It might sound like an obvious tautology, but we like the things that we like. Everyday we have access to online content that is about as close to infinite as our puny human brains can imagine, and certainly more than we can consume in the couple of hours between dinner and bedtime. It is not surprising that we click on links to the stuff we are interested in, and if we choose to share this stuff on social media sites, we want it to serve as a kind of performative consumption that represents some correlation between our interest and our identity, and is hopefully amusing to our audience of friends/followers. We live in self-curated echo chambers and, in a way, we always have. It's just so obvious now that it's online, and we are forced to face the undignified truth that such echo chambers often reflect more sinister forms of social stratification than what we vaguely refer to as our interests or tastes.
So what should we do? How do you germinate curiosity? And do it ethically. Without clickbait. Artists, activists, advertisers, adolescents, ex-lovers and probably everyone else at some point in their life has known the difficulty of speaking to someone who just can’t be enticed to listen to you. How do we engage people who aren’t interested? How do we preach to the unconverted? And perhaps more importantly, how do we listen sincerely to an opposing sermon?
There is a particularly Australian trope of comparing art and sport. We know that more people attended art galleries than AFL games in 2010 but I don't think NRL was counted so I wonder what the end game score is. To me, AFL and NRL are like, pretty much the same thing. Probably because I have never been to an AFL game. Or an NRL game. Or any other kind of football. Or tennis. Actually I don't think I've been to any sporting event at all. I went to the fencing at Homebush in the 2000 Olympics and that’s about it.
I’d like to go to a football match one day. But I don't want to go on my own. I just wouldn’t get that much out of it. For a start I don’t really understand the rules and would not be able to observe the subtlety of play or appreciate the athletic skill or really be able to comprehend much of what was going on at all. But if a friend accompanied me and helped translate the gameplay, I think I could really get into it.
Sometimes the opposite happens and you attend an event that you are entirely uninterested in, solely on the basis of a friend’s enthusiastic invitation. You may never attend extreme paintball or Brechtian Epic theatre or Biyelgee dance performances ever again but sharing an experience that is legitimately unfamiliar to you with an enthusiastic companion has its own distinct rewards. It can provide new insights and expand our capacity for compassion.
Social relations are so tricky. They so often reinforce our own experience of the world from the vantage point of our own class, culture, sexuality, etc. but every now and again, it is those same interpersonal experiences that confront and overcome such institutionalised divisions. I’m not suggesting expansive social networking strategies are amongst the best ways to make contemporary art and the issues art addresses more meaningful to more people. But I do think that an unanticipated experience of empathy can be instigated by an encounter with another consciousness, and that this sense of another consciousness can be transmitted both interpersonally and artistically. Such encounters can lead to a new and often radical understanding. For this reason, art galleries - especially contemporary art galleries, with their emphasis on legitimising diverse and personal interpretations - make great first date locations.