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When the creative meet the unrewarding world of social networking – a basis from Bertrand Russell

A [creative] boy will toil up hill with a toboggan for the sake of the few brief moments of bliss during the descent; no one has to urge him to be industrious, and however he may puff and pant he is still happy. But if instead of the immediate reward you promised him an old-age pension at seventy, his energy would very quickly flag.

~Russell, Bertrand. Authority and the Individual

Russell on the creative individual
Russell on the creative individual

This observation by Bertrand Russel stands as especially important in view of how social networking has affected us individually as part of the largest inter-connected society ever.  The first important question that may come to many a mind is, what is a toboggan?1  Now, with that out of the way, let us understand the simple truth we are all experiencing together.

We are living in a time of the greatest surge in human creativity.  While we may never consider any of the work done today as comparable to what Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, or Da Vinci did in their times, we cannot overlook the sheer unfairness of our times.  It is true, we have today, the most sophisticated computers hooked up to 3-D printers or robots to accurately produce detailed creative ideas.  The organic work by hand still is valued for the skill and knowledge of the artist and is simply not replicated by machines.  Aside from paintings, of course, it is the very humanness of the creative act of thinking, feeling, writing etc that we will never be accepted if coming from a machine.  Of course, when an individual creates something, his or her ability and dedication would shine through the work.  It would also not be possible nor desirable for all to produce works of the same quality.  What we simply wish for in terms of a society of people is to find the ones with exceptional ability, reward them for such, but not treat the others as though their creativity is of no significance at all.  The merging together and connecting of communities in such a way that leaders or mentors are recognized and play a role in the functioning of that society is important for our future.

When creativity meets the unrewarding world of social networking

A few things seem to ail the creative; a lack of confidence and the fear of public reprisal being quite easily noticeable in their own expressions.  The person who is creative and also passionate about his or her creation runs the risk of having their feelings hurt.  It cannot be denied, for whatever reason, there is no shortage of people who out of envy, hate, desperation or some other personal grievance are all too ready to inflict pain upon the already fearful.  It seems not to make a difference that their behavior is entirely visible to all and has repercussions on their own standing as well as perceived worth.2  THEY, seem to have the courage and the ability to not care, unlike the creative person.

It is this attitude, this spirit of not caring that has permeated the world of social networking.  From a few individuals, like other bad traits, it has spread through the networks and infected other vulnerable minds.  In a world where the difference between good and bad gradually becomes irrelevant and there appears no difference between mediocrity and excellence, the creativity of a person is thrown into a realm where the very motivation that would inspire someone to greatness is gradually sucked away from the soul.

So what we seem to be arriving at is a world where indifference and apathy – made all the easier by the safe distance created by the electronic interface – is increasing.  With the passage of time, this seems inevitable because it isn’t in human nature to wait.  Wasn’t this what Bertrand Russell was saying about the boy?  There is a certain eagerness, and rightly so, for receiving the benefits one enjoys.  It is the persistence and patience that, then, separates the boys from the men.  The kind of quality that hard work imbues ones work with cannot be replicated by the quick methods.  Besides, when one is tested to prove the longevity of that work, it is not the work but the inner qualities of the worker that may truly be put to test.  It is still the qualities signifying spiritual inclinations – love, kindness, goodness – which continue to hold human society from destruction.

Can the creative individual learn something from this attitude of not caring?  If yes, how would that affect his or her creativity and performance?

Other than being naive, one finds that even the meaning of what is creative hasn’t remained the same.  We can make weapons that appear beautiful, and when used always create terrible death, disease, and destruction; but, we are not considering that kind of creativity.  We still think of the creativity that is enduring in nature.  And since the artistic works stand on the basis of the effect they can impart to the consumer, they must have proof of staying power, of stamina.  Not one work but the body of work built over time is the evidence that not all, but some will surely appreciate.

The message from Bertrand Russel, in his book where he is expounding upon the relationship between the individual, the society, and the overarching authority thus continues in his own words:

Much longer efforts than those of the boy with the toboggan can be inspired by a creative impulse, and still remain spontaneous. A man may spend years of hardship, danger and poverty in attempts to climb Everest or reach the South Pole or make a scientific discovery, and live all the while as much in harmony with his own impulses as the boy with the toboggan, provided he ardently desires the end and puts his pride into overcoming obstacles. As the Red Indian said, ‘There’s glory in it’.

~ Russell, Bertrand. Authority and the Individual

The excellence of achievement that Bertrand speaks of is simply outside of the digital realm.  The digital realm should be understood to be a representation of the real world, albeit a much less glorious one when compared to the engagement of the senses – sight, smell, touch etc. – possible only outside of the Internet.  Over the Internet, especially through social networks, we are engaged in the exchange of ideas.  Even though Bertrand Russell speaks of accomplishments well outside of the digital realm, what we are seeking to derive is the message he conveys.  When a person is tremendously committed, even if he or she is not tremendously capable, the kind of zeal, ardor, and energy driving him is outside of the Internet realm.  We cannot mistake the same kind of creativity to be part of the world of books, or of the transmission of ideas.  Those ideas must at some point meet practical application in real life.  Moreover, it is the isolated, private nature of excellence achievers that simply seeks a world different from the world that has been created through social networking in particular.  We are wise to acknowledge their limitations while also benefiting from the provision.



  1. toboggan
    a long, light, narrow vehicle, typically on runners, used for sliding downhill over snow or ice.

    slide downhill over snow on a toboggan.
    “my kids love to go tobogganing in the park before Christmas dinner”

  2. When a platform like Twitter itself imposes some rules or penalties, the issue of censorship is more quickly raised than the thought of consequences in the absence of any regulating mechanism
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