Discover more from Jim Kroft
The Creative's Guide to the Digital Dilemma
Seizing Opportunities without Losing Yourself
How do we seize the opportunity of the digital economy while keeping mentally sane?
The trouble we have is that getting a kickback from the digital world means an extraordinary time commitment to it.
We recognise there’s an opportunity there and are attracted to it like moths to flames - but know we risk being burnt, badly.
Since I made the choice between either deleting or embracing social media, my relationship with it has improved greatly.
Because I’ve based it around these three principles
keeping it fun
having no expectations
All that said, when we spent time in the digital world, part of our spirit gets accosted by it.
How do we navigate this perilous reality, this reality which rewards and admonishes in equal measure, which lures and offers so much yet threatens to fragment the tenuous unity we’ve worked so hard to achieve?
For me, it’s a space I have to take great care of.
The digital world lures you to gaze at your screen, without knowing why, as if there’s something missing in your life.
Like Neo in The Matrix, you just don’t know what.
Even if what you find is only a vacuum and an endless search, deep down, you know that the thing you are missing can only be found inside yourself.
This year I’ve observed myself and it’s sharpened my awareness of my own experience.
I turned myself into a personal laboratory, delving deeper into the experience's true essence, breaking it down, distilling it, and analyzing it. I’ve hoped that some of my insights might be valuable to others and appreciated the generosity of feedback I’ve had online (read here)
One thing I'm certain of is that the modern Self has been profoundly affected by its limited awareness of how its digital avatar is shaping its understanding of itself and the world.
My investigation has lead me to the work of Jean Baudrillard, and specifically to the idea of Simulacrum.
The problem I have with Baudrillard is that his language is so hyper-intellectualised that it loses the impact of the brilliant ideas he’s exploring.
So I want to break down a few of these into more lucid formulations because I think they’re really instructive.
UNDERSTANDING WHY YOU’RE IN A DIGITAL FLUNK
I think it is helpful to understand “Simulacrum” not as a fixed idea, but as representative of a process.
Below is a breakdown of that process.
Please note that I am substituting Baudrillard's concept of an "object" with the notion of a "digital avatar" dispersed in the cyber realm (as he wrote before the advent of the digital age).
“Simulacrum” is the copying of an idea into an alternate reality.
The represented object (consider this as your digital avatar in this context) undergoes a distortion or exaggeration. In this phase, the original is enhanced or altered to heighten its appeal or impact
The enhanced object (your avatar) is then replicated across platforms and posts. This multiplication makes it more persuasive through its ubiquity (i.e because its everywhere)
As the digital self proliferates across the digital sphere it begins to detach from its original referent. This is a profoundly dangerous moment for the modern psyche. Why? Because the link between the self and its simulated counterpart begins to weaken or even sever - leading to a loss of connection between the two.
At this point, our digital avatar gains a type of autonomy. It is no longer attached to the original self but gains a life of its own. We’ve become what we’ve created to such a degree that it no longer reflects the origin (us!)
The result of this process?
The utter fragmentation of the modern psyche. We see it manifest in two clear ways:
First, the digital realm presents a tormenting dilemma for those who opt out of participating. There is a pervasive sense that one should be present in this "hyper-reality" because it has become so deeply intertwined with modern life. Not engaging in this game leaves us feeling excluded. Thus our non-digitalised self is confronted by the potential digital self we might become if we choose to participate: forming a sense of real-world unease.
The second manifestation of this issue is the profound mental struggle faced by both teenagers and celebrities. While some may perceive it as an unrelated matter, I believe the problem stems from the same core issue. Our immersion in the digital realm leads us to be consumed by a detached version of ourselves, one that exists separate from our authentic selves. This detachment erodes our sense of integration and undermines the foundation of our identity.
Celebrities are particularly tormented by the hyperreality of existing simultaneously in the minds of millions and within their own minds. On the other hand, teenagers face the peril of becoming digitally defined before they’ve ever had the opportunity to develop a genuine sense of self.
And so we arrive in the modern Simulacrum.
We are, and yet we are not. We are here, but we are also there. We exist, but no longer in our own bodies. We've been cyberized and we didn't even notice.
The problem lies in the fact that our digital avatars consistently project an idealized version of us. They depict a representation of who we aspire to be but have not yet become.
We fall into the impossible trap of never being able to live up to who we present ourselves as being.
As if we gave birth to a future self before we walked the road to become it.
And the trouble is that you cannot be something without first becoming it first. We need our trials, we need our tribulations, we need our setbacks, obstacles, pain points and rebirths.
The digital self is always the temptation because it’s the easy path. And matter how conscientious we are, it remains other.
This is the Simulacrum so many live in and are tortured by.
So how do we deal with this conundrum; this simulating of the self?
We have to gravitate ourselves in the real world.
The way the digital self gains primacy over the true Self is by fragmenting it.
This manifests through the abolition of our ability to concentrate.
And if you can’t be free of distraction, free of the allure of the false promise, the dopamine hit, you’ll never recover the sense of control which is so critical in the formulation of a living sense of self.
Beyond this, what matters is how you choose to express yourself in the digital realm.
You have to have the guts to express yourself authentically.
I don’t mean this dumping of our whole lives either. If we have no sense of containment - of understanding what is personal and what is public, we lose ourselves entirely to the simulation.
I think courage for authenticity is a sweet spot.
This is all about how we choose to interact.
What does this mean?
For me, it is about the following
Sharing the process
The process is not ideal; it is ugly, daring, fragmented, unclear, bound with breakthroughs and butchered by breakdown.
Becoming who you are
In life, we are trying to become something; to become that which we are. The digital realm must not distract but complement this journey. If you’re losing yourself to an idealised avatar, you are lacerating your own potential. Be careful of any falsification of Self.
Odyssey, not Outcome
What makes us interesting is not outcomes but the way we get to them. Why are so many bored with the digital realm? Because you can’t get a sense of anything from the idealisation of everything. We’re so obsessed with our ideal that we only express ready-made outcomes. That’s not where the good stuff lies! The good stuff is in the odyssey of our lives. How we get lost, what we struggle with, the fucking ways we hurt as we grow, overcome, and become who it is we could be.
In my own work, I am doing my best to represent these ideas.
I have had a 20-year journey in psychoanalysis, something which has bound my human self to the earth.
And yet, even as someone who has made such a long, painful and beautiful journey, I struggle with aspects of the digital age.
Yet I also feel a sense of responsibility. Because I look at myself, and I think “Man, if you struggle with this stuff after such a long journey, then how do others find their way at all!”
I have written often about my distaste for “internet gurus” and so many motivational speakers.
For me, the only type of leadership is the one that seeks to make offerings, rather than giving directives.
You can only guide if you are willing to let people know you’re just another idiot who stepped into the dark and was willing to get lost.
All the dam way.
I did find a compass. No matter that it is broken!
And so in my own work, I’m trying to share my process the best I can. All the ways I get lost and found, over and over.
Regarding the digital world:
It is clear that it’s no longer something entirely separate from us. We have to reconcile with that - and each of us in our own way.
We can wait forever wishing there was a world other than it is.
However, for many of us, the integration of the digital realm is intricately linked to the opportunities we have in our careers.
What we need to work on then is how we engage with it. That means recovering our sense of fragmentation and gaining a deeper conscientiousness about our interaction with it.
Within that, we have to recognise that it’s just another problem. And we can fix problems. But we need to approach it with the same energy, attitude and verve that we apply to other aspects of our lives.
At the last, the cyber world can become an area of joy, interaction and self-expression.
The question is:
Are we willing to act on bettering our relationship with it?
Have a great weekend all!