Fifty years from now, when I gather with my AI cyborg grandchildren around a Christmas tree on an 80-degree day in New York City, I hope to find some comfort knowing that at least I can say I was there for the sea huts of Renaissance January 9-23, 2021.
when? Don’t you remember the roughly four-day period when you felt like the entire Internet sang in the late 19th century a New Zealand-related sailing song called “The Wellerman” in unison? Forgot how everything was supposed to be a sign that we, as a species, yearned to be together because we couldn’t do it personally? You’re telling me you’re not reading the lyrics in your head rocking yourself to sleep at night, as if you were also braving the treacherous waters of the South Pacific?
Hmmm. This is where you and me disagree, because I think about sea huts all the time. I hear “The Wellerman” ring in my head when I encounter anything particularly new on the Internet, and it’s something a lot of people supposedly care about, all of a sudden, in perfect harmony.
I thought of the sea huts when Elon Musk shouted a sarcastic cryptocurrency Saturday Night Live And he ended up destroying it. I thought of them when TikTok seemed to be overtaken by sorority girls in Alabama showing off their clothes, and I thought of them when so many people tried to replicate a feta pasta recipe spread on TikTok that in some parts of the country was hard to buy feta at all. Whenever I hear the term “cheugy,” a invented word meaning basic or transient, I hear a bit like sea huts but weirder and distorted, an echo of something that was supposed to go away in a matter of days but instead spreads like a virus.
Sea huts are the frame in which I see many things that happened in 2021, because many of them were completely meaningless fads: Bulbs on the radar that only last for a moment but are long enough to obscure a larger, more important picture. It’s great to trace the origins of these glitches into nothingness: nonsensical tweets that turned into nonsensical TikToks that turned into junk news articles that somehow suddenly seemed more important than anything else that day.
In 2021, the race to determine the next fad has become a blood sport: trend-watching and, to a slightly lesser extent, trend naming have become such popular hobbies on social media that even professional trend forecasters are starting to tire of it. “Last spring there was a trend going around with people talking about trends they hate,” recalls Mandy Lee, celebrity fashion analyst TikToker under the username @oldloserinbrooklyn, “and I was like, ‘How is this content going on at scale?’” Paradoxically, it is a trend that relates to trend, and thus becomes a trend.”
In October, Lee made a video predicting that the “indie” aesthetic, widely seen as the American hipster hit popular in the mid-2000s and early 2000s, may be making a comeback now. . The Y2K McBling aesthetic has gone mainstream. The video went viral, and within days media publications from Dazed to the Daily Mail began writing stories about the trend quoting their video. But they weren’t really stories of what’s going on right now – they were stories of what’s going on could It will soon be a fashion trend.
This system of periodic hype and massive coverage has been on the cusp for as long as the media has existed. Journalists have always strived to be the first to tell the story, and since social media has allowed us to become our own media empires, the competition to tag and name everything that comes next has intensified. The difference seems to be that we are now so afraid of covering trends in hindsight that we decide to write about trends that haven’t happened yet. It wasn’t enough to point out that Y2K aesthetics are back in beauty and fashion; Instead, our focus is on the next nostalgia cycle.
I say “we” of course, because my job as a reporter covering Internet culture is intrinsically linked to describing and explaining these courses, and I have a personal financial stake and at some level in sustaining them so that there is always something new for readers of stories to find exciting, regardless of whether it affects their lives. But reporting on these trends for years has done nothing but show how disinterested the bulk of them actually are, and how the lack of real meaning around each individual thread is a topic worth exploring more than the trend itself. However, they matter because enough people think they do: Shoppers fear their recent purchases will be old news (or worse, a meme) by next week. Investors fear buying too late and selling too soon, dumping thousands in NFTs that may or may not be worth anything, or of losing the next GameStop.
My theory is that our current collective obsession with trends is a response to the massive unpredictability of technology, finance and health over the past two years, and the fact that the world is very different than it used to be. I don’t think it’s just a pandemic; I think the fact that an internet company founded in China has quickly and reluctantly taken over American smartphones has terrified venture capitalists who were so comforted by the idea that Silicon Valley geniuses would forever control the internet.
This, at least, would explain the frenetic and almost uniformly positive early coverage of apps like Clubhouse, whose main premise of live social media was too easy to repeat heard only by better-established companies, or Dispo, the app that asked the question, ” What if we took the worst part of disposable cameras – the wait – and put it on your phone.” The thrust of these conversations felt like magical thinking, as if another normal California tech company, no matter how useless, had taken down TikTok, things might finally be back to normal.
But this has not happened yet. Ironically, it was TikTok that became the tool that actually accelerated the optical speed of the cycles of cultural trend. It’s endemic to the core spirit of the app: show users videos that others have liked almost exclusively first so that one video clip or video style creates a snowball effect, thus encouraging others to remix it and ride the viral wave. The sheer number of random items, subcultures, and talking points that TikTok has made “viral” is too overwhelming to comprehend, yet the value of each is negligible.
This does not mean that esoteric social media trends have no real-world impact. Nathan Evans, the Scottish folk singer who recorded the first viral video for “Wellerman” last December, released a Christmas song and a book about sea shanties, so I suppose it’s a bit richer than it was last year. A handful of sorority girls in Alabama have a few hundred thousand followers on TikTok now, enough to score discount codes for local stores and possibly campus reputation. The woman who came up with the word “cheugy” tried to sell it as an NFT (still for sale). And these are just examples of people who exploded for them good reasons.
A genetic tornado can easily rip your life apart and upend everything in it. Consider Couch Guy, a college student accused of cheating on his girlfriend with what he felt was the entire Internet because he didn’t seem excited enough to see her when she surprised him. He later recounted how he felt that your dissection by independent digital investigators had become a target of the tabloid: “At the receiving end of the barrage, when one finds that one’s reputation is being challenged, body language highly analytical, and privacy invaded, the intensity of our collective power is greatly increased. Very clear,” He wrote in an article in Slate.
Virality treats humans like fast fashion: products created by algorithms to appear on all our screens at the same time, on which we then spend massive amounts of money and attention before ending up in a literal and/or figurative landfill. It’s not just tik tok. As Shira Ovid pointed out in the New York Times, “Netflix, YouTube, Spotify, Facebook and many other popular sites are running similar feedback loops that pay more than is noticed,” which is how you get phenomena like chess sets sales soaring 125 % after releasing Queen’s gambit Before interest drops almost immediately to normal levels. We already live in a world where trends are determined by algorithms, and we will soon be living in a world where content is – literally – created by them.
The speed with which trends operate also makes it more difficult for people to determine what, if any, actually holds value. There’s no good reason to feel as though everyone in the country is talking about the same thing all the time – the space with squeaky local news containing information relevant to a once-lived society is now taken up by the moral panic of a national culture war that publishes the same way it works Made by TikTok Viral.
Is Critical Race Theory an actual threat to children’s education or is it a deeply misguided intellectual virus invented by right-wing extremists? Is Web3 the future or is it a pyramid scheme designed to fill the pockets of people who will make money from it? Same thing with “metaverse”? What gets everyone pissed off all the time? Those who control the conversation — the news media, tech platforms, the billionaire class — have an interest in getting us confused, because that means more people are paying attention and looking for answers they can buy. Meanwhile, deciding what to believe seems more and more like gambling with money and time we don’t have.
Anyway, my decision for 2022 is this: Whenever I read, watch or hear about something new, something that sounds exciting, something that everyone seems to be talking about, something I don’t really understand but seems likely to find out there, I’ll try to listen closely. Do you hear it? The pebbly low men’s voices vibrated in unison, reverberated in the salty wind, and the waves clattered against a wooden hull? If you do, stop, breathe, and enjoy the view. It’s a big ocean outside.
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