This past week my best buddy here in SF had a twinkie little visitor from New York stay free of charge in his studio with him. They'd never before met in person, having only exchanged messages through Grindr while my friend was in New York for a long weekend a month back.
The visitor lived on his iPhone for the entirety of his stay. Every time they came over to hang at my studio, he would plop onto the couch, whip a charger from out of nowhere, and sit cradling his phone as it juiced up, pausing in conversation every few seconds to respond to a text message or like a photo on Instagram. Even when we went to see Looper, he paid little attention to the film, his face instead illuminated by the phone he simply couldn't set down. If you're reading this, you likely know my thoughts on phones in movie theaters: they don't belong. Ever.
When we went to the park, he had to Instagram the park. When we pulled out our books to read, he had to Instagram his open book. Nothing was too trivial for this kid's Instagram: vanagons, bagels, walking up a hill, walking back down the hill, vegetables, parking meters, a fire hydrant. He quite literally saw the world through an Instagram filter, and unless something would make a decent photo, it wasn't worth his time.
Now, this kid wasn't just visiting SF: he's planning on moving here. And this was his trial week. And he spent *all* of it feverishly snapping photos, writing captions, and uploading them for his 409 followers to comment on. It's as if he can't justify living unless other people are validating his most trivial moments.
I'm reminded of this excerpt from my senior thesis:
The decade has come and gone, its major contribution to American society the reflective realm of social media. That’s right: being social is now a new media form. People blog. They maintain Facebook profiles with the goal of keeping their best foot – or their most attractive foot – in the spotlight. They tweet clever diatribes that allow devoted followers access to their every move. And, when something truly outrageous happens, its filmic counterpart pops up on Youtube in as little time as a minute. People are on display as much as they want to be, and they’re shaping their lives accordingly. The logical path of fiction for 2010, then, might now look like this:
Reality → Technology → Entertainment → Reality → Entertainment → Reality…
And so on and so forth, until the (increasingly) fine line dividing “reality” and “entertainment” becomes virtually imperceptible.
Again, refer to Disneyland versus Reality Park. The key difference between the two – and which Eco, even if disparagingly, acknowledges – is that there’s still some visible distinction between Disneyland and its external society. Even if the industrial squalor of Los Angeles “knowingly” plays off the perfect plasticity of Main Street, U.S.A. in order for the latter to shine all the brighter, there’s still some amount of contrast present in the equation. Humans can distinguish external from internal, despite both realms working together to form the great irony of the twenty-first century. Reality Park, though, is reality, to the extent that Airplane would be absolutely no fun for anyone who wasn’t both completely aware and appreciative of its resounding falseness. And to live in a world where Disneyland has been abandoned in favor of Reality Park – where packaged entertainment is being usurped by today’s younger generation of tech-savvy, reflection-happy scenesters – is frightening. Because when people start looking to themselves for amusement, and those same people become aware of that self-imposed gaze, then they begin both acting for and responding to an audience; an audience that includes themselves. And it’s at this point, I believe, that something crucial to a meaningful existence is lost.
As of this writing, the twink's latest uploaded Instagram photo features his disembodied arm handing a dog a chew toy. It has ten likes.