curated content, that sometimes feels like the app is a pal. I have friends, followers, and networkers on Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn. I get it.
But there are drawbacks. Major ones. Because the dopamine hits from social media gesturing — -“likes”, “thumbs-ups”, “retweets”, “DMs” and of course “hearts” — have rewired our brains, for the worse. Our sense of self, and the way we perceive pleasure; these things are connected to hormones and neurotransmitters that are currently being tampered with by digital life. Lucidity is vital for our species to progress, to express, and create but our minds are being recoded to only seeking value in virtual validations of self. Instead of allowing our psyches the introspective room to expand, we are instead becoming a society reliant on a hollow external world, constantly meeting out clicks for us to feel self-worth.
There Is No “Instant”
When you’re trying to create something beautiful or work that will change people’s perceptions, there is no instant reward. I’ve learned that creativity takes unwavering faith, a sense of wonder, and focused patience. It also takes a modicum of ego and of course, a sprinkling of insanity to make things as an artist that will blow people’s minds. I’m a multidisciplinary creator who ran my own studio for eleven years and am currently the A.I. Director at Seyhan Lee. I know there is no instant return on the creative process. You have to endure pain, frustration, and crisis in order to innovate. Suffering the slings and arrows of a theory gone awry in execution takes a warrior mentality.
Dopamine Dependent Disease
Are you a writer or a painter crippled with self-doubt? A digital creator depleted of ideas? It might be because you’ve already become addled to the dopamine-degenerating algorithms of web 2.0 and their effect on your physiology. When the artist shifts her/his focus from “posting for likes” to authentic inquiry, then the quality of artistic work returns to the authenticity of an interior experience, one away from external shallowness. This can only get trickier as the metaverse expands. Fully immersive, optic, haptic, and auditory senses will extend graphic and world-building possibilities so that what we currently refer to as the “real” world will come to include the unreal, sub-real, non-real, hyper-real, surreal, and real+, and…it will all be “real.” So, we’ll have to become sensory masters to maintain sovereignty over our value in illusory space.
Great Things Happen When You Let Them
When I was younger, I could be the most irascible person you’d ever met. If astrology is to be consulted, then Aries, my sign, is known as the most impatient one of the Zodiac. When it comes to motivation, ego, communication, impulse, and even love — they are all ruled by Aries in my case. Basically, you couldn’t win an impatience contest versus me. As an artist, I constantly strove to shorten the time it took to finish a creative project. Why the haste? Because for the past ten years, web 2.0 influenced what I valued: the instant gratification of other people validating me. You could say it was the Aries in me, but I pathologically needed a social media response like a painkiller, and it was every bit as addicting as an opioid. I needed some sort of psychic rehab so I decided to work with a Turkish spiritual teacher based in Istanbul.
Until my work with her, I did NOT consider patience a virtue.
In time though, her guidance revealed how my belabored efforts to be “done”, to be “sold”, to be “collected”, all of it “ASAP!” — had done exactly zero to make me feel fulfilled or accomplished. Over the ensuing months, I came to understand the quality of patience not as an unhurried state but as freedom from time. The way we can shackle ourselves to linear milestones constricts our perception and use of time. It limits us. I’ve come to realize that my art is better when I choose to embrace the unknown, unconditionally. The je ne se quois I’d really been seeking all along was unattachment; a removal of preoccupation with the outcome so that I was present in a mindset of complete trust.
A recent example of applying this pivot in my approach is these two documentary series and TV drama projects currently in the works at Seyhan Lee. It’s been two years (and will likely be more until air) but I no longer waste any emotional energy on that version of time. TV programming is a meandering road that takes a while: consensus, research, strategy, global teams, rewrites, rewrites, rewrites. It’s going to progress at its own pace. And now I just trust it. It’s so freeing! I’m just joyful about the whole process no matter what. It’s kind of like making a soufflé. You can’t be frustrated with how long it’s going to take…it’s a soufflé! You have to honor the time it’s going to take to bake this confection perfection. It is that difference in perspective that has made all the difference.
In Gary Lachman’s book, Swedenborg: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas, about the Swedish theologian, scientific and mystic, I learned that Swedenborg defined paradise not as an Eden of idyll but as a place of work. It’s not a place of cherubs strumming harps (yawn) but rather a state where everyone has a “use” connected to aspiration for higher organization, deeper self-consciousness, and truer self-understanding. These days, most of our “use” is applied to taking augmented selfies and the nanosecond market fluctuations of NFT doodles. Most of us are not being very “useful” as Swedenborg would have us. But I’m remaining optimistic. Web3 has the potential to facilitate conscious self-inquiry for a better world and I hope that’s its dominant direction rather than further entanglement with a constant stream of action-reaction currently keeping us as far from paradise as possible.
Don’t Get Ill On Illusion
Keep it real, really. As lines blur between virtual and IRL, we must master our senses to be more attuned to creating a metaverse of opportunities that connect us to solve global problems and move strides forward. Don’t get me wrong. I kind of love the idea of spending “reality” at the Costa Rican seaside in my VR goggles but when all is said and done, I think I still rather just be feeling the sun on my skin in actual Costa Rica. Doesn’t hurt to virtually farm some blockchain product from the laptop using a cool NFT avatar from the cabana though. The key is just to keep our minds hip to the difference between escape and escapism.
Creators Create Value
I am not an economist but I completely understand the true value of our species. We make things; to make things better, faster, stronger, and safer. We create solutions that change destinies and save lives. To become the futurist society of our most hopeful sci-fi narratives, we need to do away with the human-limiting dangers of instant and constant. So can the Metaverse save creativity? No. Waiting for a savior outside of ourselves is the grandest of all illusions. Instead, we must refocus on nurturing our creativity to reject false mirrors of gratification and embrace the elation of the authentic human experience.
The Stanford Marshmallow experiment is a brilliant showcase of patience and delayed gratification for greater results. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yo4WF3cSd9Q