Size matters

Until 15 years ago I regularly made drawings. The technique I used was old school: pastel on paper. This technique allowed for applying only one layer of pastel on the paper – or none. It did not provide for the option to add to or subtract from a surface already covered with pastel. Everything had to be right the first time around.

Now I sketch digitally. I can change colors, erase, edit and add anything I feel like. My decisions are no longer binding. I can undo them at any time.

My former technique required an immensely deep concentration during the act of creation. Every choice had to be the right one without fail. This meant I needed to have a meta-frame active to check my every act on whether I was moving in the right direction. Now, I also have a meta-frame active while sketching but it is not as limiting. I even can change the meta-frame itself while I am sketching.

Maybe the difference between old school drawing and digital sketching tells us something about online expression. Online expression does not need to have a fixed meta-frame in place. We can hop between paradigms without consequences.

Maybe online it is not so much our rapidly changing environment that provokes our behavior to become more fluid, as Bauman claims. Maybe it is the fact that online we are not bound to one meta-frame anymore that liquefies us. That, and the fact that our online acts and decisions seem editable at any time.

Probably this is what our students meant when they said that reality is more challenging than the online realm: it is not so much about having to be spontaneous and immediate as it is about having to pick the right meta-frame and make the right decision within that meta-frame, without the option of changing these choices in the present.

Reality is linear while the digital realm is not. But that does not mean reality in itself is irreversible. I can destroy the offline drawings I made and I can create new offline drawings. The difference between reality and the online world is that the building blocks of the different worlds are different in size. Reality is chunky while the digital is granular.