by Jeremy Johnson
I’ve always considered myself a bit of a Luddite. I used to state this proudly but I’ve grown to feel a bit uneasy with this mindset as I look at the rapidly changing world around me. Ironically, I got some quick background on the original tem by Googling it and reading up on the Wikipedia entry; “Luddites were a social movement of British textile artisans in the 19th century who protested, often by destroying mechanized looms, against the changes produced by the Industrial Revolution, which they felt were leaving them without work and changing their way of life.”
I know how they feel.
As much as I struggle to incorporate new technologies into my life, I find I have just as difficult time translating these new forms and resources into my career as a theatre artist. I’m not completely lost in the cyber world; I enjoy having a Facebook account and I finally learned to text a while back. I have never blogged or Tweeted anything and I don’t know what an App is. I feel somewhat stuck in the middle of this new technological revolution; interested in some of the advancements but slow to follow the crowd and unsure of its uses.
I am currently reading Crush It! Cash in on Your Passion by Gary Vaynerchuk and while the macho, frat-boy, cyber-slang (“biz-dev” and “he’s totally killing it with his awesome content!”) make me a bit nauseous, the author still has some interesting points to make. This is not the first book to tell me that I need to consider myself, my passions and my ideas as my own “personal brand”. As distasteful as I find this idea I am attempting to let go of my judgments and preconceived notions while I absorb the reasoning. Vaynerchuk posits that becoming an expert in your field and using every available form of social media can potentially lead to attracting the attention of those that can hire you and give you additional opportunities to “strengthen your brand equity.”
Thinking of myself in the same terms as a Nike sneaker or a bottle of Gatorade is a disturbing thought. It feels as if there is an inordinate amount of focus on the packaging or exterior when dealing with ourselves in this way. Have we moved from self-improvement to self-packaging? Although the author stresses authenticity is that really possible with this approach? At what point am I boxing myself in so that I’m only thought of as directing a certain type of play? How does the artist use these forms of social media to support their career without oversimplifying their identity down to 140 characters?
As you can tell, I’ve struggled through this book, however I hit a paragraph that chilled me and is forcing me to reexamine my point of view; “If you’re not using Twitter because you’re in the camp that believes it’s stupid, you’re going to lose out. It doesn’t matter if you think it’s stupid, it’s free communication. That in and of itself has value and you should take advantage of it.” It is easy for me to judge the communication and think it worthless or superficial but I am in a business that relies on communication of all kinds.
I am the first to admit that I have grown to love following my friends’ lives and careers through social media and I have seen many theatre companies embrace these tools as well. I have read stories of artists documenting their work and reaching potential donors through YouTube. In coming to terms with this new and intimidating technology I’ve decided that the best approach should be the creative one. Rather than looking down my nose at these changes, how can I use these various tools in the ways that I choose to use them? We are in an exciting and new landscape of no rules. There is no “one way” to do anything and as artists it’s our responsibility to learn the new technologies in order to expand what they can do. Up until now, I’ve feared that I have to change myself to meet the technology rather than change the technology to meet my own individual needs.
A quick look back at my predecessors is enough to get me thinking. In 1813 in York, England three Luddites continued to fight progress and after killing a mill-owner were hanged in the public square.
Excuse me, I’m going to go check out that Tumblr website again.
About the author
Jeremy Johnson is a director living in Boston, MA.