October 10, 2017

RUSSELL | Life, In Valencia

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The fourth floor of the Port Authority bus station is never as hectic as the first, so if I’m ever early for my Shortline I duck my head and speed upstairs to wait in line for the bus. This time, my bee line was intercepted by a suited yuppie in his 30s, walking at my speed in my direction, an oversized phone between his gaze and mine.

To avoid a collision, I hopped to the left, glancing at him as he gathered himself and passed by. He was talking at his phone, so I took it for an ill-timed Facetime call until I looked a bit closer and realized the face on his screen was his own. He was vlogging.

I watched him as he continued on, discussing his day with the kind of gusto you only use when you’re telling your best friend the greatest story you know. My first thought was that he was famous – some Youtube celebrity I’d be fawning over if I’d been born a few years later. But he wasn’t, and as he disappeared into a distant gate attracting not even a cursory glance from any other passers-by, I understood what it all symbolized about the internet. It’s not just a thing we escape to, but a wonderland where we matter and we can feel famous, look famous, be famous, and still go unnoticed in public.

It’s a chance to become a brand, whether you have a consumer base of 1 million Youtube subscribers or of a handful of friends and family members.

But Youtube isn’t the premier personal branding platform, not even close. And neither is LinkedIn, since most of us only update it after we get a job, which, I guess, defeats the purpose. We are content guzzlers where it counts, and it seems to only count in places where our artistic acuity can shine through. Places like Instagram.

I always hear people complaining about the fact that social media is just a grand invitation to manipulate how people perceive you. That everyone puts on their best faces and their best clothes and their best looking friends to such an extent that you can’t know who they really are. And these people are right – these are the dynamics that exist. But I’m convinced this isn’t a bad thing at all.

Instagram and Facebook and all other similar websites show you who people want to be, and that’s almost as important as who they actually are. Sure, we all seek acceptance and use social media as a tool to that end, but being “accepted” looks vastly different depending on who you ask. A picture can hint to you the audience it was meant for – the group or culture a person wants to fit in with or associate with.

And if you know who they want to please, you’ve found a pretty profound factor in their own identity.

But hey, social media is as frivolous as it gets, so maybe all this blabber isn’t worthwhile.

Or maybe it is.

As a child, Spy Kids 3D was my favorite movie. There’s a scene in it where one of the characters, an older man in a wheelchair, revels in his newfound freedom and power in a virtual reality video game. The artificial world is liberating – in it he can walk and jump and fight.

As social media becomes more integrated in life and culture, it begins to take the shape of this virtual game. Maybe one day we’ll think of the internet as a liberating force; a place where we have control over areas of our lives that were previously paralyzed. A place where our words are well thought out and our pictures well staged. A place where we own our perception and put our best feet forward.

Sure, it’s artificial, but so is every painting you’ve ever loved. Accuracy and reality are for the rest of our lives. A moment of fantasy is no less a moment.

So be famous online. Care about your personal brand. Save the ugly pictures for your finsta or your “recently deleted” folder.

Life’s too short to not live some of it in Clarendon,

or Gingham,

or Valencia.
Paul Russell is a junior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. He can be reached at prussell@cornellsun.com. Russelling Feathers appears every other Wednesday this semester.