What Value One Voice In Seven Billion?
Obviously my first Medium post has to be a meta one like this… but it was on my shortlist of to-write-about topics already, honest!
If you’re this close to publishing your ideas, or more of your ideas, for wider/general consumption, but for whatever reason you’re stalling, here are some (hopefully encouraging) things to consider…
How could I possibly have anything original to say, there are so many ideas in the world already!
Yes, so many ideas that finding any particular one of them is, typically, as difficult as coming up with that idea afresh.
Whenever we choose to publish an idea, the primary meaning of that action is not to add to the world’s stock of unique knowledge: considering the breadth and depth of all human endeavour, it’s rather unlikely we’ve actually come up with something genuinely and meaningfully unique. In any case, most of the world is most unlikely to ever see our contribution, ever. Instead, what we are really doing is recommending that the people who are connected to us take a look, and potentially inviting them into dialogue and shared endeavour with us.
So, originality is often a red herring. Here are a few ways of thinking about originality that I find provoke my creativity rather than my despair:
So, the drift here is away from an unachievable sort of universal originality, and towards a more local, relevant, achievable kind of originality. The future (and the past!) are already here… just absolutely not evenly distributed. Every one of us has a vital role to play in distributing and contributing relevance into our communities.
Ok, so now I feel relegated to being a recommender. Why not just point people at existing ideas? Watch this film, read that blog, listen to this music. Why should I put my sweat and blood into the toil of handcrafting words, notes, photographs, films?
Well… actually, being a recommender is great! And comparatively easy! It’s absolutely worth doing that! That’s twitter’s whole raison d’être.
Beyond that though… what are the chances that the particular ideas we’ve stumbled across in our meander through life are exactly what we want to communicate to the people who might be listening to us?
The extent that what we want to communicate isn’t already sitting right in front of us waiting to be recommended is exactly (one element of) the extent that we should put effort into handcrafting and sharing ideas. Our voices bring fresh and hopefully relevant interpretation to our audiences.
In the cacophony of 7.4 billion other voices, we act as explorer-delegates for our communities, going out there and collecting relevant stuff from amongst the dross, and translating that for use in our communities. Our creative voices shine the fruits of our experiences and explorations through the prisms of our unique selves. In these information-overloaded times, community and community story-telling is vital to our personal and collective sanity and quality of life.
What if I don’t know who my audience is, or what communities I’m part of? Who should I write/publish/share for?
Unless we’re trying to get paid, or otherwise wildly successful, at being a content provider 💩, I think it’s likely that knowing our audience isn’t hugely important, and is an organic thing that will just become apparent over time as we publish more stuff.
My personal attitude to the question of audience is… first and foremost, I am my own audience. The intersection between my interests and other people’s interests is where any potential following lies.
When I create purely for myself, disregarding the interests of others, I develop my skills, and am exploring inwardly. This is the private work of personal growth. We might choose to make this available to others if we’re sufficiently un-self-conscious… who knows, somebody might find it interesting! The timing of what’s relevant to our own personal growth may be likely to be synchronised with what’s relevant to the personal growth of our followers… after all, they’re interested in us for a reason…
When I create for myself and others, in areas of mutual interest, I am at risk of developing a following. In our vapid culture of celebrity, when we’re not paying attention, we tend to look up at the people who have acquired gargantuan followings (usually in rather contrived/manufactured ways). But that’s not where the interest for most of us lies. 1000 true fans is a much more interesting sort of proposition than 10 million.
(I also feel that seeking after a following is something to be suspicious of… when the student is ready, the master appears. When I have something worth listening to, an audience will develop naturally. When I’m working on something of value, other people will naturally get interested too. Hankering after an audience for its own sake probably points to some personal issues that I might want to work on… Personally I’d like to be more interested in collaborators than a following.)
Finally, we should be very wary of creating purely for others, outside of our own interests and relevance. This is a tragic sort of self-sacrifice that tends to be a disservice to everyone involved. It’s one definition of an unfulfilling job…
So, what value one voice in seven billion? In absolute terms, vanishingly little. In terms of the community of that voice… a lot!