12/04/2015

The social net worth

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I have a confession to make. I get kilig every time I get new followers on Instagram @imcalledtoffee. If you’re gagging already, skip to the end of this article. I can’t help it. I seem to have anchored my sense of self on how people validate me online.

My new followers usually come in twos or threes. Never in the hundreds. My work or background doesn’t connote the kind of fame or mythology that magnetizes en masse, and sadly, that’s the only way to get followers these days. You can’t expect any less of a country so entrenched in celebrity culture, zeitgeist anything, and the black hole of viral connectivity.

For instance, when you have transitioned into first degree of separation from a cool girl or a celebrity, their followers welcome you with feudal openness. Their e-tribes rally to give you a totemic like or follow, a consequence of the alternative forms of access they seek, away from the glitz and glamour and veering towards authenticity and self-styled divination. In other words, mileage. Social media has become the millennial’s rewards program for simultaneous emasculation and self-promotion.

Maybe when they spot a groufie of you and said cool girl at a coffee shop, their heart skips a beat. Or how the fact that you comment on each other’s posts automatically precludes a degree of exclusivity. For a regular follower, it’s reverse demystification, making fact stranger than fiction by rendering a stranger less of a stranger by deflecting towards other strangers. It’s as though a variety entry points helps them penetrate to the core. In which case, truth really is stranger than fiction. It’s interesting to note, however, that followability or one’s social net worth isn’t exactly 21st century paresthesia, at least on the side of the agenda. The concept of social net worth existed well before our time.

People generally want to be accepted and, moreover, validated. Feel a little less lonely, whether as perfomer or voyeur; true enough, it gets lonely at the top and lonelier at the bottom.

Designer Coco Chanel had her fair share of dalliances with then who’s who of her generation, most notably composer Igor Stravinsky. In fact, it was a friendship that blossomed into romance. Lensman Phillip Halsman had Marilyn Monroe and painter Salvador Dali for muses. He was captivated by their authenticity; taken together, they captivated the world. Meanwhile, Andy Warhol was a staple of Studio 54, a place to see and be seen, and perchance to forge new narratives for art and collaboration. While I acknowledge that it is this need for community that propels such spheres of influence, it is also in great parts fraternity and fascination, nowadays corrupted by the dawn of new media, which gives people a free pass on having to endure face-to-face interaction. It’s when you can project the image of being friends with someone when you’ve barely exchanged three words. Hello, it’s me!

And why is that? Why do we get by on tomfoolery and why have we all become con artists in this regard? Is the need for reinvention so palpable that we end up denying the skin we’re in? And are we really that miserable? Maybe the perks more than make up for it. Invites to the coolest parties. Tickets. First dibs on store openings. Having insider information. Knowing the backstory behind the byline. Freebies in exchange for a simple Instagram post. You can call it osmosis or coagulation, like those bits of cereal drawn together by the swirl of a silver spoon and forming visual patterns on milk surfaces. The boat is sinking; group yourselves into twos.

It’s not so much the idea as it is the ideal. People generally want to be accepted and, moreover, validated. Feel a little less lonely, whether as perfomer or voyeur; true enough, it gets lonely at the top and lonelier at the bottom. Can you imagine what celebrities and cool girls have to go through, trying to discern the real from the reel? In a period of great uncertainty, precognition and post-acceptance, everyone is shuffling to find some kind of social reprieve.

Acceptance is one of man’s fundamental goals. What bothers me is the standard by which forlorn millennials have so brashly skewed this concept towards self-gratification. It’s become a question of whether or not your social network is indicative of social net worth. Who you’re connected to, how many followers you have, how many likes you’ve gotten have become the determinants of “influencer” culture, the tragedy that comes after coming of age. Nowadays, it’s about the ability to “perform,” to leverage for the sake of mileage, to anesthetize reality through the sum total of one’s tightly wound online persona, a gold standard dictated by a select few who feed on the energy of those who revel at the bottom.

I remember seeking an intern’s help once in promoting a show through her Instagram and she outright declined, saying that it was against her brand to seed something that didn’t involve her on a visual spectrum. It was for a poster of a project we were both working on. Never mind that she was also part of it or that it was vital to her internship.

In her defense, and for the many who have taken to social media as performance and a vehicle for reinvention, consistency is key. There is succulence to be found in a perfectly curated online persona, a modern-day myth, which becomes symbiosis between leader and follower. I give you a VSCO post with a witty caption, and all the intimate access you want, and you give me a like or a follow. Pretense begets pretense after all. But when it comes at the expense of moments that fortify you as a person, then that’s a different matter altogether.

I had a conversation with a friend who hosted a gathering for the stalwarts of her industry. She said that in its intimacy, there were no posts, no hashtags, no selfies. There was no traction on social media, and incredibly, no desire for it. The guests were fully immersed in the company of their peers and the conversation. The music was quiet but the cacophony of words became the accompaniment. I thought: Could it be? Were they actually “living in the moment”? I got goosebumps hearing such stories, and thought, well, isn’t that the point?

In our loneliness, we have sought out new ways to connect but in the process, became even more disconnected. We’ve become lost in the how-to’s of perpetrating social net worth and forgotten the why of it — company, creativity, connection. And when there’s an app or social media element to pretty much everything, you can just imagine the speed by which imagination takes over determination. That people are actually okay with this means that talking about it out loud is taboo. It’s like we all know that we’re taking the same drug, currently in an induced state, and yet are waxing sober in our press release. God knows how many times I felt awkwardness in the room when I happened to talk about this with some friends who are doing the exact same thing. In the meantime, how’s about a follow or two? I have friendships waiting to happen @imcalledtoffee.

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