Year Thirteen

Today’s Tune: Long Live Everyone I Know by Plasma Cutter

I had a bit of a revelation last year. I stopped caring so much about numbers. You can probably pin some of that on COVID-19 stretching into its third year and uncountable number of surges even as much of the country has decided the pandemic is over and everything is normal again, but it becomes easy to lose track of time and even what day it is as everything blends together. Perhaps that extended into other parts of my life, though I think this was something that was always in the back of my mind. The last few years, and this year in specific, have put those thoughts into far greater focus. I think Year Thirteen will be a look at the future. Let me explain.

Year Eleven was a nostalgic look back at the past. It was reflections on the start of, and inspirations for, my “Thing A Day” project, what had me begin on my first real attempt at a webcomic, and recent events that made me unsure about what the future held but made me want to hold tight to the people around me who I cared about and who cared about me. It drove home a sense that we can still have the back of our community, and that they can have ours, even if things feel like they’re crumbling around us. It was a reminder, mostly to myself, that there’s still something to hold on to, a tiny way to keep spirits up. Hope where there seems to be none.

Year Twelve was a frustrated look at the present. Lamenting the current landscape of social media and how COVID-19 changed the way we interacted with each other, it’s not a blog I’m particularly proud of. Every word dripping with frustration about NFTs, how social media coalesced into a handful of sites, and anger over still being in a pandemic that felt like it could have been stopped. I like to think I mellowed out a bit since then, though I certainly couldn’t have predicted how the rest of the year would shake out from when I wrote that blog. To be honest, of all the things that could happen, I was surprised at the Twitter takeover the most (and that it still somehow works as of this writing). I ditched it a few months ago and haven’t looked back.

But without getting too in the weeds, here we are, on Year Thirteen. Just one day removed – more or less – from the start of the Thing A Day project back on January 3rd, 2011. Hardly the start of my artistic journey, but the day that really made it all that much more clear. There’s plenty that’s happened in this past year, but I want to drill down on what I mentioned at the start. I stopped caring so much about numbers, and I want to care even less moving forward. It seems to me that a lot of our daily lives and social media, in particular, are gamified around making a number go up. Then two videos drifted into my orbit: Influencer Courses are Garbage: The Dark Side of Content Creation by Super Eyepatch Wolf and Line Goes Up – The Problem With NFTs by Folding Ideas (Dan Olson). Do me a favor and click on both of those real quick. You don’t have to watch them right now, of course (though I absolutely think you should make time for both).

Now… I want you to consider something. Did you look at the number of subscribers for each of those channels? Did your eyes automatically check to see how many views each video has? I know mine did. There’s a certain irony to “Influencer Courses are Garbage”, because the video is not so much about the courses themselves, but rather the way that we interact with social media and how one becomes an influencer. It’s about how that wears someone down constantly obsessing over numbers and data, how it changes your brain to try to become an algorithm that serves content, and how easy it is to get lost in the endless chase to make a line go up. To quote Dan Olson’s video completely out of context: “it’s good when the line goes up.” It’s odd to see human worth condensed down to a number. I felt myself doing that, too, and I didn’t like it. It was easy to tell myself that my art was just for the sake of creating things, but something felt off. It was hard not to check notifications, to see if there were new followers, to see how many likes, or retweets, or reblogs something got. It became a bit of an obsession, and I don’t know exactly when that started. It’s probably been happening for longer than I realize.

I also kept an eye on the number of viewers my Twitch stream had more than I’d care to admit after getting Affiliate (and what little monetization comes with that). What was originally intended to be fun times with friends and a record of us taking on new challenges in FFXIV raids was slowly creeping up as a Thing that had to be Content.

And so, I made a choice. It started with turning off the numbers on Twitch streams. Not just hiding them, as it gives you the option to hover over something to see what the status is. They’re gone completely so that even the slightest temptation can’t be acted on. It’s certainly done wonders for my focus – as fractured as it is – when doing streams.

But it was way more than that. For a minute, I tried TikTok, putting a single timelapse on the platform and watching it get a little over 1,000 views in a matter of hours (before coming to a hard stop pretty soon after). For a moment I was ecstatic – views! So many views! I’d never get that kind of viewership on other platforms! But it really hit me in that moment how much of my focus was on just that – the number of people viewing. Did people appreciate it? Did they care? Why did I care so much about that number going up? It made me question if I was making something because it was fun to make. In this case it was, I enjoyed every moment of it. But I could feel myself starting to lean towards making something in the future because of its value as content to be consumed. So that a number could go up.

Over the past several months, I worked to break myself free of that. I’ve started to worry less about the numbers. I realized I got way more out of putting my art out there for people to appreciate across a variety of places with the hopes that people enjoy it. Maybe it was fortunate timing that I did so just a few months before Twitter began what looks like will be a long, drawn-out collapse. For a long time, I thought about how to create to get people’s attention, to improve my standing among other artists and obsess over how I stacked up against those that felt like they had massive followings and huge success. If there’s one thing that came out of that, it was a renewed drive to use the account I had left sitting unused, and a push towards Cohost, and both feel like proper communities where I can interact with others rather than throwing another piece of Content into the ocean to be swallowed up.

These days, I do my best to make things I like and hope others appreciate it, too. After Thing A Day ended, I think I swung too hard towards showing final pieces instead of works in progress. Moving forward, I want to share what I’m working on, the sketches, the rough drafts, the things that don’t go anywhere, the timelapses, the final art. I want to show people how the moving parts of my streams come together. I want, more than anything, to invite others in to my artistic and creative journeys. Not for the sake of numbers, but for the sake of the joy it brings me and hopefully others around me.

There is one number I like to keep track of, still – the number of days I’ve been at this. I don’t think about it every day, but it’s fun to pull up for moments like this. I guess if there was any take-away I’d want to include at the end of this, it’s to follow your passions in life. Do what you can to keep at what makes you happy. Don’t be afraid to try something new that catches your interest, and don’t worry so much about the numbers. You never know where you’ll end up 4,382 days later.