Social Currency & Cancel Culture
The social market is as volatile as a Wall Street floor, and if you aren’t willing to learn or keep up, there’s the door. I am a product of my generation, so naturally I want my hand in social currency - a currency that has gone beyond a single unit value. Now it can be traded, manipulated and fabricated altogether, much like what we see in financial institutions. Social media is world number 2, or rather version 1.5. It may have parallels to the real world but the meat on its bones is still rare. And I’m not sure we want to see world number 2, for despite the attraction of a pretty new future, we have a lot to understand and more importantly, to fix. Whether a bug update or full upgrade, we need several. Our perception of social currency, the influences that trigger our desire for it and how we may react to a more complex social market is already creating real life problems.
People are brands. They always have been. Social media isn’t the cause for fraudulent personalities and manipulative behavior or bullying another for social gain. This is a facet of human nature. We do this all the time. I personally have made lasting friendships through the power of gossip and exaggerated smearing of a mutual. We feed off negativity. We love it. That is how we connect. Is it healthy? In the grand scheme of things, no. But it is inevitable for now. We enjoy mutual shit-talking behind the backs of others, and in that, we desire utmost anonymity - something social media provides in the comfort of our homes.
Socializing is a complicated behavior. Not only can it be used to trick others but can easily fool the speaker as well. It can fool the speaker into thinking they have accomplished an important interaction - a social media pitfall that needn’t further explaining. You get it. Social media doesn’t fulfill the social quota in the healthiest of ways but it does fill it. Where we find ourselves today is in front of something much bigger and is where every great thing meets its demise, money (or currency).
Money ruined the good old days of wild west internet browsing and almost every corner of global hardship. But it also saves us, gives us purpose, structure and stability - things we need more than any comparably trivial problem. But it’s also foolish to assume the desire for wealth be merely for stability. In fact, its core intent isn’t a tool for survival, like an urge to build a shelter or start a fire. We only believe the accumulation of wealth to be a DNA written human urge because we willed it to be over thousands of years.
And so on the ever-present screens around me, I cave to my instincts. I see other investors cashing in big and trading engagement for real opportunities and an honest living. These are the creators in most instances. And the lifeblood of the creator depends on the curator, or an individual who prefers sharing the content of others. And for most social investors today, they are a hybrid of the two. Then, there’s the “piker.” In Wall Street, a piker is an investor who almost exclusively makes small trades or can otherwise be considered an amateur, ill-equipped for the trading day. A fairly harsh term for someone who contributes little to the market yet seeks to convince others of their superior knowledgable of it. These investors are “out of touch,” the folks who take up space and are usually inseminating misinformation into the social pool. Or worse, unbeknownst to them, draining it rapidly. And what do we do with them? Well, we kill them.
Stanislaw Jerzy Lec, Polish aphorist and poet, once wrote “The weakest link in a chain is the strongest because it can break it.” The ‘us’ versus ‘them’ belief is an evolved Homo sapien trait not exclusive to humans. In fact, most social animals do not think on behalf of an entire species. However, The Cognitive Revolution shifted the social human in this regard. And what resulted was willingness to help a neighbor who would otherwise be a complete stranger. But still, for as logical as we’ve become, we have acute and sometimes irrational anxiety about ill intentions of another neighbor.
Fast foreword to the shift from the ancient world to classical antiquity, and a near double in population from 100 to 200-250 million people. A set of laws were necessary to keep order among so many. Economic, political and religious demand set forever changing global orders and narrowed the divide between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ What makes the economic order in particular so strong is that it transcends prophets and kings. Currency is the great unity of people. For those who do not believe in the same god or under the rules of the same land, money is adaptable, always necessary and a universal language in itself. There is no equivalent transactional value in worshiping a god or following the laws of the land. If you believe in god, your afterlife may be plentiful, or if you follow the law you may not rot in jail. If you believe in and fully understand an economic system, you may gain not just material things and security for your family, but it can also increase odds of a rise in social hierarchy - an immediate reward in life rather than death.
From 2006 to 2012, Facebook’s alliance with Microsoft elevated the platform to unprecedented heights. What was the digital milestone of Myspace amounted only to the conception of a virtual reality embryo. And a virtual reality it has become with its Twitter and Instagram brother and sister. The complexity of our social behavior has not become more complicated or toxic due to social media, everything is just amplified - our empathy, our apathy, our pride, our pity, our concerns, our curiosity, our observations, our free thinking, our passions, our learning, our teaching. Everything has gone from moderate to extreme. Our desire for currency has elevated as well. Our hierarchal tendencies are raging. We are desperate to gain and show off the social currency we have. We flaunt it like fat kings. We use followers for arbitrary blue ticks and engagement for validation of our class. Unlike the lifelong classification of the medieval peasant, on Twitter it only takes one mistake to go from prince to pauper.
I want to return to Stanislaw’s the “weakest link in the chain is the strongest” quote to start a conversation about cancel culture. I have quite a lot to say on the subject, so I’ll keep it brief for now (I want to isolate this topic for its own article).
Cancel culture, right off the bat, is a perpetual vicious circle that feels both horribly wrong for the accused without a platform for a rebuttal and super important for human progress. This dichotomy is like my experience with anti-depressants. I’ve had anxiety since my I entered school at age 5. It stems from a lack of productivity, an incessant self-loathing and sensitivity to worldly disappointments i.e a fixation on the approval of others. When I took my prescription however, after several trial and error periods, I was never able to kick the zombified side effects of which were keeping me from you guessed it … being productive. And back to square one. The pikers are the sickness but the Outrage pills™️ aren’t solving the underlying issue. Now, if the sickness is life threatening to its occupant, the side effects are moot. But who is to say what sickness requires what medicine?
I realized what I needed was more therapy centered in the end. There is more than one way to treat a sickness. If we’re comparing apples to apples, more so granny smiths to galas, the real world equivalency to internet’s cancel culture pre dates the iron age in many ways. We have the mindset of a hunter gatherer with a population of the Roman Empire 130 fold. That’s a bit of an exaggeration but we need to understand the infant state we’re in.
From 500 million users in 2010, Facebook now has over 2.1 billion. And these are active users. That’s about 30% of the world’s population. We are building something that can hold over 2 billion people. Social media was originally an escape from reality. In 2009, however, when the smart phone made its way to everyone’s pocket, the transformation from productivity killer to birth of a new reality converged. And here we are - animals with brains too big for our own good, with nature’s wonderment right in front of us, and yet, we strive for more, something greater, something beyond our reach. The Cognitive Revolution is both a human miracle and a natural disaster, but we’ll survive. We always do.
We are on our way to a classical period. The start of a vibrant, well-tamed or wily, maybe dangerous future. Only time can tell. We are living in a time never seen before - a future only a cheap 80’s movie could predict. A celebrity con artist is the leader of the free world and he is often on Twitter, spouting immoral villianish rhetoric. Deep-fakes are becoming a serious concern. Fabricated news stories for the sake of social gain is ruining the integrity of journalism. Facebook is stealing personal data and jeopardizing our security. WikiLeaks, run by a drunk cartoonish mastermind is collaborating with prominent world figures, and Russia is using cyber strategies to undermine governments around the world. We are domestically and globally facing the brewing of a detrimental outcome.
And it starts with us. The fundamental problem is on the individual. We’ve perpetuated this but not purposefully. Our weak online social structure is due to our incessant need for social currency over principal and action. Tweeting advocacy is not the equivalent to joining a protest or calling your local government official. Sub-tweeting is not the equivalent to solving inter-personal issues. Likes are not the equivalent to validity. The woes of your life are merely being transferred to an external hard drive, drag and dropped to world 1.5.