'When I took office, only high energy physicists had ever heard of what is called the World Wide Web...now even my cat has it's own page.' Bill Clinton
Two things caught my eye in the news over the summer. Firstly, and probably most importantly, Kate Upton went to Antarctica and shot the latest Sports Illustrated cover in nothing more than a tiny white bikini and furry snow boots with some penguins wandering about in the background wondering what the f*** was going on. Secondly, Justin Bieber topped Forbes list of richest male celebrities under 30 with earnings totalling $58 million over the last year -- a news story that coincided nicely with another story that broke about him peeing into a mop bucket. So what do Kate Upton and Justin Bieber have in common? Well aside from being young and insanely successful -- they were both discovered online.
Kate Upton blew up after a friend uploaded a video of her dancing in the stands at a basketball game that went viral, and Bieber was uploading songs of himself in his very own corner of the internet on youtube when he caught the eye of musician Usher. There are so many more stories like theirs. You can judge Miss Upton for always getting her kit off and you can even make girl jokes about Bieber, but the fact remains that they do what they love and they earn millions for it.
Upton and Bieber may be two extremes of how far viral infamy can take you, but whatever you do for a living and whatever industry you aspire to be successful in, your online presence has never been more important. We live in an age unlike any before: never in the history of the human race have we been able to dream up an image of ourselves, create that image almost single-handedly and put it out there to over two and half billion people. You can literally tune the world in to see you only through your own distorted lens. It's a difficult if not impossible thing to do offline, and with over 138 million blogs, self-made websites and online personal profiles, it's clear that everyone is becoming more aware of this power and trying to tap into it.
So do we know where it's going to go from here and can we even begin to predict the way this going to affect future generations? At first glance it may all seem very new-age media but the idea of simply wanting to be popular and desired is as old as time itself; it's ingrained in our DNA. As author David McRaney explained 'competition for status is built into the human experience at a biological level'. We've evolved to seek out wide-spread approval since we figured out it was the best way to stay a part of the group, keep the firewood, eat the meat and not genetically die off. It looks like thousands of years of evolutionary psychological and sociological development in the name of genetic survival has surmounted to youtube video hits and Instagram followers. So it seems like this can go one of two ways: we'll either adapt to live truly online by mutating into something altogether different, or we'll simply just revolt at it all one day and crush under the weight of our own online delusions.
Maybe the better question to ask is which world will we choose -- online or offline? Online, we take power into our own hands by creating new and unconventional routes to success; we bypass corporations, speak to our audience en masse and make ourselves marketable. Online, you're nothing if not a brand. We can upload, make money, be loved, accept full distortion of the way we see ourselves and endorse the new rules of personhood. Much like being offline, the online world is filled with people trying to humor, shock and generally out-perform each other all in the name of their spectators. It's also subject to the same rules of notoriety, where the wealthy, smart and attractive still win the game. It's even filled with corporations trying to muscle in on the action with their tumblr blogs and twitter feeds, increasingly influencing the way we're perceived as consumers. This new world is starting to look a lot like a tackier version of the old one: an over-saturated market of flashing neon Coca-Cola signs overlooking strip clubs, nobodies and somebodies, all under the gaze of giant yellow arcs.
Maybe we'll go all in and it'll get even more out of control, maybe we won't. All we can say for now is that what's happening is simply a reaction - a reaction to what we've been left with. Every generation can be defined by its response to the social and economic climate it entered into shaped by the generation before. The seventies mellowed out the frantic swinging of the sixties, who then had punk rock shoved down their stoned throats by the eighties. The nineties took off their punk leather jackets and got their tits outs; and the naughties, well they just got everything else out. So what's left for us? Nothing. We're jobless, insecure, over-qualified, foolish and completely lost; identical to generations before us, yet altogether entirely different. So we react; and we'll keep reacting until we transform into something that fits into all of this. We spend too much and we record raps on our iPhones and we filter our pictures in sepia tone and we're really f*****g screwed. But we've got a blog, and I guess for now, that'll have be something.