So it struck me that the more I reflect and refine the thoughts I have on the speakers at Webstock 2016, the more I want to write it down somewhere. Alcoholism will eventually take my brain, so it would serve me well to log down my thoughts. It’s also good practice for building opinions and learning how to communicate better.
Heather Armstrong, for those who do not know, is internet famous. I didn’t know that. I’m not her target market and of course, that’s okay. But what is she doing at webstock?
She’s telling us that she’s worried. Sure there’s humour, there’s some old war stories about pissing off sponsors, something about goats, and hairy vaginas - maybe I’m overthinking it, but I don’t think she is happy with the way the internet has become homogonised, white-breadified or, in Heather’s own words, “white privilege gone mad”.
Like it matters what I think. But then, this is designed to be a critical analysis and you’ve read down this far, so let’s assume that it does matter.
At first I thought that Heather was speaking about how she loves the shit life throws at her. She loves talking about the ugly parts. The vomit filled car and car sick kids, the not having slept for two days on account of goddam slumber parties. At first it seemed that Heather simply wanted to tell us how satisfying it is being a whole human being, complete with all the flaws that humanity entails. I was a simpleton.
There’s a problem with social media these days.
It’s fucking fake man. That’s the crux of it. How many times have you not posted how awful your day was, because you didn’t want to be seen to be fishing for attention or sympathy? Believe me, if I’m posting about how crappy my day has been, there’s a pretty good chance I’m just venting, and don’t actually want any of your pity.
How many times on Snapchat or Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter, have you retaken the same photo forty times to get the light ‘just right’ or to wait for the perfect background tableau? #Instafilter #VSCOCAM #IveOnlyTypedThreeAndIAlreadyThinkLessOfMyself. Is that real? Is that raw? Is the rather mundane picture of your home made spag bol with a filter plasted over it, an accurate representation of your day? It may well be. How about the adorable raccoon account you follow? How about that wedding list? Are those ideas that you’re judging the most important day of your life against, a comparable wedding, with a comparable budget and are there people like yours attending?
How do you tell the difference?
That’s the point Heather is making. There are so many beautiful, natural and real things out there that we could be seeing, judging, loving. But we’re not. We’re wrapped up in what the Beebs said on twitter. We’re checking out Kim K on whatever godawful service she uses the most (probably all of them, actually?). This isn’t a new thing, it’s been a thing with magazines for a while now, hence models eating salad and water and starving themselves. Hence men stressing themselves out because they don’t look like He-Man (ps most girls think He-Man is too muscly so be cool guys we good. Or my wife is being kind to me. Shit). Kids are covering themselves in makeup because cleo or cosmo or whatever told them it was the right thing to do at the age of 8 (which is when most kids these days first see porn on the internet by the way - but that’s a different talk).
The rub is that the world (mostly) knows that these magazines are curated and unreal, that is, they misrepresent fundamental aspects of human nature. They lead us to believe that some highly idealised, highly managed and largely contrived set of circumstances, are real and normal and what we should all aspire to. And it’s wrong, dangerously so.
Heather knows this, she took great delight in pointing out the fakeness of it all. And she challenged us. I didn’t really realise until afterwards. There was this anecdote she told. She had a contract to write a thing about travelling with her kids. They didn’t want to be dragged out away from their lives, they resisted, and it put Heather in a position where she couldn’t write the bit. Because doing so required the involvement of her children even against their will. Now the children were part of her contract, before they had only ever been involved willingly.
It felt like exploitation Heather said.
That begs the question, how far are we willing to create fake lives for the benefit of others? Surely it would be better for our own wellbeing if we were just honest that, yes, sometimes life is shitty and for no good reason.
Surely we would be better off as a society if we didn’t feel the need to ‘clean up’ the picture on the front page of whatever fitness / fashion magazine we hold so dear.
Of course we should, but money, but sex! But how will I prove that I’m doing better then $NEIGHBOR?
I feel like I’ve put a lot of words in Heather’s mouth, I want to be clear that this is my own interpretation of the message that I think she was sending. Communication is hard man.
It’s so hard that sometimes we have to fake it. That was okay in the past, because moderation and because an individual couldn’t influence the world back then in the way they can now.
Maybe in this modern age of instant communication and empty social media moments, we need to work a bit harder to be real, to be honest, but above all, to be human.