How about all of us jumping off the cliff next?

And all the other endless, mindless junk that social media enforces upon us

January 25, 2019 01:25 pm | Updated 01:25 pm IST

Illustration by Deepak Harichandan

Illustration by Deepak Harichandan

As this goes to press, everyone or at least nearly everyone is going nuts about the Internet’s 10-Year Challenge, which basically asked people to post photographs of themselves now and a decade ago. Which they promptly did. Amazing how you can get people to do anything asinine provided you post it online and tell them Nicki Minaj did it.

On the surface of it, it seems like just another mindless timepass thing that social media junkies do — a variation on the eternal selfie theme. (Incidentally, did you know that more people die taking selfies in India than anywhere else in the world? Just saying.)

Anyway, there were these celebs, posting pix of themselves looking gorgeous at 30 and then equally gorgeous at 40, or some such awful banality. Which the rest of the not-so-celeb world immediately had to emulate. And everyone was happy. Until a tech writer named Kate O’Neill came up with a theory that basically said ‘Hullo. Can you stop to think that maybe there are facial recognition companies out there mining all this data so they can make some money out of it?’

Then there was a lot of alarm and panic, but everyone was having too much fun showing how well they had aged, so they called Kate an alarmist and went right ahead anyway. And everyone lived happily ever after.

Unfortunately, my editor refused to allow me to end my column there. So I have to carry on, dear reader, and share some of the things that have interested me most about this phenomenon.

First, that people will do anything that a disembodied voice or message online says to do. Why do they imagine the world cares what they looked like 10 years ago? Who has the time to even look when everyone is busy digging out their own damned photos from a decade ago? It raises a mental image that really boggles the imagination. Think of masses and I literally mean masses of people putting their lives on hold — jobs, kids, school — to forage for photos from 2009 because an Internet challenge asked them to.

Chroniclers insist on referring to this age as The Anthropocene, but I do believe it will go down in history as The Cretinopocene. I beg you to check out the TikTok app before you rush to disagree. I imagine anthropologists in 3019 looking at grainy videos of bipeds running next to slow-moving four-wheeled contraptions singing ‘Kiki Do You Love Me’, and coming to the conclusion that humans in the 21st century were very advanced technologically but displayed rapid mental regression.

Meanwhile, even as everyone proved they had aged as well as pickle, the next online controversy hit the wires running. Gillette released an ad film called ‘The Best Men Can Be’ that asks men to let go of toxic male behaviour patterns and set the next generation a better example. The film is pretty darn ordinary, a classic example of a brand tagging on to a popular mood and virtue signalling. Like Dove commercials using body image issues to sell soap.

But the hype it elicited was such that might be afforded to a new drug promising immortality. Men hyperventilated, accusing the ad of emasculating them. Refusing to allow men to out-stupid them, women claimed the ‘woke’ film had made them cry. Pundits weighed in, op-eds were written, ad gurus took sides — it was a party.

As it turns out, a lot of it might have been auto-generated. Commentators quoted random insignificant Twitterati with nine and 10 followers to prove a ‘controversy’. Culture writer Vince Mancini points out how the Internet-only ad uses a series of ‘buzzwords’ — like ‘bully’ or ‘sexual harassment’ or ‘MeToo’ — calculated to go viral. Add one random comment to this and everyone will rapidly weigh in with opinions and soon it really becomes a controversy. It gets more views, gets bigger, goes mainstream. It’s the perfect social media self-perpetuating monster. As I write this, the film has garnered 25 million views.

I have nothing against the ad. Advertising and cinema and pop music are going to have to kill their misogynistic instincts and learn to speak a new language. But this ad is only a tiny, clichéd, silly little step in that direction. I do wish we would stop talking about it. I wonder, maybe I can encourage someone to come up with a Lemming Challenge?

Where the writer tries to make sense of society with seven hundred words and a bit of snark.

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