The punishment for being authentic is becoming someone else’s content
This short piece by Drew Austin reminds me of a couple of links I posted yesterday about Non-places and TikTok’s effect on migration. There are so many quotable parts, including that when it comes to social media, “the only place left to go is outside”.
What I think is interesting is how online and offline used to be seen as completely separate. Then we realised the impact that offline life had on online life, and now we’re seeing the reverse: Instagram, TikTok, etc. having a huge impact on the spaces in which we exist offline.
“In the next few years,” Kyle Chayka tweeted yesterday, “the last desperate search for shreds of authentic local culture will convulse the globe as the internet consumes every interesting quirk and scales it up to the size of TikTok.” That all-too-plausible prediction fits well alongside Chayka’s concept of AirSpace and his observations about overtourism, each examining how social media has come to shape the physical world (or at least vent its noxious exhaust there) instead of merely reflecting it. If AirSpace represents the homogenizing tendency of globally scaled algorithmic platforms like Instagram and Airbnb, which herd everything they touch into aesthetic alignment, then TikTok’s impact seems like the opposite: the cultivation and amplification of difference by a desperate horde of content creators scouring the ends of the earth for new material. The latter ultimately has the same entropic effect as the former, reframing local nuances as temporary viral microtrends that diffuse through culture, form the basis for a thinkpiece or two, and then recede back to their original modest scale. This may be ephemeral but it is pervasive and ongoing. In the contemporary landscape, the punishment for being authentic is becoming someone else’s content.
The illusion that the internet and “real life” are two separate universes has been thoroughly dispelled by now, but the nature of their interaction is complex and evolving. The social media era seems to have already peaked, as I predicted at the end of last year, calling our present moment a “saturation point of cultural self-consciousness that represents the fullest possible synthesis of reality and our digitally mediated perception of it.” The metaverse concept was dead on arrival; there’s nowhere left to go but outside. And that’s what we’re doing: TikTok is the social network for the internet’s decadent era, embodying the worldview that becoming viral content is the highest calling, the end state to which everything aspires and strives. You visit Italy not to enjoy yourself but to help Italy fulfill its destiny as a meme.