When things go ‘viral’

The word ‘viral’, as it’s used currently, drives me a little crazy. But that’s a post for another time. There’s an excellent piece over on digg.com on why videos go ‘viral’, but audio content doesn’t.

I find it interesting to think about the reasons that different things get the attention they do. As one person notes in the piece (a longtime reporter writing on news issues, whose short interview of his daughters became famous):

“I’ve done a lot of work as a reporter that I’m pretty proud of,” he says. “I will never be recognized for anything for the rest of my life, except for this.”

One of the things that stayed with me from Kundera’s Immortality (an excellent novel, by the way) is the idea that writers (or at least some of them) seek a kind of fame through their writing. Never mind that even the most famous authors, names that we think of as ubiquitous, are not truly immortal, simply that some semblance of an idea relating to them lives on. But still this idea, of achieving immortality, persists to a certain extent in popular culture.

But that immortality in turn depends on the … acceptance, the memory, the persistence of a group of humans that keep talking about the book a person has written, or the poem they created, or the painting they made.

Nothing quite exposes the fallacy of literary or artistic immortality so much as a million, or a hundred million people, looking at a picture of an angry cat. If that’s the path to ‘immortality’ – then perhaps there is a path of sorts, that way, but it appears to be a very different path to the one of high minded writers, clamouring for a purportedly different kind of literary immortality.

There is a pleasure to be had in creating something beautiful – absolutely. But it’s equally possible to create something incredible, and sit on it for your lifetime, without it ever becoming known. Or to create it, have it be recognised, and then gradually washed away by time; this is an unknown unknown, but I imagine there are incredible masterpieces that have never received the attention they ‘deserve’, because of linguistic barriers, power structures, or sheer misfortune.

I don’t know what more to say about that, simply that I find it a little sad, and also somewhat freeing.


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