Online Celebrities
January 21, 2022 10:05 PM   Subscribe

On the internet, we're always famous: Everyone is losing their minds online because the combination of mass fame and mass surveillance increasingly channels our most basic impulses—toward loving and being loved, caring for and being cared for, getting the people we know to laugh at our jokes—into the project of impressing strangers, a project that cannot, by definition, sate our desires but feels close enough to real human connection that we cannot but pursue it in ever more compulsive ways.
posted by blue shadows (28 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Good excerpt from a good article.

So is Metafilter a case of this, or not a bad case because enough of us know each other well enough (IRL, or just a long time online?), or not a bad case because text isn't very gripping? Do the moderators play a little Star role, do Fans mistake them? Did SF&F fandom show it all coming even before the money arrived?
posted by clew at 11:02 PM on January 21 [1 favorite]

I can tell you that a thousand kind words from strangers will bounce off you, while a single harsh criticism will linger.

posted by Halloween Jack at 11:29 PM on January 21 [6 favorites]

Is there a way to read this without paying?
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:13 AM on January 22

Is there a way to read this without paying?
Turn off javascript.
posted by one for the books at 12:29 AM on January 22

Turn off JavaScript

This removes the popup but does not reveal the whole article. Did you try it?
posted by wemayfreeze at 12:39 AM on January 22

In Firefox, under "View", go to "Enter Reader View" if its not greyed out. It seems to get me through a lot of paywall screened-off content.

And if this is the comment that gets me famous, well fuck all y'all humans I'm out. PEACE
posted by not_on_display at 12:43 AM on January 22 [5 favorites]

Does this link work for you? (Sorry, the original one worked fine for me so had no idea it might not for everyone. For what it's worth, I've got a whole bunch of privacy extensions on Chrome that seem to help bypass paywalls.)
posted by blue shadows at 12:59 AM on January 22

Is there a way to read this without paying?

Works for me in Firefox with the Bypass Paywalls Clean add-on installed. Also available for Chrome.
posted by flabdablet at 12:59 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]

If you overhear something nice about you, you feel a brief warm glow, but anything else will ball your stomach into knots.

Yeah, nah. That's a personal insecurity thing, not so much a me thing any more. Dilligaf that shit straight out of your life, it does you no good.
posted by flabdablet at 1:02 AM on January 22 [4 favorites]

Wow that was a terrific article, thanks for posting.

I have to disagree - at least I think I disagree - that a thousand kind words from strangers is less harmful to the psyche than a few harsh criticisms. When I was on Instagram all the time, obsessively chasing likes, I don't remember any criticism really. I know I got some, but was just like "fuck that guy." It wasn't the hate but the love that did my head in.

A few years ago, I was learning Photoshop, and my kid said hey, photoshop Snoop Dogg's face onto my friend's picture. She'd get a kick out of it. So I did, and posted it to Facebook. It was not a good photoshop, not at all, but through some weird miracle, the people who run Snoop Dogg's social media saw it, and reposted it. Then it was picked up by memers who added text to it and reposted it, and pretty soon my picture in one form or another had more than 200k likes. The friend, Giulia, was over the moon, and asked for more pics. So I made more Giulia-Snoop picks, and another one got reposted by Snoop, and another one without Giulia too. I found my métier was photoshopping people's heads onto other bodies, and I did a new picture almost every day. Many, many were of Giulia, my kid's friend, this 18-year-old girl who was as eager to be photoshopped as I was to do it, and my kids, and others of their friends. But that wasn't enough grist for my mill, so I would solicit strangers on Instagram and even here.

In time, my Instagram had more than 4,000 followers, and I had more willing subjects than I had time to make pictures of them, and a gratifying number of likes and nice comments (but never enough). An IRL friend pointed out to me that I was obsessive, that my "locus of control is external." (That's Giulia in the picture, of course.) I realized I was not happy. I was stressed. So I deleted my account. I still make photoshops now and then, but not many, and not many people see them. I had a kind of weird, disappointing Christmas last year, and posted to reddit offering to photoshop anybody. I was definitely hoping for that dopamine or endorphin hit or whatever I used to get, but it didn't come, and I didn't even finish all the photoshops.

Giulia is all grown up and in marketing now, and uses her history as a meme herself as part of her brand. She doesn't seem like she was harmed, and nor did she seem especially unhappy to no longer be a muse. She promotes herself now, and what she can do, rather than my pictures of her. She actually met Snoop Dogg in person, and told him she was the girl in those pictures he had posted a few years before, and he was very kind to her, whether he knew what she was talking about or not.

Well, only connect, I guess.
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 1:25 AM on January 22 [27 favorites]

Well, I dutifully made it through the article, from the we in "We're always famous" to the we in "many of us thought" to the we in "our collective mental lives" to the we in "Humans evolved in small groups" to the we in "just about everyone" to the we in "Western intellectual tradition" to the we in "from Sartre to Lacan" to the we in "We Who Post are trapped" to the we in "psychologically destabilizing experience of fame is coming for everyone", and not once got the feeling that Chris Hayes was talking to me, or about me, so I guess their particular problem is none of my concern.
posted by dmh at 3:56 AM on January 22 [7 favorites]

Ok yeah. Well I really tried, I opened it in Reader view, I thought I almost made it to the end but then he started in on Hegel et al and I realized Reader had cut off quite a bit more to slog through. So I skimmed through the rest tbh.

It's not an entirely bad article. It's not very good though. It is in fact almost a suicide note. It's long form print journalism with no real actual point to make, but with a strong aptitude for enlightened navel gazing, struggling to justify the investment of our time required just to realize there's no real meat in this stew.

I'm sure many NYer subscribers will find the piece absolutely brilliant because he name-checked Hegel or whatever. That was the real WTF moment for me. Aside from the morbid aspect of the media meta-commentary here it is also mainly a personal commentary on narcissism as it relates to modern media. I know Freud is often poo-pooed these days, I feel like his legacy deserves a reassessment. He certainly seemed to offer a lot more direct insight into the mental processes underlying narcissism than Hegel did. (Full disclosure I have not read either of them as primary sources.)


pH indicating Socks, I very much appreciate your remarks! Sounds like a wild experience overall. Reddit though, not sure that's any actual improvement on Instagram at all. Instagram is merely parasitic, like a tapeworm turning society's half-digested crap into much less valuable crap. Reddit imo is truly cancerous, and I don't know if its role in the rise of the alt-right has been entirely intentional but the result is the same regardless.

Your aside about the locus of control led me to this wonderfully insightful article. I had been exposed to most of the concepts before but hadn't seen them unified like that, and I'd say there's quite a bit more worth discussing there than in the top article here. (Sorry OP, just being honest.)

And ALSO, heh, on your link for "only connect" there was this associated quote from McLuhan (whom I was surprised to see omitted from mention in the top piece):
There are no connections in resonant space. There are only interfaces and metamorphoses.
posted by viborg at 4:52 AM on January 22

Have to do it (even though I don't think it applies to the article).

Metafilter: no real actual point to make, but with a strong aptitude for enlightened navel gazing, struggling to justify the investment of our time required just to realize there's no real meat in this stew.

I don't think it's name checking Hegel that's the point, but that the piece manages to at least somewhat put it's finger on the zeitgeist of what really is looking for love in all the wrong (digital) places.
posted by blue shadows at 5:09 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]

From the article: For the vast majority of our species’ history, those were the two principal categories of human relations: kin and gods.
Aside from the undergraduate-essay nature of a statement that starts in grandiose confidence with, "for the vast majority of our species'history," it occurs to me that what the writer is describing is a society in which an entire world has actually taken on the dynamic of local village.

Becoming suddenly and persistently famous is not a new thing; it used to be sort of confined, though, to your immediate neighborhood, and if you were mobile, you could move to a different state or another country and escape the noxious effects of notoriety or popularity without consequence. Our "fennec fox ears" just expand the scope of the village.

As a person who has a minuscule amount of "fame" for various small accomplishments, my experience has been that there are always many, many people who are far more famous than I am, even in my own small global communities. Also, as he notes, "fame" isn't nearly as rewarding as people think it is, long term. "Oh, I know who you are," gets old really fast when meeting people for the first time.
posted by Peach at 5:15 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]

Perhaps This is Phil Fish might be a more useful discussion on the subject - it discusses the idea of hyper-niche celebrity, through the lens of a game designer you probably haven't heard of but was at one point Known Enough.
posted by Merus at 5:33 AM on January 22

I don't think it's name checking Hegel that's the point, but that the piece manages to at least somewhat put it's finger on the zeitgeist of what really is looking for love in all the wrong (digital) places.

What really is looking for love in all the wrong places, aka narcissism. Again I fail to see why Hegel would be more instructive in this regard than Freud, or whichever other specific expert on the psychology of narcissism you may prefer to Freud.

I feel like maybe I'm not making my point clearly? Not sure if expanding on my understanding of narcissism might help to clarify? Basically I feel like the author is falling back on his philosophy 101 framework which has probably served him so well in so many other rambling long-form thinkpieces, but he's struggling to apply that to a specifically psychological question, without even acknowledging the expertise of the actual psychologists.
posted by viborg at 5:51 AM on January 22

I wonder if part of why we are on the internet chasing connection with strangers is because connection with community and family is not possible anymore.

The household in the past often required a cook and housekeeper. Without them, the household fell apart. There were a few things you could cook quickly, but the wood stove took a long time to heat up, so nothing was quick unless the stove and the food were ready in advance. The stove needed somebody to keep the wood box filled. The garden needed someone to tend it. The livestock had to be fed and watered and cleaned up after every day. The diapers had to be washed. The frail and sick needed to be nursed at home until they died. The small children had to be watched and distracted from falling into the fire or getting lost. Laundry was a full day exhausting prospect. When a tree was felled it took multiple people to process it and turn it into firewood or lumber. When a new house was needed or repairs had to be made it was a given that you would do as much of the work as you could and have a builder in only for the parts you couldn't do. Babies were delivered by your mother or some woman acting as a midwife. Graves were dug by people you knew, with shovels. If you wanted music someone in the community played or sang. As little as possible was done for money that was given to strangers.

This meant you were deeply reliant on kin and community, and could not refuse to come to their aid but could also expect them to come to yours. I am in no way saying this was a golden age - it could just as easily be deeply dysfunctional enmeshment. But in communities like this you knew you were needed and what you did made a difference to others and what they did made a difference to you. The eight-year-old knew they were essential because if they didn't keep an eye on the six-year-old, the four-year-old and the three-year-old something devastating could happen. They also couldn't fix their own breakfast because microwaves and ready-meals were not a thing.

But now if I want to help my community and kin it's not a thing. The music I create is an irritant to the neighbours as they have so many choices they would never consider mine. A sidewalk plough does their shoveling. They do not know me remotely nearly well enough to drop off a child for half an hour. I never see their gofundmes because I don't know their names and don't share social media. My own kids have emigrated and live in apartments a plane ride away. They were happy to get financial contributions, but money does not forge a personal bond and is nothing compared to being the first one up every morning and getting the fire alight so that the temperature is above freezing when they get out of bed.

The urge to connect and help and look for commonalities is still there, and the only place I know of now with any kind of a success rate for me is the internet. Again, I am not saying this is a bad thing. If you are the only atheist in the village, or low status enough they want to eat you alive, or looking for a gay partner in a small community, or isolated in the house with too many small kids and responsibilities, the mutual family and community support could be not only lacking, but turn into active harm. Plenty of families and communities were brutally toxic too. But now we live in communities and kin networks we could easily walk away from.
posted by Jane the Brown at 6:05 AM on January 22 [16 favorites]

I actually found this article so helpful I shared it immediately. I think they’re absolutely right about the surveillance capabilities of literally everyone now, and how it limits the world people inhabit. The Hegel detour was a little much, but the rest of it is spot on about how damaging this stuff is.
posted by corb at 8:53 AM on January 22 [3 favorites]

There's a weird kind of hierarchy to Twitter and many other social media sites, where "fame" is measured in follows garnered by likes. To achieve a certain level of fame means reaching certain levels of followers, the more you get the higher the standing you achieve, so you "need" the followers to raise your place, but the more followers you get the less any one of them can mean to you as they start to become just numbers that move you to that next level of notice. What you achieve as you move up levels is increasingly rarefied air of fellow famous people with whom you are now assumed as peer and will increasingly make up your circle of shared comment while you look to get notice from the level above that, repeat until you get the blue check mark and hit millions of followers and then talk among the uppermost tier, hoping to be and remain accepted.

Hayes is being deliberate in his analogies, the top tier is where the "gods" live, those whom you hope to please but never can really be equals with or ultimately "know", save for the rare few lucky ones. But even those few still need acknowledge from someone of meaning to them to feel validated. Hayes, with his 2.4m followers and 1.4k follows, mostly blue checks, is speaking from a upper level of fame and saying that the chase for acknowledgement by social media never ends and can't be found in lasting form. His followers can't satisfy because they are numbers and can't be communicated with, to any meaningful degree, they are anonymous to him though vital to his place, while the acknowledgement he desires has to come from those at or above his level of "fame" to provide useful validation. Some of that may not be directly measured in total followers for narrower fields of interest, but the desire is for acknowledgement from those at the top of their fields, if only famous to those with specialized interests, but the reach towards getting that desired notice comes from building a similar base of "fans" to move you into possibility for those conversations.

You can see how some of this plays out directly when people first cross into the thousand plus followers and freak out by the demands placed on them by "Randos" with few followers, who they'll then make a post about needing to ignore, or someone else from that tier will tell them so. This isn't quite what young teens might be thinking of in their desire for fame, that may seem more like looking for love without having to return it, but Hayes is purposefully suggesting that it's really acknowledgement, not love, people are seeking and that can't be fulfilled by followers and likes alone, it needs a different kind of validation that can't easily be obtained or held for always being sought from the Gods/Masters/Stars above to whom you are just a fan feeding their numbers.
posted by gusottertrout at 9:21 AM on January 22 [5 favorites]

Parasocial Media.
posted by jscalzi at 10:17 AM on January 22 [4 favorites]

I agree that there is somewhat of a Philosophy 101 vibe to the essay, but focussing on it misses all the other valid points it makes about meaningful connections, privacy, and technology.
posted by blue shadows at 10:18 AM on January 22 [1 favorite]

I appreciate the specifics of what you liked about it. With due respect I feel like the author's take on "meaningful connections" was already touched on upthread, and it reflects much more his personal biases than any real universal truth. It feels like his experience is so disconnected from mine that we hardly inhabit the same online world. He most likely had a full social circle of his NY yuppie peers before he entered the world of social media, and once he logged on, he instantly was catapulted into the mini-limelight by virtue of his profession and that monkeysphere community. There are those of us who don't really have much of real-life social circle at all though. And social media is mostly a struggle to connect with anyone in any meaningful way yes, but once those connections are established in my experience it does not at all support his claim that it is "a project that cannot, by definition, sate our desires". I've had plenty of fake/toxic interactions in the monkeysphere too, but those experiences whether online or off don't completely preclude the possibility of forming real friendships in either realm.

Basically my hot take is that the author takes his real world social group and status mostly for granted, fails to understand how those factors majorly influenced his online experience immediately from the outset, and presumes that his frankly kneejerk emotional reactions are universal when as others here have already pointed out, they definitely are not. Similar issues apply to his analysis of privacy -- he assumes basically everyone online constantly broadcasts their emotions etc etc but many of us absolutely do not. (Unless we're bashing out a response to a heated discussion on MeFi or the like, but it's also quite possible that my horrible experiences of being stalked, harassed, and doxxed by brigades of alt-right trolls on reddit were not typical of the average online FB addict, and that influenced my behavior.)

Ok so that leaves the technological component. The bit about television was interesting, true.
posted by viborg at 11:20 AM on January 22 [2 favorites]

And also respectfully, on the other hand my brief experience on Facebook matches what the author says. It didn't take very long for me to quit because I realized that the way most people were using it was fairly empty, everyone just competing for likes.
posted by blue shadows at 12:45 PM on January 22

> Parasocial Media.

All-too-liminal space.
posted by not_on_display at 1:37 PM on January 22

This seems to be a social media only thing? I avoid social media except for where I'm forced to use for a volunteer thing (under a fake name), and I only post to private groups and don't post anything I have to say on my own account. However, I do have various extremely unpopular websites that I don't publicize, some don't even have RSS or a mailing list or whatever. I had someone try to dox me, so I stay under the wire. I haven't become popular, there's no likes/clicks/follows/followers to have to worry about, and therefore there's no drama. No sudden fame. Few people IRL know I have any, most don't care anyway.

Part of me wonders what would have happened if I'd tried to pursue Internet fame in the last 90's when I got online and things were easier then. I don't especially care if anyone reads my work or not (weird, I know, but there it is) so I never really did that sort of thing, and nowadays it seems very smart that I never did. Sudden fame these days doesn't give you money/ability to pay for security because suddenly you have stalkers, but it's pretty guaranteed to get you death threats and stalkers if a bunch of people see you. You don't want to be seen by the masses these days. Hell, just being a shitty dater and someone mentioning it on TikTok...there you go.

Stop canceling people who go viral.

We've taken this shit waaaaaaaaaaaaaaay too far, but I don't know if there's any way to fix it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:49 PM on January 22 [1 favorite]

Just don't post, and there's a real limit to your risk of exposure.
posted by Braeburn at 2:21 PM on January 22

I think that might snarky, but I really mean it. Metafilter is the only place I post, I havn't made a Facebook post in months, and I haven't made a personal post on Facebook in over a year. You don't have to engage with these things in the intended manner.
posted by Braeburn at 2:24 PM on January 22 [7 favorites]

One of the things the piece sorta touched on, in regards to the Postman book and mention of the early blog friendly web, is in how the form of communication shapes the interactions, but it didn't really dig into that in satisfactory detail. Metafilter and other forums, for their users, have a minimally hierarchical structure that makes discussion flow in a different way than other social media where one posts to "the public", which is the method Hayes is considering. Conversing on Metafilter places everyone on a more or less equal footing, where the expectation is that we will all recognize each other as potential equals, save for the mods having additional powers and responsibility to the community to maintain that order. The goal is one of shared community and that comes out in the form of the site and imposes a different kind of purpose and order to it. For the better in terms of onsite conversation, but more limited in reach for that generally.

The bigger failing of the piece is in how Hayes limits much of his thoughts to a kin and gods definition and leaves out the equally long awareness of "the other" from that binary. There's always been wariness or outright fear about the other, the stranger, or the embodied forces some gods represent as not all gods were worshiped as personal protectors, some were gods of other groups or forces one hoped to be protected from.

In the piece there is this hard to avoid sense that Hayes is thinking of the masses in just that way, as others, the bit on Kevin Durant, for example, suggesting that pretty strongly as Hayes is almost incredulous that Durant, a 33 year old man who excels at one set of skills, would converse with a "normal" 20 year old, as if that isn't something that should happen in a way. That suggests Hayes has more or less taken on this sense of wariness or fear of the unknown other the masses represent. Some of that surely for good reason, people can be assholes and as a group wield power in unpredictable ways that might strike at those above them in "fame". But some of that too just speaks to the view from the upper tiers towards those below.

Much of what Hayes tried to lay out in his mention of the Russian wedding couple covers some of the idea of even people who think they're only posting to pals and aren't affected by the bigger forces of social media might still be swept up into a higher level of "fame" or notoriety against their desires and the possible harm in that. That's something that could theoretically happen even on Metafilter, given the public face of it that isn't controlled. But much of that is better considered in previously discussed pieces on context collapse. It's also worth noting though that the form of interaction still does matter, where the response one can get from, say, emailing or talking to a "higher tier" person through their own website or through different channels will garner a more "human" response than on open social media where their status as "stars" almost demands that hierarchical boundary gets reinforced as protection from the horde. The ultimate god is the platform in that sense.
posted by gusottertrout at 6:32 AM on January 23 [2 favorites]

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