I was following an interesting discussion on Twitter the other day. It brought up the observation that the invention of the camera resulted in people dressing in more flamboyant ways in order that their appearance might be equal to the composition of something as significant as a photograph. Then people just accepted the idea of being well dressed and as a result the Dandy (interestingly-dressed person) was born. Yes, people dressed in elaborate ways many years before the invention of the camera, but this new invention gave far more people a more substantial reason to take care of their appearance.
Today the camera/Dandy relationship is mirrored by social media/opinionated person, or in a more negative light, social media/troll. Just as the camera demanded we fed it with decent imagery, social media demands that we keep it stoked with interesting things to read. Unfortunately many of us don’t have interesting things to say all day, so we might then feel the need to exaggerate our opinions somewhat so that they might prove worthy of being broadcast to hundreds or thousands of possible readers. You can’t just shrug your shoulders at something on Twitter. In order to be ‘interesting’ you have to load up the blunderbuss with swear words and vitriol (or effusive praise that will often include an inappropriate use of the word ‘genius’) and let fly at all and sundry.
The conversation in which I came across this point was about football, where every player is now ‘shit’ or ‘genius’, no matter how they played last week. If they were not at their best today they must now be deemed ‘shit’ until the next game, when they play slightly better and become ‘genius’ again. Considered opinion and reasoned debate are not what fuels Twitter (or newspapers, which seemed to realise this phenomenon quite a while ago); if you have a loudhailer you must use it to its greatest effect. There is no point in telling everyone you know that you ‘quite like’ the new Coen Brothers movie; you must love it or hate it, otherwise why did you put finger to keyboard, you tedious dullard?
I recently gave a talk to my agency about honesty in advertising, where I started by pointing out the essential dishonesty in being a person in 2014: wearing make up or clothes that suit you, combing your hair, spraying on perfume or brushing a little dandruff off your shoulder… they’re all ways of disguising the real you, or to put it another way, lying. Then you go onto Facebook and tell everyone about the great restaurant you just visited, or cool country you flew to on holiday, just so they all know how rich, tasteful and interesting you are; perhaps you added a link to a great TED talk or showed us an inspiring quote from a famous philosopher, clearly demonstrating your kind intelligence. What you didn’t do was update your status with, ‘Had a terrible bowel movement this morning’ or ‘felt mild antipathy towards an old lady who walked slowly in front of me’. You present only your good side, the side that will make everyone think you’re nothing but attractive, cool and fascinating, instead of mediocre, mundane and tolerable at best. And there’s nothing wrong with any of that, but it might be worth being aware of what we’ve become, and the fact that it’s happened with an almost total lack of self-awareness.
I’m interested in where it’s all heading. To paraphrase The Incredibles, if everything we do is interesting the surely nothing is. Will we have to keep on showing off harder and harder until climbing Mount Everest with Jay-Z and Beyonce while munching Heston Blumenthal’s Kendal Mint Cake is the only thing worth a mention? Will the ever-greater scramble to the heights of experience leave the everyday so mundane that we won’t be able to stand it? Will the black-and-white nature of assessment and judgement squeeze the equivocal to death?
I’m just glad this is literally the greatest, most genius blog post ever written.