social media is entertainment now

social media is entertainment now
"Mr. Smith," & "Mrs. Smith," 1801, Charles B. J. Févret de Saint-Mémin

A few years ago I had this podcast idea I posted about on Twitter. And it went something like this:

What if there were a show that talked to the creator middle class about how they made their money?

Pretty simple, imo. The idea was we'd talk to people hustling for money on the internet — all the various podcasters, streamers, YouTubers, and the like — who weren't actively famous about their lives and their finances. People who were part-time hustlers along with people who were lucky enough to do it for a living. At the time I was covering the livestreaming industry for a living, so this was pretty squarely in my wheelhouse. I had talked to many of these people for stories; I even had a semi-regular column about stuff on Twitch that wasn't just video games. I was convinced these people were out there and would have interesting things to say about themselves and their lives — and, therefore, about America itself.

From an old pitch document:

We ask them about taxes. (Kidding, mostly. Freelance taxes are a nightmare, as I’m sure you’re aware.) 
I’d like to ask guests about the breakdown of their time: how often are they working at their anchor jobs, and how often are they working on their creative projects? How much do those projects bring in, and is it significant and/or meaningful to their bottom lines? (Ulterior motive for this one: I want to demystify how much people who are popular online actually get paid.) I’d like to ask about the cost of living where they are, and also what kind of life their income affords them. Also, generally speaking, I’d like to ask them about how much they make from their creative pursuits. (This is the Honda Accord question. How many a month do you make?) 

My real thesis was pretty simple: I had this idea that the online attention economy was just as unequal as the actual economy, just way more visible. You see the Jake Pauls of the world and it's easy to think you too might get there, based on hard work and a little luck. Sure, it's easier than trying to become Warren Buffett, but by how much?

Anyway, I had a few good meetings, but things ultimately fizzled out, as they often do.

But it's funny: one thing I didn't realize or prepare for was the idea that those same people — that creator middle class — would help change social media entirely in the meantime, by making those platforms less social.

This, of course, is the entire job of the content creator. If you make content for the internet, you are, almost by definition, making things that go one to many — not one to one. Which is to say you're using social platforms for not-strictly-social purposes. To be very clear, I don't think this is necessarily a bad thing; it's just a natural consequence of having to go where the people are.

It does, however, mean that social media isn't really that social anymore. It's now entertainment. It's one to many. That's part of the reason I've felt a little tired of the internet lately; it's like there's a ton of people yelling at me to buy their stuff. And I'm tired of stuff! I don't need more stuff, man. I certainly don't need to buy a course about it, either.


Anyway. I was at the bar the other night with my friend, and we were talking — as you do — about the TV update of Mr. & Mrs. Smith, starring Donald Glover and Maya Erskine. (I haven't seen too much of it yet, but I've really enjoyed what I've seen. Their chemistry! That's the good shit.) My pal made the point that it's now not really possible to become Donald Glover nowadays. Which is to say the kind of polymath he is — someone who can convince the men with money that it's worth doing the things he wants to do.

I profiled him a while back for Esquire; what immediately became clear to me was how rare of a dude he was. Like, he's a legitimate talent, and is really good at the things he wants to do. (He's also very generous with his time, and yes, he smells great.)

So in one sense, yes, it's impossible to be him — hardly anyone is that talented. But in another very real sense I think it's impossible to be allowed to get there in the first place. And I think it's separate but related to the idea that social media has become entertainment media.

These days, we live on the internet that TikTok made. Which means there's a lot of shortform vertical video out there, sure. But it also means that there's this kind of infinite segmentation happening among creative people to help define them to an algorithm. By that I mean it's kind of impossible to be a creative person, these days, without falling into a niche — either assigned by an algorithm or by fans. There's a pervasive urge to self-categorize in a way that appeals to the widest possible audience.

And that, I think, further feeds into this idea of social media of one-to-many — as primarily a marketing channel. I'm not really worried about the future of social platforms, or about the younger generations making a name for themselves online, but I do sometimes wonder what people might make if they were freed from the constraints the internet seems to impose. Much to think about!


things i'm consuming:

Bioshock, Irrational Games

Insano, Kid Cudi