Ben Tallon - Feeding the Machine

In September 2000 I arrived at art college, feeling nervous, ready to be stared at, or not, by a new host of faces for the first time since I began high school in 1994.  If memory serves, that day I wore a shockingly ill-fitting, fake leather jacket and tracksuit bottoms, a hangover from a fear to break the mould of a small-town mid-to-late nineties teenage existence.

Perhaps more importantly, under the arm of this fashion crime was a beautifully printed book containing the artwork from the video game Metal Gear Solid. I had made it to college in spite of my GCSE belly flop into a shallow pool of grade Cs, Ds and Fs, finding little enthusiasm for any schoolwork outside of PE, Art and English.

My influences at 17-years-old were extremely limited, but my core creative drivers provided perfect launch pads for a career in the creative industry thanks to brilliant mentors along the way who used these passions to switch me on to inspirations outside of my bubble.

Now a 33-year-old man, sat gripped by the climax of Stranger Things, the brilliant new TV series inspired by 1980’s visual culture, I can’t help but think about how important it is to find the balance between a lack of cultural awareness and too much noise

The world I inhabited in 2000 was much smaller than the one that swarms my mind today. The internet was still in its infancy and social media would not become the inherent part of our day-to-day lives that it is today for the best part of a decade. Each new topic my tutor would quietly guide me towards could be explored patiently until I connected with it, forced to make dedicated trips to the computer room and sit through painstakingly long loading times if I wanted to do anything else online.

Today, I am constantly under-siege, peppered with an incessant barrage of information. So often, I find myself on the London Underground or walking down the street, surrounded by interesting points of reference, characters and conversations worth observing, yet unable to disconnect from the sheer roar of things I need to do, read, watch, listen to, think about and discuss. During these times, I long for the existence of the cats that rule the internet. This all-conquering information superhighway is the chief antagonist for my overwhelmed mind.

Watching Stranger Things, I am reminded of the benefits of focus, concentration on one slice of information. I am in love with the extremely well developed characters, I hate the bad guys, I geek out at the impressive title sequence and don’t get me started on the agitated synthesizers at work in the soundtrack. With my phone on low volume, left to charge in the room next door, I am relaxed, consciously and subconsciously imbibing and digesting all of this show. The urge to check my emails, reply to that Facebook message, post that cool photo of the fruit and vegetable market on Instagram and the need to print that flight itinerary have receded onto tomorrow’s to-do list. I am certain that sooner than later, the attention I have afforded one source of inspiration will resurface from my mind as a completely new idea that could only have come from me. 

In today’s information age, it is so hard to break free of the high-octane and inescapable chain of words, pictures, sounds and videos.

In 2000, my pockets contained nothing more than loose change and my mother's worst nightmare - tissues destined for the washing machine. Today in that same pocket is immediate virtual access to the entire world wherever I may be.  I worry that if I were starting out today, it would be hard to stop, breathe and take the time to process, digest and own the things that influenced me the way they did during crucial college formative creative years, instead becoming an impatient, badly developed character with no sense of self.

The world at our fingertips, if travelled in moderation, with time afforded during which we can retreat from it so that the things we are exposed to are allowed to settle and solidify in our subconscious is a wonderful and positive thing. That way, we have more fuel than ever before to feed that ever-surprising machine.

On the flipside, with so much repetition in the creative industry, it's easy to see the negative impact of overexposure

Just like all the great work executed at any time in history, the balance between a healthy range of influences and unique interpretation of our most intimate and personal obsessions is what will allow us to become remarkable creative professionals and not another self-replicating robot.

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01 Nov 2016 12:46
really interesting - thanks for sharing
Hannah Allwright
04 Nov 2016 09:51
I enjoy this series. Really interesting.
19 May 2017 21:07
Very interesting! Thanks for posting!

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