So, you asked me about the social network…

You asked me what it is like living within the social media explosion, since I was around before most people even had personal computers, circa 1992, and I’ve been wondering why you asked, and why the question bothers me so much. In some way I feel you asked my age, or some personal question for which the answer is apparent, but the meaning is not. And yet I don’t want to put a wedge between the curious and the cat, I want to sniff the subject of social media openly and perhaps give you a clue as to why it represents a loss of freedom to me, at the same time as it feels like new freedom to so many people.

First is the truth that it’s all about promotion, self-promotion and promotion of whatever people can sell. Promotion isn’t bad, it’s obviously necessary to have promotion to survive, as an artist or anything else, people need to know you exist. But since you want to know what it was like before social networking on the Internet, there was the challenge of showing up, face to face. I was up promoting my songs at radio stations all over the world from 5 am to whenever the last station would have me on air, live, laughing and telling stories to a bemused jockey, meeting every one in the station, signing walls and babies, and then doing a show at night, for months on end. And press, sitting with journalists at a table or even having Japanese journalists to my apartment, one after another, and having great conversations for hours. This is just an example of old fashioned self promotion, where you could be in the moment with a human being and the air would change, it was exciting and scary and you didn’t forget people, and you learned from each person interviewing you, at least I did.

Most important about pre social networking times, is that the mystery was still there; the artist had a sphere that could be interpreted, but not pierced. Fans had to imagine, as the artist did each time a question was asked, how it was done, what was it like, what were you thinking. Now, it’s supposed to be about no barriers, we’re all equal, show it as it’s happening, show as much as possible even if it sucks, just get your videos up and let the social media feed. And it’s never enough. So the attitude of the artist becomes frantic. Instead of saying, “I’m going to take as long as it takes to make this a classic (Like Jimmy Paige by the lake composing Stairway To Heaven), the artist says, “I have to shoot a video of myself writing this now, recording this now, going to eat pizza now, talking to a famous friend now, because the network is a feeding frenzy for anyone’s crap.

If I saw every step of Georgia O’Keefe painting I’d be done with her, over, I’d see too much normalcy, the mystery of how her painting came to be would have suffocated. Then, if I saw her at home doing her daily stuff I’d be bored out of my mind, I’d take her for granted, I wouldn’t think I should pay for her work, like everything else she just showed us, I would think she’d give the work away for free.

The essence of the artist is to be private, even from yourself, to discover that which only comes after tunnels of darkness, clumsily groping until there are those particles of light, like dust, that tell you. “You’re on your way, keep going”. The Internet isn’t fond of privacy.

In a way there is too much control of what people see, it’s so targeted and you monitor your success with every twitter follower. A new insecurity arises within the heart of the artist, a new competition to lose. Because unless you devote your life to social networking, and not to your art, you will be told that is why you aren’t popular-enough. And no matter who you are, you are never popular-enough.

But now that social media is THE game in town, we have to play and devote ourselves to winning and not getting thrown out with the bath water. And so far we can still define the terms, at least as artists, we don’t have to be benign just to get more followers, or radical to get more followers, we can be ourselves and deal with the consequences. In reality, the only way anyone has figured out how to make money on the internet are the people with millions of followers who get paid to tweet products they just put on. It is still just social networking, there is no proof it sells music enough to support an artist, and to be frank, how many true artists are in a generation anyway, it’s mostly people wanting to be famous and rich and popular enough to get paid to wear a product. So I’m the wrong person to talk about Facebook and Twitter and Tumblr and every new “community” in cyberspace. The way I like to network is still face-to-face, and I treasure any mystique I may have, because like my songs, in the end, it’s all I may have.

Sophie B. Hawkins