Taking Back The Power Of Creative Natural Selection
An article about taking your power back from the algorithms to safeguard your creative and consumer individuality
None of us are strangers to the fact that the viral qualities of the books, music, art, and products we often consume have a huge impact on the respective markets. We’re well aware that from the artist side, there’s a level of reliance on algorithms and views to yield profitability. But, what about the consumer side? I’ve realized people often don’t ponder these algorithmic over-saturations as the end-user. What actually happens when we’re all fed the same marketing and making the same choices when we buy a new book or download a new song? Today, we’re defining creative natural selection and how to get yours back.
(And if you’re interested in this take from the artist's eyes, feel free to read my earlier article on Substack here)
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So…What Is Creative Natural Selection?
Creative natural selection is best said as your own unique fingerprint on the entertainment industry as a consumer. If you took all of your consumer data and put it into a pattern it would likely embody the essence of you as a person. You listen to a lot of fifties jazz, read serial romance and indie horror books, and you’re very keen on purchasing prints from your favorite photographer in Iceland. These are qualities you identify with that are very unique to you. And while you might have the same favorite movie as your neighbor down the road, your consumer fingerprints should remain different. Because you naturally select what is most enjoyable to you: the individual. And it’s under attack.
The Battleground Explained
Large corporations, in and out of the artistic industries, are always fighting to control your fingerprint. They want to know if they can make your print look the way that makes them the most money. This is no new concept. About fifty percent of smartphone users in the US have an iPhone. There are tons of companies that compete in this market, but Apple has a hold on a solid fifty percent of the pie - leaving the rest to be divided between several other companies. And there’s a good reason for this, it’s a solid product. Apple has a hold on several of our tech fingerprints.
But what happens when this same strategy is applied to our creative consumption? What happens when large corporations target us to make our creative consumption into a blueprint rather than a fingerprint as if it’s any other business? Creative outlets and forms of entertainment have a direct impact on our personality development and our individuality in general. We communicate with one another about our favorites: we send someone we love a song, we suggest books to our friends when they’re going through something, we quote shows as a witty conversation device, and we select a movie to watch based on our ever-changing moods. And there’s a business built inside of those choices. Companies on all scales are literally buying real estate in your brain, often found in algorithms, to try and create your consumption choices for you through bought repetition. I’m not talking about popular book recommendations. I’m talking about industry planting. If your brain sees something praised over and over and over again, you naturally have more positive feelings for it. The goal is to control you and centralize the essence of your human expression into something that can be manipulated toward their wallet. Making your fingerprint identical to mine and your neighbor down the street. And this isn’t criminal on their part. It’s merely factual. And it’s never going away.
Individual Buying Power: Just How Powerful Is It?
Very. Your buying power as an individual is a superhuman quality in this day and age that we often overlook or don’t think twice over. There’s a reason that the most successful protests in US history are either worker or buyer strikes. When people’s money doesn’t flow as and where it’s expected, huge change usually follows. Big bureaucracies, corporations, and even the government don’t expect us to consider this very much. Because we’re always told that our voice is important - and yes it is. But, notice how we’re never told the same about our dollar. We often go out screaming and yelling when we’re upset about the way something is, rather than quietly altering our consumer behavior. This is a larger life lesson I’ve learned in recent years that applies to almost everything. And is especially important in realizing your own power to make a change - not just in the context of the creative natural selection we’re talking about today, but toward any cause you care for. Any amount of money can be powerful with the right level of intention backing it.
Disclaimer: Popular Art Is Not The Enemy And Neither Is The Internet
This is something I need to clarify individually because if I don’t the point of the article is completely lost. I do not think that the Internet is a bad place to look for new books, music, art, or products. I also think that popular art is completely valid even inside an algorithm. Any art that is reviewed well or seems enjoyable to you - baseline is worthy of the attention you feel compelled to give. For example, Madeline Miller is an outstanding author. A lot of people have made viral videos about her books simply because they are outstanding. (Reading and loving Circe right now) Her work is the shout-it-from-the-roof kind. We are not combatting this or striking it down because it’s popular art for a very well-deserved reason. We are addressing the part of the algorithm that is purchased and not organically sprouting by letting the art speak for itself. This is where our creative natural selection is under attack, every single day.
When Your Art Choices Are Built On FOMO
We all like good art recommendations. When something is popular - I want to get my hands on it too. There is nothing wrong with this. This is the same chemical in your brain speaking when you get cases of ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) because your friends took Friday at the beach, but your boss scheduled you for a client presentation so you get stuck watching through the cellular-looking glass. Corporations pretty much design their businesses to capitalize on this feeling. It’s the everyone-has-it-but-you strategy. That’s why Southwest will tell you they’re the most used airline for your respective city and why groupthink in advertising runs rampant. You’re supposed to feel left out and that you can buy yourself out of the feeling.
When it comes to creative natural selection, large companies want you to feel like everyone else also likes a song, loves a movie, or has read a specific book - and to be a part of the conversation or general society, you also should be on that wave. And social media has created a place where this FOMO can thrive in the perfect conditions: the algorithm. Social media is full of algorithms that if you’re reading this, you’re probably not a stranger to. Your eyeballs are constantly being sold to the most popular videos, products, and posts that live online that day. It’s an additive system to feel like we get to agree and connect with millions of other people that day through a like button. We feel current, entertained, and in the know when we experience this at any scale, every day. So we constantly come back for more and we all watch the same videos and see the same posts together within the same few days. We all laugh a little at the same things and start to build consumer choices around things we see as tried and true. Because if everyone else is on board, it’s a valid opinion to have. Another word for this is: cultural groupthink.
The problem with groupthink begins when it’s been planted. (And often it has been) These recommendations didn’t find us on the organic growth of a great product. They came from planting and farming the opinions: which takes a lot of money. It’s no secret that this is happening often in the music industry. Halsey and Florence the Machine have openly denounced their willingness to be complacent as their labels try to pay off masses of people to post about and make their music appear to have “gone viral” on TikTok. This happens in the book industry as well. I’m not talking about Brianna Weist whose books have reached new heights or even It Ends With Us by Colleen Hoover. I’m talking about publishers and imprints who all trace back to one of the same, continually creating the effects of FOMO within us through a huge market reach. If the same books are inorganically pushed toward us consistently, it’s what is going to grow - it’s what will give us FOMO. And it’s why our shelves will eventually all look the exact same.
We are making almost every single one of our art consumption choices out of a lack-mentality. We no longer are consuming art because it speaks to us or because we want to. Or because the story sounds good and it gets a hundred good reviews. No, we now need ten-thousand other reviews or playbacks - even when it doesn’t resonate with us. We need to feel out of the loop. And we are making almost all of our choices on how we spend our entertainment hours around the fear of missing out - in a manipulated frame of mind.
Putting The Fingerprint Back On Your Hand
Good news - you don’t need to stop taking recommendations from the internet entirely. You just need to back your choices and your buying power with a bit more intentionality. It’s still okay to find a new song on social media. (Although I’m going to talk about other methods as well) For your own individual consumer protection, you’ve got to put more consciousness behind your buying power. Here are a few ways to enable yourself toward doing so:
Find What You Like Without The Internet First
I’ve started practicing this concept this year and it takes time and devotion but comes with intense gratification and self-discovery. I go out and find the art I enjoy in the real world first. For example, once a month, I try to go to a library or book store and simply partake in the glorious act of browsing. Browsing the bookstore means taking your time and collecting books that simply look interesting. I surprise myself often by what I’m actually interested in and have found some quirky reads that I would’ve never found online. This doesn’t mean that I go in blind and risk wasting my buying power on something I don’t know that I’ll like. I usually gather about ten books and then sit down at a table in the middle of the store and check their reviews on Goodreads or Amazon. Some have twenty reviews, some have eight thousand. I don’t let the number scare me. I take what people say into account and then I make my purchase based on what entices me. And you know what? I’ve never left the store without a book I didn’t end up loving. And the process is fun.
Last month, I did the same at record stores. Taking my time, walking around slowly, and streaming the music and records I ran into organically. I loved some of it and hated some. But either way, it was an hour well spent. This isn’t the only way to do this of course: there are live shows and random concerts you can go to, art galleries you can meander toward, and more. Even just asking random people like your grocery bagger ‘what’s your favorite underrated song, book, movie?’ and keeping a list on your phone: you’ll find yourself discovering a breadth of new art organically. And you might even love some of it.
Avoid Hijacking - Using The Internet And Your Buying Power Intentionally
There is nothing wrong with finding a new book or song on TikTok or Instagram. But it shouldn’t be your main source of discovery if you’re trying to protect your consumer fingerprint. This might take more effort than you want it to, but it’s worth going through the discovery process to open your own eyes to the issue. I’m going to use books as an example because it is what I’m most familiar with:
Let’s say you find a great reading recommendation on the algorithm that excites you. You’ve got a little FOMO around it, it gets good reviews, and you need to get in on it. Start taking note of these videos by looking up the publisher of each book. If it’s an imprint, take note of which publisher owns it. Let’s say you start researching these videos for a week and you take note that out of the 7 book recommendations you got from the algorithm, they all belong to imprints owned by the same two publishers. This means they likely came to you through industry planting. These posts and virality were purchased inside the algorithm. It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t read any of the books at all. But, it does mean you should be aware that you’re not solely supporting those pieces and the hijack of your FOMO. There’s nothing wrong with supporting a good book from a popular publisher. There’s nothing wrong with the publisher even. But you must diversify your own opinions and not only feed yourself from a single hand. So maybe you get one of the books that you do really want and head to the bookstore down the block to discover another one. This works for record labels, producers, and corporations as well. Research your sources before you lean in. It gives you some confidence backing your buying power to realize the impact of your dollar. You don’t want companies to make all of your consumer choices for you. It’s the simple awareness that helps you stop allowing it.
Lose The Fear Of Discovery
Deprogram yourself from thinking something needs at least one hundred reviews for you to jump in. Deprogram that you can’t enjoy an indie band you found from a QR code on a signpost. The ‘were all in on it’ quality should not hold you back from enjoying something. I often find if I’m listening to a song I like, then I see the band only has fifty followers, I start to devalue the music. “Yeah…maybe this isn’t as good as I thought” I might begin to think just because there’s not a viral amount of people behind it. And how sad is that as a small-pub author? Lose the idea that audience size equals quality. Remind yourself over and over when these thoughts begin to surface. We might often buy into them, but they don’t speak the truth. Take the time to recognize when you’re in this frame of mind and have the confidence to stand on your own and make a blind opinion. It’s imperative to getting a unique fingerprint on your hand rather than a unified blueprint.
Share The Power
If you found a piece of art using your organic methods that makes you so excited - share it with your friends. Make a playlist, lend out a book, and bring them along the next record-store-browse session you have. You not only get to be the cool kid who found this underground artist, but you also can help people take their own fingerprints back through natural word of mouth that wasn’t purchased or synthesized for monetary purposes. It’s a process that’s important in protecting our own individuality. Because we know our voices are important, but we also know that so is our dollar. It’s time to help each other use our power with some intentionality.
This article is one that I’ve thought so much about on delivery and feel very passionate about sharing. Topically, I hope it provides you with a level of insight and methodology that maybe you didn’t think of before. I wanted to give it to you, because it’s a change I am very keen on seeing happen in the consumer marketplace. If you resonated, it would mean the world to me if you could share the conversation and the article with your neighbors and friends to start a small ripple in this big world. I care deeply for you as my readers and as always, raise gratitude for you meeting me here in another article. Thanks for your attention and your open mind.
PS: If you’re an entrepreneurial creative and want a Project-Based Resume review I have one slot open tomorrow (7/8/22) for paid subscribers and takers of my ECA classes. Please reach out if you’d like the slot.
Lindsey Writes Books is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.