Social media is like the Wild West – and I’m talking Back to the Future III mixed with Blazing Saddles mixed with the Good, The Bad, and The Ugly. You could add a few episodes of Gunsmoke in there, too, or a bit of Mae West for a salacious undercurrent, if you like.
There are interesting characters everywhere. The slightest incident can be blown out of proportion and cause feuds requiring pistols at dawn. There’s a lot of uncharted territory. There’s a gold rush as well, as people search around for viable business models, harnessing the attention and power of people flooding into this new territory. People are creating homesteads and setting up presences, hoping that over time, their farming efforts will pay off.
But in this uncharted territory, the rules and “laws” are slowly evolving- problems come up, but there’s not a lot of precedent to go by. People start taking up sides, convinced there’s only one right answer, insisting everyone with a differing opinion is wrongheaded.
It’s like dealing with kids on the playground- most of the time, tempers flare over something minor, and then the kids involved kiss and make up, but there can be lasting after affects and damage tof riendships that were unintended by the alleged initial insult.
What I find fascinating is that people project their own opinions, their own viewpoints on others, confabulating and filling in the blanks with their own backstory, even if there’s no backstory at all. Chris Brogan’s recent five word blog post proved this point elegantly. Chris said “It’s not about me” and more than 75 comments were generated as a result.
I’m not sure anybody really understands what causes things to become viral, to become popular, or unpopular, for that matter. There’s not always a secret formula for all of this stuff. But I can tell you, no one who blogs got into this, at least at first, because they thought they would become rich and famous. They got into blogging and new media to express themselves, to have a voice. Over time, this has evolved into business for some people, but it remains a tool for personal opinion and expression. What’s on the surface is not always the whole story, but people rarely look below the surface to see what might really be happening behind the scenes.
Celebrity is a very weird thing. People now have the tools to make their ideas, only shared with close friends in the past, public. These ideas sometimes catch on with a wider audience. But this hasn’t changed the fact that it’s still someone’s opinion or decision that you can adopt or reject- as my Mom used to say “If Susie jumped off a bridge, would you do it, too?” We can emulate people we admire, but in many ways, we are just using them as a mirror for our own ideas and opinions- it’s not real, and it’s not always about them- it’s about how you are approaching the issues from your own life and reality.
Celebrities, internet or otherwise, do not owe us anything. They have their own lives, their own concerns, and everyone else has to just let them be. They are more accessible than ever, but that doesn’t give everyone license to abuse them.
I have close friends who are much more widely known than I am. From time to time I’ve thought that all that attention must be nice. But it turns out, all that attention brings with it great pressure. People are both rooting for your success and for your failure. There’s pressure to keep producing hits, even though most artists and even Nobel prize winners do their most productive and innovative work early intheir careers. It seems those who get a taste of fame have pressure from the fans to keep writing best sellers and hits for the rest of their careers, to try to top themselves again and again. (I can only imagine that Billy Joel, for example, has come to hate certain of his early songs, like Piano Man, after having to play them over and over again on demand, ad nauseum.)
Sure, I want my favorite authors to keep producing great books. I can only imagine what JK Rowling must feel like- she has had more money and success that she ever dreamed of from Harry Potter- she’s created whole industries because of characters she created out her imagination- but will anyone accept anything new and different from her? Will they allow her not to write? It’s got to be tremendous pressure to try to be original, and even if you are financially secure for the rest of your life and that of your heirs, not being as successful on your next project could be the sort of stress that does some people in, and makes them want to give the whole thing up and take up crochet.
Celebrities don’t owe us anything. As much as I might love an artist, an author, or a blogger, they owe me nothing. I may adore them, but it’s only by buying their product that their children will eat. Once that job is settled, any of my undying devotion is all about me, it’s not really about them.
Fandom is essentially unrequited love. We love the object of our adoration, but it’s all about what we project onto that object- it really has very little to do with what they give back. Same way for people we decide we can’t stand- it’s all about how we feel, and really very little about what they do or say. And we have to stop demanding and sucking the life out of our heroes through tabloids, troll comments, celebrity news, papparazzi, and more.
It’s got to stop. It’s unhealthy. It’s unfair. And you’ll be so much happier if you take control over your own life rather than rely on others to blaze a path for you. Besides, the adventure, like in the Wild West, was in making your own path, creating your own future, experimenting, making mistakes, and building something that will last long term. Create your own homestead- take risks, and make it all about you.