Chris Hayes writes for the New Yorker on how the internet has brought about a kind of pseudo-fame that’s accessible to just about everyone. His view of fame is that it is a disruptive force, rather than something that you should strive to attain.
This, perhaps, is the most obviously pernicious part of the expansion of celebrity: ever since there have been famous people, there have been people driven mad by fame. In the modern era, it’s a cliché: the rock star, comedian, or starlet who succumbs to addiction, alienation, depression, and self-destruction under the glare of the spotlight. Being known by strangers, and, even more dangerously, seeking their approval, is an existential trap. And right now, the condition of contemporary life is to shepherd entire generations into this spiritual quicksand.
Given the state of our collective mental health, it’s hard to argue against the dangers Hayes brings up. Are reports of mental health problems simply more widely reported because the stigma on discussing those issues has become softer? Or are the issues more prevalent, and if so, why? Hayes and others postulations of the dangers of social media and chasing ephemeral internet fame certainly feel like they could be pinpointing at least part of the problem.
As we learn more about Instagram’s effects on the emotional health of young women in particular, it’s time to reflect on the aspect of trying to seek the approval of strangers in a simulacrum of fame. Seeking this approval leads to examination of what brings attention and an attempt to model those looks and behaviors.
In a “mental health deep dive”, marketing and product design executives and data scientists at Facebook concluded that some of the problems, such as “social comparison”, were specific to Instagram and not replicated by other platforms.
Neil Postman is referenced in the Hayes piece, as TV was the prophesied bridge to our modern state of pursuing amusement over meaningful discourse. 1 Even though he was still alive for the rise of the internet, I’m pretty convinced Postman would be absolutely apoplectic at what has become of culture in the wake of social media. If TV reduced our attention span to consume edifying work, social media has drained it even further. TLDR is a much used acronym for a reason. The barrage of information coming at us makes us victims more than conscious participants in this degradation. But who is going to help us if we are unable to help ourselves?
At some point, Postman will have been cited by as many bloggers as Foucault has been cited by academics. ↩︎