Millennials’ Internet Addiction & The Effects on Local Art Culture

*In case you’re wondering why this shit been too quiet. My bro, Mr. JAWN is busy with his work while I’ve recently found myself writing for The Daily Seni. Here is the write up that got me the gig. Enjoy and dont forget to read up all the other articles written by me (and others if you want) over at Daily Seni.


Every cup of coffee must be accompanied with the Good Mythical Morning daily talk show on YouTube.

Without it my transitioning from dreamland to reality wouldn’t be complete.

Without it I would be a ‘grumpy cat’ the whole day.

It has become my ritual. It has become my virtual ritual.

It’s not surprising that today’s Malaysian youth are dependent on their smartphones with all sorts of conveniences that the gadget provides in assisting to ease the daily challenges of a modern young adult, such as entertaining oneself from awkward silences during a lepak session.

It has become a necessary tool of every youngster and the result of the INTI International University‘s statistical study is a predictable 55% disclosure of the millennial’s dependency. Malaysian Millennials consisting of both the Generation Y (those who were born from 1977 to 1994) and Generation Z (1995 till 2009) have also admitted suffering a sense of incompleteness when not connected as stated by CEO of INTI College, Rohit Sharma in an interview with Astro Awani.

Even though a higher percentage of the latter generation willingly confess to it, both groups of Malaysians are guilty of spending more and more of their time than advisable on rekindling old friendships on Facebook or indulging on the vast variety of interesting online contents. Either in the form of a quick chuckle from the hilarious memes on 9gag or going through the archives of your favourite celebrity crush on Pinterest, we’re all guilty of it. The more options we have, the more distracted we are and the more it slows us down. Ironic for generations living in the hyper-information age.

Nazreen Abraham's City of Mud
For Millennials, anyone is free to make art for everyone: ‘City of Mud’, by Nazreen Abraham.

The nation’s widespread and steady internet accessibility has allowed new generations to be exposed to a wider variety of creative contents, teasing them with glimpses of other countries’ cultural scenes that was once considered difficult to obtain.

A teenage boy in Pulau Tikus could easily access and be inspired by the artworks of the renowned Brazilian street artist Claudio Ethos but yet remain completely oblivious to Desmond Yeo‘s amazing murals on the walls of Penang’s colonial buildings.

These days you don’t need a survey to find out that quite a handful of Malaysian twenty-something adults can instinctively quote pop culture references but yet fail to name you the last local theatre play that he attended.

Is this to be blamed on the globalization effects of the internet culture on Malaysian youth as per how most conservative folks tend to think? Or is the local art scene just not up to the standards of a cocky new generation swimming in an abundance of enticing new media?

As a Millennial myself, I would firstly like for the stigmatization of my generation as narcissistic pampered little kids too lazy to get/finish a job but somehow always find time to take a selfie and scream “YOLO” (we only do that on weekends). Secondly, I think the main question you should ask is perhaps:

What is Art in the Internet Age anyway?

When Yale Insights asked the question of how Internet affects the definition of art, the economist Tyler Cowen once said I think no one knows what art is anymore. It’s a completely different landscape.”

The post-Internet Art industry is no longer limited to the traditional mediums such as paintings, music albums, a full length feature film or a hard paperback novel.

The common everyday smartphone user is able to take a picture and upload it onto Instagram – a picture which has similar aesthetic merits to an art gallery photography. A group of film students can get more views recording a short film on YouTube than the award-winning movies. There are more listeners of mixtapes from laptop DJs than there are people tuning into the songs of signed record label musicians who write and play their instruments and have songs airing on public radio.

Heck, even the act of arranging objects, images or sounds on your blogs or your social media profiles and pages can be considered as Art nowadays.

Traditionally, Art is defined as the expression or application of human creative skills and imagination in producing a work meant to be appreciated. New Media Arts is a genre where its main focus is interacting with the audiences and resulting in social experiences rather than a material outcome, it ranges from all sorts of digital visualization, animations and other Internet art

In fact one could argue that any online activity you participate on your browser’s history can be described as ‘digital curating‘ according to Brad Troemel, the New York-based artist/curator/renowned Tumblr blogger. We are living in an era where we intentionally author our daily experiences with our chosen technologies. Listening to the right tunes as we take the train to work, reading the mandatory daily articles on a topic of interest while waiting for your stop and watching the right stress-relief videos of furry little kittens during lunch breaks.

The virtual ritual of updating “cool” posts on our Facebook profiles in order to record and create a narrative of your life’s digital representation has become a necessity to the majority. ‘It is a relatively meaningless term’, Troemel jested in an interview with The Guardian.

ADDICT

Meaningless for the fact that we believe we have the the free will to choose which sites we visit but in all honesty we’re slaves to the recommendations of the Almighty Search Engine.

Google’s algorithms often keep you enclosed in an “information filter bubble of similar content, as coined by Eli Pariser, chief executive of Upworthy at a TedTalk conference. If you constantly search for K-Pop songs, the chances of an African tribal music in your recommended list is very slim.

So for many of the young Malaysians who are exploring the vast, dense and wild jungle of the Internet; it is easy for many to be stuck in a cultural bubble of one’s own creation and any news of the local art cultures is often easily overlooked.

Ironically it is the same tool that Malaysian millennials are addicted to, that would be the defibrillator for reviving and revolutionizing the local arts culture.

Through the open and free cultural service such as YouTube the folks like Jinnyboytv exploded from some ‘ah bengs’ playing with the camera to actually pushing the boundaries of local filmmaking with short, quirky and memorable videos which feel like a modern version of Old Master Q humour.

The same online platform also helped to catapult the popularity of many local musicians such as Yuna and Zee Avi into international audience. These social media profiles that the Millennial caters to daily has also spawned countless creative unorthodox online businesses ranging from handcrafted jewellery of Oh, Montgomery, local fashion clothing lines like Garage, delicious homemade Manchester Brownies and many more unique entrepreneurships by young Malaysian adults.

Even the art of Instagram-ing has grown like wildfire berthing a ‘mobile’ chapter in the history of photography. In fact, local Insta-star TinPix and his friends have already legitimized i.e. perpetuated this subculture with a mobile photography exhibition at the Minut Init Art Space back in July 2011.

In this internet savvy age, the exploration of digitalizing creative aesthetics is no longer exclusive to just professional artists anymore, but also regularly experimented by the young amateurs at home in their Ultraman boxers. Even broke bros who cannot afford Photoshop Illustrators will find a way of acquiring the necessary open platform software to visualize their visions.

Nazreen Abraham's photo manipulation for a fictional clothing line
Everyone’s an online artist: Photo manipulation for a fictional clothing line, also by Nazreen Abraham.

At the End of The Day, Go Forth…and Don’t Be A Statistic

With such early proficiency in technology and accustomed to using them as a tool of artistic expression has made us, the millennial citizens of this country more ambitious in choosing our career path with 37% hoping to turn their hobbies into a profession and 31% planning on taking up the challenges of being entrepreneurs, as the INTI surveys show.

It also shows that 42% of Gen Z Malaysian students want something completely new in their choice of professionalism and plenty of them are drawn to the prospect of working with digital content and the new media arts. Many dream of being graphic designers or game developers or any Internet-related career like web curating and social media marketing, and some even dream of being a professional Dota (World of Warcraft) player.

Sure, the marketplace can be tough especially when you are competing on a worldwide stage and pursuing risky creative ventures independently without a proper business plan or financial consultant can be a daunting task but many daring young Malaysians have already tried their luck. Many local digital artists and illustrators on DeviantArt have proven to be just as amazing as their Western counterparts, and loads more musicians and wannabe directors are currently uploading their videos every hour. All this without much hope or expectation of  monetary returns.

Meanwhile elder generations might be worried that we’re constantly staring at the screens and not going out to find a traditional method of making a living – maybe that’s the reason why they keep calling it an “addiction” when it truth it is just an extension of our cognitive computing minds that helps us to express our creative impulses.

We’ve ushered in new renaissances of Malaysian arts and culture thanks to this addiction to the Internet and smartphones. I have a feeling the Alpha generation (born from 2010-present), those Malaysian currently still in diapers and kindergartens as I write this, would be doing many more great and unimaginable things derived and/or innovated from what we have built.

With the advancement of future technologies using non-intrusive augmentation of reality and holographic interfaces for personal computers, imagine what kinds of new and awesome art they will make, the ideas they will come up with. At the end of the day, I rest with a feeling that the future of Malaysia’s young art culture status quo might be crowded with such “unconventional” talent.

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