Perhaps the straight forward camera that has pushed this sense of influencer economy is peak solipsism, as we manipulate the faceless cybernetic crowd to direct its automated rigamortic glowing gaze in our direction. And what we see now, what we are all feeling is the splintering through pangs of relief that come when we’ve manipulated those structures away from that all consuming design.
It’s all very postmodern. This aesthetic behavioral rebellion. 3% changes around the copy paste style of digital creation loop after loop. But a 3% slide eventually brings us into a new pool, and maybe that pool can be a cleaner break.
Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation, by children being taught mathematical concepts... A graphic representation of data abstracted from banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding...
— William Gibson
Facebook gave us the true 1-to-1 tie between the physical and digital world. How we represented ourselves online, was directly tied to trust. Our goal was to amass a large crowd around that sense of trust. Between each other and the artifacts we were all able to produce. As the social photo took hold, alongside hardware rapidly improving, so did our need to release ourselves from such a stale sense of life updates.
But it wasn’t as cut and dry as that. The true catalyst of this whole death march was the feed. The original game of Facebook: I would post on my friend’s wall because I knew they were still on the bus home, and wouldn’t get to their computer for 30 minutes. And they would have a surprise waiting. Sometimes it would be nothing, sometimes it would be damning. It demanded attention. But the initial action was primarily 1-to-1.
What the feed did was make us compete. It wasn’t about, what I left on a friend’s wall. Their wall was for them now, a historical marker of past emotions and events. Now it was about… tv. Is my channel, more interesting than those other channels. And the kicker is, I know the producers behind those other channels and we can all see each other’s ratings.
Fiction's about what it is to be a human being.
— David Foster Wallace
$1B of spend later, instead of just getting it on the app store for free, Facebook downloaded Instagram.
The perfect performative engine. There was no collaboration, no surprises. Pure consumption + validation. With this came the shared pink wall, mocha latte, marble table aesthetic. You had it, and you knew “how to Instagram” or you didn’t. With scale, like many things, this aesthetic grip fractured. But the sense of performance didn’t. Being aware of your follower/following ratio didn’t.
Then Instagram became our new Tumblr. We held multiple accounts, anonymous meme accounts, specialization and fluid senses of communities existing around a singular account.
*another Stanford boy has entered the chat*
Snapchat blew a lot of this up. A first principles approach on the nature of identity, expression, communication. Although they have been battling storms of Mark’s never ending aggression, which I believe will soften as breakup conversation increases because they need Snapchat and Twitter and TikTok to do well to prove they aren’t a monopoly.
What this camera first, consciously aware of ephemerality, close friends lens did… was relieve us. We were allowed to be wrong, raunchy, open, pointless, and hundred other feelings because of this structure. And it stood as an affront to Facebook’s values.
Both Instagram and Snapchat benefited from a key understanding of consumer internet. Most people want to achieve the same things as creative people, but most people aren’t creative. Instagram leveraged filters to bunny hop phone camera’s pace of improvement. Making any photo look arttssssyyyyyyy. Snapchat created lenses for a similar mechanism. Less about being able to rank up in a feed against your friends, and more about achieving a certain level of expression.
Memes are templates. It’s a shared language. The understanding we can reconstruct 1 input (the text) to create a synonymous output of feeling for any given situation. Or for video: looking at the structure -> tapping on the same song -> performing the same movements -> final joke / overlay is the remix.
(As a side note, something else I find interesting about TikTok is that we have partially lost the voice of this grouping because the construction of these videos so heavily rely on music as the common thread…. thought for another day)
This is what TikTok feeds off of. With each meme, you give every user a chance to manipulate and remix it from their own vantage point. Throw in a full screen #fy feed, and you create a competitive loop.
But what’s most interesting about this format isn’t the competition that happens. That will always be geared towards a specific person, and the rest is consumption. Instead what is fascinating is (1) everything collaborative around a particular meme, facilitated through duets and threads + (2) the fluidity memes allow us with our own identity.
The collage above is all the same girl. She shifts from e-girl, to heavy CosPlay makeup, to satirizing vsco girls, to admittedly pretty smooth dances, and more. These templates have allowed a sort of digital expression that I don’t believe Snapchat was on it’s way towards, and the lack of conformity wouldn’t have been rewarded on Instagram.
What is all of this trending towards.
Since the beginning of the Facebook newsfeed, on an unprecedented scale, we understood the concept of self-editing. Not necessarily in an photoshop way, but in the very nature of how we represent and express ourselves online. And the subsequent nature of peer consumption.
This flattening of identity resulted in a characterization, almost a self-meme, we all adopt.
More and more I’m actually viewing Snapchat and TikTok within the same strain of thought. The open sense of play around expression. Based on different philosophies and goals, yes… but they are living in the same pool. Allowing a template, whether technological or cultural, to drive a sense of exploration around identity.
This is the shower idea that I played with this morning, the analogue tie to CosPlay.
When you think about it, the act of CosPlay is from the year 2050. The physical characterization of self, powered through a mimetic lens using anime / other identities as something to step into. It’s irl AR/VR.
The physical nature of this community will always be a barrier for some, but we all already take part in a daily sense of role play. Fueled more and more by digital tools that help to augment our visual reconstruction, distribution, and consumption of self.
Maybe it’ll never fully be realized through a social abstraction, this embodied role play. But the core meta-verse conversation is this fantasy and kayfabe like base. Which is also why I cringed watching the marketing around Facebook’s Horizon, despite the product seeming somewhat thoughtful.
I obviously have a lot of ideas about how this future comes about, but my job is to build that part. Not write about it. I just wanted to share the pre-amble I suppose.
We have no idea, now, of who or what the inhabitants of our future might be. In that sense, we have no future. Not in the sense that our grandparents had a future, or thought they did. Fully imagined cultural futures were the luxury of another day, one in which 'now' was of some greater duration. For us, of course, things can change so abruptly, so violently, so profoundly, that futures like our grandparents' have insufficient 'now' to stand on. We have no future because our present is too volatile. ... We have only risk management. The spinning of the given moment's scenarios. Pattern recognition
— William Gibson
Ok I think this is a good pausing point. Going to back to work. I didn’t edit this much so excuse typos etc etc etc. I hope this little peak inside my head showed more process than just a residual. I’ve been really enjoying being mostly off Twitter. I still check dm’s to make sure I don’t miss anything. And honestly, every time I look at the feed I just shake my head… y’all are just… so… whatever not necessary right now :p
Thanks so much for giving me your attention. I hope it was worth it, if not… unsubscribing will not hurt my feelings, and will give you back time you literally cannot have back.