My dear friend Jordan Richman reminded me last year—”It doesn’t matter how many followers you have. It matters who follows you.” This is certainly a truism to live by. It’s something young people seem to be realizing more and more by the day. Being back in New York, I’ve noticed young people seem disinterested in follower counts—perhaps to the point of being follower-phobic. They prefer Twitter over Instagram because it has an open UI that lets the user decide who they interact with, how and what they post. It’s a “revenge of the scenes” moment.
People want to use social media to meet other people—not to win the social analytics game. No one cares how many people you matched with on Tinder. No one cares how many followers you have on Twitter. Did you find love? Did you find sex? Did you find a friend? These are the questions that matter.
There are two big reasons why:
Social media by the end of the 2010s had largely stopped being social. It became an enterprise in and of itself, dominated by those who had perfected a certain amber-encased lifestyle. In Los Angeles everyone knows someone (or many people) who “work in Calabasas.” All had similar tales of a clique of perhaps the most famous women in the world lounging around on overstuffed couches, picking at salad, and of course endlessly self-photographing. “They never leave the house without a stylist approved outfit,” one friend confided. “They have outfits planned for every occasion,” another told me, detailing a day spent putting together different funeral outfits for various cities and climates. A funeral in Los Angeles, a funeral in New York, a funeral in Miami… Maybe this extreme neuroticism was a healthy response to the demented, over-exposed Young Hollywood days when the nation breathlessly watched starlet after starlet—Britney, Lindsay, Amanda, et cetera—self-implode under the flashbulb glare. But at some point you have to admit you’ve gone too far in the other direction. It was an overcorrection. After a year of death and pandemic, geriatric Millennials and rising Zoomers had a collective realization: no one says, “She lived a good life. She had 20K Instagram followers.” Absolutely no one. You can’t let the map precede the territory. You can’t let the documentation precede the living…
Which brings me to my second point: the Internet is no longer dominated by high neuroticism, high introversion NEETs. COVID-19 has laid bare the degree to which this personality type dominates in elite media circles. Some people want to live in the pod. Some people want no new friends. But watching the chaotic energy of New York’s reopening up close and personal, I have to say: those people are the minority. Most people want to burn the pod to the goddamn ground. And for good reason: the point of life is other people. I agree with David Rudnick’s diagnosis that we’ve moved from “digital dualism,“ falsely asserting the Internet was “not real life,” to what he calls “digital prime,” realizing the Internet is perhaps the most space we have. But this means there will be a new insistence that URL serve IRL—not replace it.