Wednesday, 4 September 2013

On Not Being Able To Touch Our Treasure

Andy Warhol famously said that in the future everyone would be famous for fifteen minutes. In the era of blogs, reality TV, and cynically-manufactured pop music, his remark seems  amazingly prescient.

However, Warhol could have gone further. In the future that is today, everyone gets to be famous for fifteen seconds. Twitter, Facebook, and other social media allow us to achieve fleeting 'micro-fame', that lasts for each of our 'micro-fans' only as long as it takes them to click 'Like' or 'Re-Tweet'.  When the button is clicked, the fandom relationship ends. A few seconds after he has liked you, your micro-fan,  now clicking other buttons, will not possibly be able to remember your on-line handle, let alone your real name.

Many Twitter users who have nothing to say (and are saying it) have acquired tens of thousands of followers, while tweeting sporadically about their morning toast, the weather, and the fact that they have annoyingly misplaced their running shoes. To amass so many followers while offering them so little requires actual effort; boring, relentless, persistent work.

What are those people working for, when they are working to get all those micro-fans?  Why do humans crave this kind of highly abstracted micro-fame? Why do we find it so satisfying? Why are we the kind of animal that is willing to work for the mere idea of something good, a pointer to a thing that we cannot actually grasp? 

The Jewish/Catholic/atheist mystic Simone Weil suggested in her book Gravity & Grace: "To ascertain exactly what the miser lost whose treasure was stolen; thus we should learn much."

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