Meta-fun - the conspicuous consumption of information

June 18, 2011

A while ago I went to a gig with a friend. As the lights went down, my friend took her phone out of her pocket and started fiddling around with it. The bright light of the screen distracted me from the show, and I couldn’t stop myself from looking what she was up to. She was on twitter, telling people she was at the gig.

People watching half the gig through camera phones are annoying enough, but this just seemed pointless to me. I wondered why she couldn’t just sit back and enjoy the show.

There is some kind of obsessive need to connect ourselves to events, to prove that we were there. The phenomenon has been around for a long time: the tourist who experiences his whole holiday through a camera lens is a common cliché. Now there seems to be more of a need to share it all with the world. Every kind of event is now being viewed through the lens of social media.

As Mark Lawson put it in the Guardian recently, “social networking is creating a group for whom the experience of seeing something is inseparable from sharing their response as quickly as possible”.

Twitter is turning us into curators, and the way our social status is evaluated is changing.

Where once it was a mark of wealth and prestige, now we are judged on whether we consume the right kind of entertainment, and on the number of people who pay attention to what we say.

Tools like Klout are ranking us based on our social networking reach, and we collect Twitter followers and LinkedIn connections the way footballers collect sports cars.

Is anything fundamentally changing, or is it just that the mechanisms have become more efficient? The executive with the biggest Rolodex was always the most powerful. Now we all carry virtual billboards advertising our status for anyone to see.

I don’t know where we’ll go from here. Maybe there will be a reaction against it, with people going back to real communities. Or maybe we’re on a slippery slope towards the matrix.

Either way, someone will make money out of it…