The death of posting personal works

As obvious as it may sound, I’m finally realizing that the reason I stopped wanting to post my personal work, make TikToks, vlogs, anything that COULD be easy “low effort” stuff is because even when trying to be “authentic”, everything has to be a performance now. And I’m tired of it.

But the “performance” side of things is impossible to avoid if you want anything to come of your work. This wasn’t always the case.

In the 90s, art and videos were made to share with friends. You could submit something to a magazine; if published, people would enjoy it or respond to it, but weren’t too concerned with the name behind the work (if you weren’t a regular contributor). You might have something you made shared on forums in a pseudo “viral” way, but you had more control over it. Or at least, over the attention you received from it.

In the early 00s, you shared things you made more openly and publicly online, but everything was still mostly anonymous. All that mattered was the work, the meme, the impact. When was the last time you saw an image, poem or blog post, video, anything get a ton of attention without it being very obvious who made it? You may not personally know who made it, but it’s highly unlikely you’ve seen something like this in recent years that isn’t branded or pointed to an existing, sustained social account in some way.

Jump to about 2008 and it started being about the person and “following” them. It became a matter of persona, a skill of performance. This was a slow change. It wasn’t immediate, and we still saw plenty of breakout/viral hits from people that we’d never hear from again. But as memes and viral videos got shared, a foundation of “influencer culture” was being laid. Brick by brick, the basic vloggers and comedy skit channels started posting consistently and asking for “subscribers”, followed by gamers and later makeup and beauty creators. By 2010, the idea of “being a YouTuber” had already been solidified – with plenty of kids and teens like myself completely swept up in the idea that we could do something that had our name attached to it online for a long time and have it last beyond a Halo: CE clan leaderboard or short-run Pokémon Elite 2000 forum signature egg shop.

And today.. it’s EASY to find a following and garner success by just consistently sharing your work over time and building it up. Want to get “famous” online as an artist, comedian, photographer, whatever? Just post at least 3 times weekly to the most trendy apps for that specific content type with a consistent username that points to where you are elsewhere, use some clever hashtags or trending sounds, and… wait. Look back in a couple years and see how far you’ve gone. This rarely doesn’t work, other than with people who still have a lot of development left to do in their field.

There are far fewer obstacles in my way for getting what I want with my other work than ever before, and yet motivation has vanished because of the performance aspect. It’s no longer about making cool work and sharing it, it’s about making a show out of it.

In a way, this has 100% democratized many creative fields and made it more accessible than ever to find an audience and have your voice heard. There’s good in that, I will never deny it. It changed my life for the better in ways I can’t even begin to describe.

But with that, it removed so much meaning from the work. While it does still happen, the average person who gains a following for doing a thing isn’t doing so because they make work that stands out the most, speaks to more people with meaning, or is the most skillfully-crafted. It’s the people who play the game. It’s a sales job.

Secrets to success:

Want to gain a following for photography?

  1. Post photos at least 3 times a week to Instagram, Threads, Twitter, and start hosting your own portfolio (probably with some YouTuber’s sponsor code for SquareSpace).

  2. CONSTANTLY be posting YouTube Shorts and TikToks about the “skills you NEED to know to take better photos” consisting of the most basic Photography 101 tips on lighting, composition, understanding shutter speed and ISO. Bonus points if you keep pitching it as a crusade against “gatekeeping”

  3. Constantly show that you’re using a Sony or Fuji camera. You’ll recognize the position of how to hold it on-camera and eventually your muscle memory will develop to the extent that you’ll always hold your camera about neck high, at an angle to reveal the logo, even when you’re not filming Shorts.

  4. Don’t worry about not knowing what you’re doing. Go somewhere pretty or find a hot model friend to shoot, make new Shorts every time you learn even the most basic thing about photography, and teach it as if you’re an expert who’s cracked the code.

  5. Make sure at least once a month you recreate trendy photos that flood your Instagram and all look the same – you never know when someone will pick your downtown Chicago sunset out of the sea of them and happen to follow you. [Just don’t be offended when you see them in the comments of someone else’s similar photo thinking it was you they were talking to.]

  6.  Be sure to spend as much time as possible hyping up new camera and lens releases, debating camera brands with strangers online, and posting your hot takes no one asked for.

That’s it. I’ve seen hundreds (maybe thousands at this point) of photographers gain millions of followers and turn their “Babbie’s First DSLR” experience into more gear than they know what to do with it and more success than countless lifetime photographers (who don’t want to play the game) will ever do.

Copy and paste these instructions to every niche and topic.

It’s easy. Too easy. Perhaps that lack of difficulty is contributing to the lower motivation, too. I did start my “successful” phase of my career trying to break down walls and make things easier for everyone, so I should want this – but I do enjoy problem solving, and it feels the problems to solve anymore are not ones I like the answers to.

You’ll notice that very little in that list involved taking photos or focusing on improving them. Part of that is because it’s inherent to being a photographer, but also because it’s not required. There’s a baseline minimal level you have to do to maintain the content, but you don’t even have to TRY to become a great photographer to become famous for it anymore.

[Again, photography is just used as an example, this applies to virtually everything online.]

Instead, you have to master the performance. Master chasing trends, inciting argument, getting the attention on you, not your work.

When I go on a trip with my family packing a camera and a lens, the last thing I want to have to think about is the performance. I don’t want to turn my family or my relaxation time into “content.” I don’t even want to make “content.” My photography is my way of preserving memories and creating art. The same applies copypasta’d to my glitchart, design work, cinematography and videography desires, creative writing, etc. Obviously I develop many of my creative skills for and apply them in ways that benefits my job from time to time, but I don’t want that to be the sole purpose for them.

When I’m “on the clock” I perform. I do my job. But then my other stuff I do – even if I WANT to be able to turn it into parts of the job – I don’t want to perform. I don’t want to minmax hashtags & posting times & deal w/ a new influx of toxic comments that to argue with… I just want to make cool shit.

A lot of this is a “me problem” but a lot of it is what I see every artist go through.

As a social media newbie, they post their work as they make it around school/job, build a following, go full time with their shop and TikTok ads and affiliate links, then burn out due to all the *other* stuff that comes with it. They stop making art with anywhere near as much frequency or meaning.

I don’t want to end up there. Being able to create online, share it, help others learn how to do it and get past their hurdles towards being able to do this, it all matters too much to me. 

But I just can’t do it.

I can’t do the persona game. The other guys might be happy to “make a channel about me but pretending it’s to teach you stuff” (paraphrased, but nearly the exact quote from a fellow creator in my primary niche) but I can’t. I can’t scam people, I can’t lie to them, manipulate them. To me the work is what matters, not the cult of personality.

I’d be selling it short to suggest that it’s only the persona part that makes it a performance. Performance is inherent to the very process of posting anything anymore. You have to filter it, make it look good enough, trim it, add flair, do something, and at the very least you have to post it to a platform (if you want eyes on it) that is designed around personal branding, farming likes and followers, and “engagement.” It’s not “difficult to avoid” the performance issue, it’s impossible. You cannot post something to a modern platform without it coming into play. 

Whether it’s a caption, title, tags, thumbnail, editing, cleaning up (or re-cluttering as the new trend goes) your space, making yourself look decent, making sure you have your thoughts together, it’s always there.

Some of it’s a natural part of making something people want to consume. Why would anyone listen to audio you didn’t cut out yelling at your neighbor’s dog to shut up or you mom coming into your room, or watch a video that has a minute of you sitting down and getting ready to talk after you hit record? (Much of early YouTube was like these two examples anyway.) 

It’s always there. I can’t just post a cool photo I took, some thoughts I’ve had, a cool video idea without at minimum, formatting it for the platform it’s going on, and almost always without always being tempted by the notification counter of Likes or the persistence of comments and replies. 

I’ve been driven my entire career life to share my passions and my work with others, yet I literally cannot do so without worrying about performance – else I’d be out of a job. And nothing kills my motivation to post low-effort (but still interesting, based on how many others I’ve seen pop up posting clones of the kinds of stuff I’d want to post) clips to TikTok like that dread that inevitably I’ll be hit with a wave of dumbass 16 year olds who want to argue that I’m wrong about things I’ve been teaching since before they were born, just because I don’t have a million followers or something.

This line of thinking put a concrete ceiling above my head that I’ll never break through. It’s my fault, but it’s still there. I hate being put in a box on a micro level, but on the macro… I boxed myself in big time.

A self-imposed ceiling still feels claustrophobic if you don’t want to compromise your values to get rid of it.

The key to mass success and surviving making “content” online is to adapt, and it’s become blindingly obvious that adapting is not something I do anymore. And there will be consequences for that.

And it’s no coincidence that I struggle with this more and more as evidence shows younger generations don’t even bother trying to consume meaningful work anymore and big corpo wants to replace us with AI. Honestly, I don’t take it personally that the tech bros want to do this – they have been obsessed with “disrupting” (which doesn’t mean what they think it means nor has the impact they think it does) every market under the sun for decades. It’s not personal. But what I do take offense to is that people are okay consuming it. 

I’ve spent most of my day ruminating on these thoughts and putting words to the existential dread that comes with them. It might not be much, but these are my true, honest feelings and processing of how things are changing have changed. It has meaning, meaning to me as the writer. Meaning to you as the reader who might share a similar current experience, past experiences, or gut feeling you couldn’t describe. Meaning to the future as it might predict changes I make in what I do and how I do it as the years progress.

But why would you read something like this written by AI? Willingly? The AI hasn’t lived, it hasn’t felt, it hasn’t decided what is right and what is wrong. It just reads what other people have wrote and colored-by-numbers its way into some filler text to take up the page.

Why would I read what nobody has bothered to write? Why would I feel something about a thought that no one actually had?

This isn’t about AI. If anything, it’s more about the progression of capitalism and the commoditization of art and creativity. It’s about getting old, not keeping up with the times. But ultimately, it’s about meaning and feeling.

If we don’t care, who will?

That’s why I can’t see, to post my personal work anymore. It’s why I shoot nearly a thousand photographs a year (on film and digital), why I’m trying to learn to sing, why I play around with synthesizers and circuit bent analog video gear, why I try to master my videography craft as I turn my space into my dream cyberspace void, why I write and write and write and cannot seem to bother to post it anywhere if it’s not in a work video.

My dreams could easily come true if I just posted a photo every day, if I just made a couple Shorts/TikToks a week on my cool creative projects behind the scenes. If I just submitted my writing to more places, tried getting in art galleries, shilled NFTs or something.

But I’m not sure I’m capable. I might die one day, with a digital vault full of work, thought, idea, meaning – all screaming to be seen and heard – that will eventually succumb to bitrot and never see the light of day. This isn’t the old times, my work won’t find its way into museums and become “classics” after I depart this material plane onto the next. It’ll just dissolve into nothing. Because the work doesn’t matter anymore, all that matters is who has the charisma and salesmanship to push the least amount of effort in front of the most amount of people.

— Addie Find me everywhere at Mastodon Business Inquiry email _Tips here!