Why We Should Not Be Tied to Any Medium

In the past 10 years, digital photography has disrupted the market of photographers so much that many of them are now struggling to survive. There are many reasons but one of the most significant factors is the accessibility of the medium. Digital cameras allow us to take as many photos as we want at no cost. In the days of film, the cost of film and processing was a significant barrier to entry; once photographers crossed the barrier, they were in good shape. The barrier protected them from a flood of wannabe photographers. Another barrier to entry was technical competence. Photography used to be a lot more technical, and being able to master the physics of light and to operate complex equipment protected photographers from potential competitors who couldn’t. Digital photography destroyed these barriers, and now the market is flooded with self-proclaimed “photographers”. And, all of us will become increasingly better at photography as we now carry high quality cameras in our pockets everywhere we go, and can easily share them online to get feedback.

What we can extrapolate from this is that it no longer makes sense to tie ourselves to any mediums. Every medium has (or had) skills associated with it. And, these skills took a lifetime to acquire, but they can now be embedded into the tools we use. If your job title is tied to any particular medium, it’s likely that your market will be disrupted sooner or later by technological innovations. Postmodern artists have been aware of this for many decades. They simply choose mediums that can best express their ideas, and are not married to any of them. They are medium-agnostic. Andy Warhol was a good example. Now that everything around us evolve so fast that we all need to be medium-agnostic, and focus not on what skills we have (or should have) but on who we are.

What does it mean to be medium-agnostic? Photographers, for instance, need to embrace the reality that it’s not their knowledge of how to operate their photographic equipment that is relevant or valuable to the market today. The glass-half-full perspective is that their creativity has now been freed from their medium. They are simply visual artists; free to explore other mediums. Some photographers enjoy making objects that they photograph; if so, perhaps they are actually industrial designers. Some photographers love directing people to act or look certain ways. Perhaps they are really directors. Their ability to direct people can be applied to many different fields.

Today, what does it mean to be a “writer”? Writing is a medium. It tells us that you have a certain skill, but it tells us nothing about who you are, how you think, what you value. It’s better to be a lawyer, entrepreneur, philosopher, doctor, scientist, marketer, or activist who can write and has something unique to say, than to be providing a service of writing for others. It’s just a matter of time when computers become smart enough that they can take our basic ideas and write articles for us. Some writers are great story-tellers. Their talent does not have to be tied to writing. I know a writer who applied her story-telling theories and philosophies to the field of user experience for websites. Her ideas have gained significant traction in the field.

What we call “skill” is a quality that we can measure. When it cannot be measured, we tend to use the word “talent” or “creativity”. Skills express “what” we are, and creativity expresses “who” we are. What we are can be compared and measured, but who we are cannot be. Pursuing measurable things is safer in general. The goal and the path are clear at the start, allowing us to make the choice more confidently and securely. But this also means that many other people will pursue the same roads of certainty. People naturally flock to certainty. Now with competitions becoming increasing global, our children will be competing with billions of people from around the world, head-to-head. Their citizenships will carry no inherent advantages or disadvantages. Their skills and knowledge will be fungible commodities, like salt, crude oil, and metals. It’s hard to survive if you are just a grain of salt. Our children should learn to feel comfortable traveling the road of uncertainty. It’s a waste of time and energy to compete with billions of others for academic excellence if academic competence will just be fungible commodity. If they are to have a meaningful life, they will have to pursue who they are, which cannot be compared or measured, for which there is no competition, to which no medium is tied.