The last week, my 22 year old son Joe and his girlfirend have been visiting. Joe's about to embark on his final university year as a fine arts student. He's already started selling bits of art and knows the internet plays an important part in his future career as a creative person. It's the first time he's been over in some five years but then our house has been a work in progress for much of that time, bordering on uninhabitable as we ripped it to pieces and re-assembled. But that's another tale.
Last time Joe visited, he was using a Thinkpad and MySpace. Not only that, I recall being gobsmacked at how he could multi-task: listening to music, answering messages on MySpace while doing some schoolwork on a single device. He was the person who really switched me on to social networks but more important, the power of digital relationships for getting things done. At the time it was one of those ah-ha moments where you just know your world has changed.
Over the years I've occasionally checked in with him to see where he is taking technology and this visit was a great opportunity to catch up. I had intended to get something on video but time ran out on us as we concentrated more on food and the beach. Even so, I spent a fruitful couple of hours asking questions. Here are some of the answers:
Q: If you were in the workplace would you expect to get access to Facebook?
A: Not at all. Facebook is for me and I'm not sure it would be used much by any employer right now.
Q: Not even in arts?
A: Well I guess so but not my personal Facebook thing.
Q: Would you expect the business applications you would need to use be as easy to use as Facebook?
A: I'd hope so but then if you're in work you use what you're given.
Q: How important do you think the Internet will be to you as an artist?
A: Banksy was a throw back against the institutionalization of artwork and the selective cropping of what people saw. So he utilized the streets as a gallery to get his artwork out there for free and to people who may not even consider stepping to a gallery in the first place. Along with this came a playful interaction between the artwork and the street, adding to its fresh appeal. But yes he did also exploit the power of the internet and its viral outbursts of personal selection that helped to promote his work. So yes, it is important.
Q: So how did you sell your first big piece?
A: Some person I don't know turned up at the exhibition and really liked my piece. She got hold of me over the Internet and we went from there.
Q: So digital isn't everything?
A: Most artists know they need some sort of real space. When you think about it, art that you hang on a wall is real so you need to see and visualise it. People still want to go to galleries. It's about finding the right space for your stuff.
Q: What about the effect of networks?
A: Online networks are clearly where the action can be but I'm not going to fool myself into believing I am not in competition with lots of other people online or that it is the only place to be.
Q: But guys like Hugh MacLeod have made a great business online so why not you?
A: Hugh's doing something different which obviously works for him. I'm not saying it wouldn't work for me because I know the little I have done is getting my name out there but I don't want to be trapped into one kind of outlet. Not yet anyway.
Q: What do you think of Twitter?
A: I can see the importance of it and at the end of the day millions of people use it, but for me at the moment I feel like I can do everything that it does through the other social medias
Q: It helps build networks, right?
A: Yeah, but there's a lot of geeky shit going on there and other stuff that doesn't seem relevent to me right now.
Q: What do you use for a blog?
A: Tumblr. It's dead easy and it makes sense to me plus all my art school mates are on it.
Q: What about Pinterest and Instagram?
A: Yeah, yeah, they are good places as well. I need to get more into those. There's so much to get done.
Q: So what about photos, what do you do there?
A: The main reason I don't like shooting thousands of photos is because it reduces your consideration to the composition and overall image. However I don't truly believe that you can either visualize something or you can't, a happy accident plays a big role in my practice!
Q: Your site's a bit basic. What are you doing about it?
A: Hehe...well I've not had time or money to sort it out but when something's free then who's complaining? People are finding my stuff so I guess it can't be all bad. [Note, there will be a redesign soon and some commerce stuff added in.]
Q: Do you buy into this idea that everything should be online and social?
A: That's silly. I like to keep a lot of my photos in analog. Who knows, Google might fall over one day - I kind of know it won't but what happens if it did? Besides, I like to keep some stuff just for friends and family. That's not easy on the Internet is it?
Q: So you do see a value in having a separate private part of your life that is only available and shared to a few people?
A: Absolutely. Who cares about my baby pics except you, me Kirsty (sister) and mum and in any event, why should my entire life be one big digital thing? And what about those embarrassing haircuts I've had?
So - do you think my son is representative of Gen Y or has he regressed in some way over the last few years? I'd like to think he's being pragmatic given his situation in life. From talking to his girlfriend, she seems to take a similar approach to the interwebs. But when you strip away all the glitz and shiny toys stuff with which analysts are so enamored and talk to real people it soon becomes apparent that being pragmatic and making it through the day is uppper most in their minds. In that sense, I don't believe my son is any different to anyone else.