Elodi Troskie

Have you ever woken up to the stress-inducing news that the Internet was not working? I recently did.

Aimlessly, I paced up and down the house, waiting for the emails I needed to plan my week to send more emails to plan my next week. I had four essays to write and still needed to download the instructions. I needed online sources to start working. My day was ruined.

It worries me how I had to remind myself: you do not need the Internet to write. After all, I am not going to find any pieces of myself online. Or am I? I wonder whether I have built such a safe little nest for myself on the Internet that I feel most at home when YouTube knows exactly which song to play next, based on my preferences, creepily aware of my current mood. When the daily news and my favourite blogs are sent to my inbox, time efficient snippets that keep me up to date with the world before distracting me with a captivating ad in the sidebar, flirting with me to buy new boots or a sweater or maybe discounted plane tickets to a city I have no intention of travelling to.

Have I modified the Internet to keep up with my likes, in which case, am I dwelling on the preferences of the ‘me’ from a few months ago? Or, has the Internet reshaped me according to the likes of the world, in which case, I am robbed of control over where I choose to invest my time?

Even as I am writing this piece, I am amazed at how long it took to convince myself to sit down and write. I spent how long procrastinating before making the simple commitment: put the words on the page.

This makes me anxious. To think about the many opportunities I have every day to create – and then I channel all my creative energy into the online sphere.

I have been battling with the idea of the “online” world for a while.

Has the Internet exposed me to something bigger, something I would not have been able to find amidst the printed words in the library? Do Instagram stories and WordPress blogs really qualify as creative outlets or have these online platforms prevented me from exploring my real creativity? Am I considered “creative”
for finding the perfect, Instagramworthy angle to photograph my R28 cappuccino that will be cold by the time I get around to drinking it? Am I considered “creative” for curating images for a blog post about my favourite brunch spots around town?

And it gets worse: to what extent can we take credit for the digitalised ‘creative tools’ which the Internet equips us with? If we’re all using the same filters or apps, doesn’t it mean we’re all creative in the same way, which means we aren’t creative at all?

What does it mean to be creative?

Is our creativity being guided, perhaps limited, by an invisible hand hovering over the digital world and its social media spawn? Think of it this way: what if creativity and creative inspiration, in
their truest sense, can only be found in the rawest of places? In the agonising pleasure of getting cramps from writing for too long; in giving up hope of washing the paint stains out of your jeans; in the publicly undocumented passage you write in response to waking up at five to watch the sunrise from a misty hilltop; in the thrill of turning the pages of a yellow-stained book you bought at a street market for R10.

Writer Zadie Smith is known for staying away from social media to “protect her right to be wrong”. An interesting motivation for her choice, especially when contrasted to singer Adele, for example, who avoids social media when writing new music because, as she puts it, how can you create a best-selling album when you are constantly occupied by how many likes your latest photo is receiving?

How creative can you really be on the Internet?