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U R Not Unique

By Wil Forbis
01/01/13

I've always thought of myself as a creative chap. Well, not really a chap, since I'm not English and I don't wear a top hat. Let's say that I've always seen myself as a creative person. I write. I make music. As a kid, I did a lot of artwork. To varying degrees, I've been involved in the field of web design for the past 15 years or so. I've always been interested in pulling concepts and ideas out of the abstract ether and presenting them to my (usually limited) audience as some kind of "art."

And, when you're this kind of person --- interested in or inclined towards the arts --- you can't help but feel a certain glow added to your person. You can't help but suspect that you are in some way different --- probably superior --- to most of the morons around you*. You believe that --- because you are creating interesting, unusual things never before observed by the human brain --- you in some way stand apart. You believe that you are unique.

*As Randy Newman sang in the song I'm Different "I ain't saying I'm better than you, but maybe I am."

There's only one problem: you're not. Most people creating art, myself included, are really not unique at all. History is littered with the corpses of na´ve fools who thought that because they were using their hands to render clay, or paint delightful pictures of sunsets, or pound out sonatas on the keyboard, that they were somehow special, that they stood apart from their fellows. And, perhaps they did in their social circle, or town, or country or time. But, when you step back and contemplate how many such individuals have existed throughout history and across the globe, you have to laugh. You have to pluck these timid, self absorbed individuals out from the comforts of their studios and workspaces and laugh at them. Laugh so that your roaring guffaws echo throughout the darks halls of the universe.

You might be saying, as many have said, "what's Wil Forbis blathering about now?" (Though I think it's a record for us to have arrived at this point after only four paragraphs.) Let me provide a little background. Lately, I've been helping a friend with a marketing campaign for a fantasy novel he's written. For me, this has involved a lot of getting out on the web and reading articles and blogs about the fantasy novel world. And also getting a sense of the ever immolating world of publishing and the cacophonous birth of self-publishing. (The book publishing industry is undergoing a transformation similar to what the music industry has undergone, as physical books are replaced by e-books in the same sense that records and CDs have been replaced with the MP3.)

What have I learned? That everyone on earth has written their own 800 page fantasy novel. (And is working on a sequel.) Seriously, it's mindnumbing. Writing a novel is no easy feat --- I've tried, and never really achieved the goal. And yet, judging from what I'm reading, gazillions of people have done it. Now, of course I don't know how good these novels are --- some of them probably suck, some of them may be great --- but the fact that so many people have taken the time to write novels just seems staggering to me. It used to be that having written a novel was some kind of great accomplishment (even if it was never published.) These days it's just par for the course.

Now, I could live with this. Despite my efforts at novel writing, it's not really my bag. My thing is mainly music, and that's where I'm unique, right? Not really. I owe this realization to Spotify. Spotify grants one access to... I don't know... tens of millions of songs. Some of these songs are by established and famous artists, others by local heroes. Spotify also gives one the ability to find artists similar to ones you are listening to. And it's by surfing this feature that I've discovered that pretty much every musician has about 100 musicians who sound pretty close to him or her. Nobody is doing anything particularly unique. We're all just writing the same song over and over again.

That you might be saying, "Wil, I don't care. I'm not a self absorbed artiste like yourself. I'm not trying to differentiate myself from the masses. I'm just trying to get through the day, tolerate my spouse, hope my dog still loves me and pay the mortgage." And, sure, I get it. That's noble enough. But you too must be bothered by this sense that, in the grand scheme of things, there's not much separating you from hundreds, if not thousands (if not tens of thousands) of people throughout history.

Maybe it's just my own generation, the so-called for Generation X. (The "X" is for eXceptional.) We were cursed with that neighborly imp, Mr. Rogers, telling us that we were "special." But nothing could be further from the truth. Mr. Rogers would've been doing us all a favor if he came in one Monday morning after a weekend bender and --- with cheap Bourbon streaming down his neck --- screamed, "You know what! You're not special! You're just another cog, just another worker bee, just another unknown soldier marching through the grim morass of human history. There were thousands like you before you were born, and there will be thousands more after you die. Now why don't you just leave me all alone and let me sleep!?"

Seriously, he would've been doing us a favor.

You get the sense that people in the past were not plagued by these notions. And, I suppose if you grew up in a village of 200 people, and those were the only people you ever knew, you would feel pretty unique within your small world. Sure, maybe there was someone like you five villages away, but you would probably never meet that person. As far as you knew, you were special. I'm reminded of the famous assertion by anthropologist Robin Dunbar that human brains are wired to only know about 200 people at a time. Because, throughout most of our evolutionary history, that was the number of people we could expect to know.

But that's not the world we live in anymore. Now we have 24/7 new channels letting us know every time 10,000 people die in a war or natural disaster two continents away, we have twitter feeds with tens of thousands of followers, we have a sea of blogs from people claiming to somehow stand out in the world. We have all this pressure to define ourselves individually while at the same time we're constantly reminded how many of us there are and how much the same we all are.

And I'm not convinced humanity isn't going little crazy from it all.

Wil Forbis is a well known international playboy who lives a fast paced life attending chic parties, performing feats of derring-do and making love to the world's most beautiful women. Together with his partner, Scrotum-Boy, he is making the world safe for democracy. Email - acidlogic@hotmail.com

Visit Wil's web log, The Wil Forbis Blog, and receive complete enlightenment.

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