Is it possible to do anything anymore without wondering how many people around the world might think it’s awesome?
For a very long time I was satisfied doing my little hobbies in my own way to my own satisfaction — weren’t we all? Information connectivity has changed that, in some ways that are wonderful and in some ways that give me pause.
Now I can see what an astounding job someone in Holland, the Czech Republic or Taiwan has done with his own miniatures. It’s really cool, but, honestly, it has made it harder for me to be content with my personal nano-corner of the hobby universe. I mean, if someone on the other side of the world puts rigging on a ship model that is only 1/700 in scale, and this rigging looks fantastic, then do I now have to do it too in order to be satisfied with my own stuff? Only if I want to share it, right? Twenty years ago I had no notion that I might share my models and my photographs “with the whole wide world.” I took some pictures, proudly placed them in an album, and regaled my friends at cocktail parties with them while crickets sounded in the night. Now here I am exercising my creative urges more publicly, from this wonderful platform, hoping (though not too hard) to attract an audience to my painted-plastic oeuvre and my random musings.
So what? Well, here is the question it raises for me: Is it possible to do anything anymore without wondering how many people around the world might think it’s awesome? Don’t you just love my weekend, my children, my sense of humor, my single thought at dawn, my body — and, yes, my miniatures…?
Consider this incredibly well done, and incredibly small, ship model by Kostas Kotseas, which you can find at modelshipgallery.com. 1/700 scale means it is less than a foot in length.
For a long time after I began browsing through images like these I remained reluctant to try anything like it on my own ship models — I didn’t care to “play that flute” all that well, I suppose — but eventually I just couldn’t be satisfied unless I tried some of the fine touches a modeler like Mr. Kotseas adds to his works. I started adding photo-etch embellishments, a technology that allows details to be rendered in much smaller, crisper pieces than was possible with polystyrene plastic. And I started adding rigging. My photo gallery with the battleship Bismarck shows my very latest and most earnest attempt at this new level of intricacy.
Here’s the deal: seeing all these examples of things that are better than what I have been doing in isolation has raised the level of my own work. Sharing information in revolutionary ways — as we are doing now in this wave of IT progress — seems to do that. Innovation in isolation is like the proverbial tree falling in the forest when no one is around; innovation shared makes an impact and reverberates far and wide.
When I was teaching modern world history I became acquainted with a great historical example of this phenomenon. In the 18th and 19th centuries in Europe an explosion in agricultural productivity (called the Second Agricultural Revolution or the British Agricultural Revolution) occurred. The amount of nutrition that could be produced changed humanity’s demographic curve forever, and one reason for that success was a new scale of information exchange. If a farmer in Surrey developed a better way of fertilizing his crops, other farmers across England could learn of it through the large-scale publishing of agricultural journals and almanacs. That was new. The same thing is happening now. Think of all the ideas and images out there on Pinterest/tumblr/blogs/etc. Whether one sees those ideas as important or trivial (I think there are many examples of both), information exchange is reshaping the world and our thinking and even our brains on a massive scale, often for the good.
That is why I am calling this post LET’S REBERU APPU, from the English words “level up,” which as a Japanese phrase means “upping your game” or “ramping up the quality of a thing.” (Never mind that we don’t actually say “level up” in English. In Japanese, foreign phrases are liberally adopted and tweaked to capture a particular spirit that can’t necessarily be expressed in the ancient native tongue. A native Japanese term for a thing or an idea almost by definition connotes something traditionally rooted in Japanese culture rather than something fresh, modern or foreign — like the idea that one can choose overnight to “level up” one’s work or efforts.) My miniatures are better now that I have seen — with such speed and ease! — how people around the world do theirs. As one of my former high-school students proudly remarked in a mild rebuke of my generation’s caution around the digital revolution, “If I want to know how to cook a steak to perfection, I just find the video on YouTube and I can learn it.” Bam.
However, I can in fact think of two potential pitfalls in all these developments. One is that there may simply be too many neat ideas out there. The looking can be addictive, and it takes up time. If you have ever taught a class of students with laptops, you may have sensed that you were competing with tumblr. I myself sometimes spend big chunks of time late at night looking at neat things. I think the looking can get in the way of living. (Or sleeping…) The other concern I see is the potential for narcissism, to which I alluded at the top of this post. My experiences used to be contained mostly in the moment of their occurrence, and then in my memory. Now I have a camera wherever I go, and there are no film costs to keep down the number of frames I shoot. When something cool is happening, part of me is thinking, “Ooh, everybody is going to think what I am doing is so neat.” Sometimes we’re only doing something in the first place because we think it will make a neat video. To the extent that I think about these later payoffs in attention, I am not relishing the moment I am actually experiencing. Is it just me, or do people know what I am talking about here?
In the end, I think all’s well, though. Tweets about somebody’s Sunday morning coffee might be seen as “narcissism,” but then again they are are not unlike haiku poems, which seek simply to capture the essential human truth of a moment. That’s cool. No wonder we enjoy it. Anyway, I find that I like seeing what old friends are up to. Maybe even more importantly, people’s creativity has been unlocked by these new tools. The gatekeepers have been retired. I figure as long as I don’t take myself out of the moment thinking of how I can get attention and approval at some later moment, and as long as I choose the influences that change me, there’s really no reason not to REBERU APPU and share the results! Is there anything you have “leveled up” in the last five years?