Life is full of fake people; you, me and everyone else. Not only is life full of fake people, the world is faker than it’s ever been before. Just look at how we express emotions in digital messages. Are you really laughing out loud when you LOL or rolling on the floor with laughter? Of course not. You’re probably solemn-faced like the overwhelming majority of us 😐 It’s not just how we use emojis, it’s how we write and type too.
Using Google’s Ngram tool we can see how the word “awesome” has exploded in prevalence since the turn of the century. The meaning of awesome is an overwhelming feeling of awe. Does this mean in recent times we have been exposed to more events that have yielded this overwhelming feeling or are we just exaggerating how we feel more than ever before?
One word that emphasises this point is “literally”. It’s got to the point where “literally” now means the opposite, it means you’re lying. Again, it’s used to exaggerate our lives and to add emphasis to how we are living. It’s not genuine. Or described another way, it’s fake.
Living on a stage
It’s the first time in human history that so many of us have an audience. Whether that’s a few Facebook friends or thousands of Twitter followers. Whenever we enjoy an experience the first thing that comes to mind is to broadcast it to our “fans”. Go to a live event and you’ll see an ocean of lit-up screens. The most important thing is that our follows know what we are doing otherwise what’s the point of going?
The fact instagrammable has become a word says a lot about the time we are living in. Restaurant interiors are as important as the food and more so depending on the individual. How are we expected to enjoy the food if it’s not possible to show our fans what a visually spectacular life we are living? Even going to the toilet has become Instagram material.
Living life in a poorly produced TV series where likes are a proxy for reviews will undoubtedly change how we act. The tendency for individuals to alter their behaviour in response to being observed is called the Hawthorne (or Observer) effect. This behaviour will ultimately change who we are or pretend to be. Just as an actor pretends to be a character for a theatre production so do we. Things are done for broadcast value which becomes part of a fake life. In the end, we wind up catching a variant of The Truman Show delusion.
Just as performers wear makeup for the stage, we apply photo filters as part of our stage act. Our reality is warped with nearly everything we do. This includes online dating where it’s not just photos that are an untrue depiction of who we are but also how we describe ourselves. Miraculously everyone on Tinder or Bumble becomes an expert skier, sailer or mountain climber. After describing how adventurous we are we go on to show our sensitive side by letting the dating world know we love dogs, almost as much as David Attenborough. Women go on to lie about their weight and youthful looks and men about their height and age. It’s all fair game in the new fake world we all live in.
David Graeber the author of Bullshit Jobs describes the proliferation of pointless jobs as a feature of capitalism. According to Graeber, we need meaningless jobs to buy all the stuff that’s being made. The documentary filmmaker Adam Curtis drills down a step further by saying our real job is shopping.
“You go into an office sit at a desk, but maybe it is a fake job, your real job is shopping. The true factories of our time are the shopping malls. That is where the real hard work is done.”HyperNormalisation (trailer) by Adam Curtis
One thing is for sure, within the workplace you need to act fake. There’s the faking of emotions in the service-with-a-smile industry which is believed to be bad for your health. And there’s the pretending the work you do is rational and sound. Which is something I can relate to. I’m surrounded by people who pretend what they are doing is somehow aiding production but it’s obvious to anyone with a sound mind that it’s nothing more than metaphoric paper-shuffling.
Referring again to Adam Curtis’s documentary trailer, Curtis’s narration accurately describes (at least my) experience of fake office life:
“You are managed with performance targets and measured outcomes but as you sit in the glass-walled offices, you know that the targets are manipulated and fake. And the mangers know that you know, but you all still sit there and pretend it is objective and rational.”
It’s possible that Curtis used to work at the same multinational company as I do, but it’s more likely that this is common within the fake working environments of our time.
Living in an echo chamber is nothing new. We all suffer from confirmation bias. Throughout time we would naturally associate with people more like us. But since the explosion of personalised media, we now only see the world how we want to see it. It’s been commented on before how Big Tech firms are responsible for dividing society with their personalised algorithms. Never before have we been so sure that we’re right with our tunnel-vision-view of the world.
One thing I’m sure of is that the astronomical amount of time we spend on screens is giving us a warped sense of reality. Algorithms and filters mean our phones aren’t displaying the true picture.
It will come as no surprise to you that our media consumption is increasing. From print media to radio and then to TV and now the internet. I came across the following chart and while I can’t vouch for how print media consumption was measured back in the 1900s, the assumption is that we’ve gone from 1.5 hours to 12 hours of media consumption per day which feels like it could be right.
Over the years technology has driven up our daily consumption of media to a point where life has become all about consuming it. Based on how we used to live our lives, “hunter-gathers” was an accurate way to describe who we once were. Today, “media consumers” is the best fit for who we have become.
The reason why people and the world feels less authentic is because of how we live our lives today. Our tastes, traits and opinions would have been a lot harder to manipulate back in time when we occasionally read a newspaper or the odd book. Today, trends proliferate across the globe in next to no time due to omnipresent digital content entering our consciousness. If you want to log out of this fake world with all the fake people — you know what you have to do.