Is Instagram Language Inhibiting Our Creativity?

Bob Dylan

by Edwina Langley |

Last week, the world went nuts over a piece of news. No, not MarmiteGate. Nor that escapee gorilla. I’m talking about the new Nobel Prize winner for Literature. That little-known lyricist, Mr Bob Dylan…

‘From Orpheus to Faiz, song and poetry have been closely linked. Dylan is the brilliant inheritor of the bardic tradition,’ said author Salman Rushdie.

‘I'm a Dylan fan, but this is an ill conceived nostalgia award wrenched from the rancid prostates of senile, gibbering hippies,’ said novelist Irvine Welsh.

It’s safe to say a lot of people had a lot of opinions about it. One thing is undeniable, however. The words written by Bob Dylan have earned him worldwide recognition for decades now. And as of yesterday, also, an award; one most writers would give their right arm (or left arm, whichever they don’t use for writing) for.

The fact that this made the news goes to show how much we still value the prize, and by extension, the language. And that, in this image-led age, is a veritable relief. It does, however, also make our everyday use of language all the more baffling. Because, how can a society where we admire such such lyrics as…

‘Come gather around people

Wherever you roam

And admit that the waters

Around you have grown

And accept it that soon

You’ll be drenched to the bone

And if your breath to you is worth saving

Then you better start swimming or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changing’

… be the same society where, when we ourselves put words out into the ether, the ones we select (above all others) go something like this: #SquadGoals, #AboutLastNight, #GotMeLike?

Baffling, no?!

Seriously, could we ever imagine a scenario where Bob Dylan Instagrams a picture of something happy – I dunno, a smiling cat – alongside the caption: ‘Winning the #NobelPrize got me like…’? No, never. And it’s precisely for that reason (and others, obviously) that he’s won a Nobel Prize for Literature, whereas as we, social media users, haven’t.

Has social media language started to inhibit our creativity? I think so. It’s the only time most of us put our ideas/jokes/anecdotes out into the world, and so the language we use on it is fairly significant – and well, how many of us can own up to spending actual time composing ORIGINAL captions or comments? Most of us are far more likely to resort to cop-out phrases we know everyone will get and like, for example: ‘LOLS’ or ‘Bants’ or ‘Fitspo’. Such shortcuts – where did they come from? – are making us lazy and as a result, unimaginative. Our jokes are becoming repetitive. Whilst yesterday that would have spelled ‘the end’ for a joke, today it doesn’t. That joke lives on. We can’t be bothered to think up new ones so we’ve collectively decided to keep rehashing the old ones.

What’s more worrying, is that we still find them funny. ‘Got Me Like [Smiley Cat]’ posted by @BobDylan, would probably make me laugh. It’s a terrible joke! Not ‘so bad it’s funny,’ because it’s not even bad enough to be funny. It’s just a nothing of nothingness. And yet… I bet Bob would get a few likes for it.

I keep hoping those phrases would go away. But they won’t. Probably because we keep using them and liking them and using them again. All of this, of course, highlights what we subconsciously know already, which is that it’s difficult to be a good writer. Being the inventor of truly insightful or hilarious phrases doesn’t come easy to most of us. Not that that should be a problem, mind. Humans are always eager to try new things. We’re happy to work out how to navigate an iPhone, for instance, and attempt the latest Bake Off Challenge, and try to get our heads around contouring. But when it comes to trying out new phrases we’ve recently invented, rather than having a go – at least attempting to discover our inner Dylans – it’s as if we don’t want to risk the social embarrassment of ZERO LIKES, so we resist the urge. How much creative talent is this stifling? A lot I bet.

It’s also got something to do with the fact that when it comes to language, we’re becoming increasingly lazy. We just can’t be bothered. Is it, therefore, any wonder that phrases like ‘YOLO’ and ‘FOMO’ are making it into the Oxford English Dictionary? No, it’s not. Because not only are we too lazy to think up original phrases, but we’re becoming too lazy to even spell out the very unoriginal phrases we already have. It’s ludicrous.

Wordsmithery is such a pleasure, one we can all enjoy. And you don’t even have to be a genius to try it; in fact, success usually comes down to practise. If social media is here to stay – as I fear it is – we’ve got to come up with ways to continue keeping it interesting. And I mean, REALLY interesting – not just posting things we’ve been conditioned to find interesting (#SelfieReady #OutOfOfficeOn, #ThatMomentYouRealise…. et cetera). So come on, fellow Instagrammers, let’s make our next social media posts Nobel Prize-worthy. Show those tired, unfunny, frankly irritating hashtags that The Times They Are a-Changing…

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