We are all completely consumed by our own little self-obsessed worlds.
We know this at some level, but this fact was further crystallized for me this week when a self-important, possibly delusional writer, formerly from a prominent online-only music and culture magazine, returned from self-exile after getting accused of assaulting another writer from that same online magazine and proceeded to go on an unhinged Twitter diatribe in which he slung his own accusations while also promoting a self-published book.
It felt like it was the second biggest story of the day behind the Republican National Convention. It seemed that everyone that wasn’t talking about the RNC was talking about this real life soap opera.
Then I realized that it only felt that way because of who I follow (and who they follow and who those people follow, etc.) and the way my feed is cultivated. It was one of those things that felt everywhere, but in reality gets passed around among a circle of people that all work in the same industry and live in the same borough and frequent the same locales. It’s a closed loop – a bubble, really – and the story and its reactions bounce back and forth against the walls of that bubble until it reaches capacity, the din becoming a roar, the competing voices ricocheting with increasing rapidity until the noise becomes deafening.
These people create content for online-only publications, so it’s natural that they are more active and have more attention paid to them on social media. But they’re not the only ones. Far from it. Millions of people create entire personas that exist wholly separate from their real lives and the two are far from the same.
Twitter has somewhere around 310 million active users. That’s impressive. But then you remember that it’s a global service and there are more than 7 billion people on the planet, so that means less than 5% of the world population uses the service. That’s 95% of people that are not involved in memes or hashtags or trending topics.
Online is not real life and what happens within the world of social media is a small dot compared to the rest of the real world.
But – and here is the important part – it isn’t just online. All of us do it in some form or another to differing degrees in our everyday lives.
Have you ever had a conversation with someone that almost staggered backwards when you informed them that you don’t watch a certain TV show or had never heard of that new artist that just won three People’s Choice Awards? They act like they’re personally offended. Why? Because they are personally offended. They can’t believe that this thing that is so important to them is unknown and ignored by you. They take it as an insult to their character.
I’m just as guilty.
Recently, I played “Renee” by Lost Boyz and looked at my wife expecting to see her break into a wide smile with nostalgia in her eyes at hearing this song that she hadn’t heard recently but one that was everywhere back in 1996, when we were both 16, an age when music is one of the most important things in a person’s life.
She just stared at me blankly. I was patient, waiting for the chorus, knowing that the melodic hook from Mr. Cheeks would be instantly recognizable:
A ghetto love is the law that we live by
Day by day I wonder why my shorty had to die
I reminisce over my ghetto princess everyday
Give it up for my shorty
The chorus came on and her expression did change, but only because she was was starting to grow bored and impatient.
Finally, I said, “Don’t you remember this?!”
And she responded, “No. Should I?”
No, she shouldn’t.
I may have been a hip-hop fanatic in the mid-’90s, but that doesn’t mean she was. In fact, I know that she most certainly was not. And I realized that this song was not, in fact, everywhere in 1996. It was popular, but it was popular with people like me, those who listened to certain radio stations and hung out with certain pockets of individuals. It wasn’t a crossover smash.
In my memory, so many rap songs from that year were huge hits like Nas’s “If I Ruled the World,” “Ready or Not” and “Killing Me Softly” by Fugees, and Jay-Z & Foxy Brown’s “Ain’t No N*gga.” In reality, none of those songs even cracked the Billboard top 100 chart for the year.
I once worked with a black woman who had the completely opposite reaction to temperature as I did. If I thought the office was comfortable, she was freezing; if I was drenched in sweat, she felt it was perfect. Soon, we developed a little term for this that soon translated to everything: to you.
If I exclaimed, “It’s hot as hell in here!” she would casually respond “to you.” If she came in praising a terrible song, I’d say it right back to her. It was a fun litter interplay, but it also illustrated how we all perceive things through our own personal prisms. Just because I was hot or loved a certain film doesn’t mean that everyone else felt the same. The same was true for her and everyone else. It’s a big reason why I have such a problem with professional critics.
So, the next time someone is aghast that you haven’t seen a certain show or heard of a certain Q-list celebrity and says, “How could you not? It’s everywhere!” just smile and say, “To you.”
Christopher Pierznik’s eight books are available in paperback and Kindle. His work has appeared on XXL, Cuepoint, Business Insider, The Cauldron, Medium, and many more.Subscribe to his monthly reading review newsletter or follow him on Facebook or Twitter.