Welcome—saccadists, finger-flutterers, the deficient of attention and children and disciples of Burn Culture, alike—to the contemporary Age of Immodesty.
Social media is here and it’s here to stay. If you’re an active user today, you comprehend the volume of information available for your and for everyone else’s self-gratification and infotainment. Which is, for all intents and purposes, immeasurable, and increasing exponentially. And you also comprehend, on some levels, that those who post to social media half a dozen times a day, give or take, need to symbiotically, science-fictionally meld with their accounts to become proficient at it. Who, more or less, need to figuratively plug the apps and devices into a port somewhere near their frontal lobes so that they can maintain their chronic posting pace.
Which, you know, can leave a lot of other things to be desired.
Like real life.
And you understand, as well, that to thrive in the new world of being social, to stay head and shoulders above everyone else, you need to let most of your inhibitions go, modesty pretty much being the first of them.
It’s all so common now that, without realizing it, the majority of society in America (and the socially Westernized globe) have undoubtedly yanked the rest of us through another temporal, yawning archway on the golden highway of life into the next social period of history.
But some real history first, before we start our virtual tour. From a geological standpoint, large, non-uniform swaths of time within the 4.6 billion years of Earth’s past are scientifically classified like so: First, eons. Then eras, and there have to be at least two or more. Then periods, at least two or more. Then epochs. And then ages. At least two or more.
Anything larger than a period we don’t need to concern ourselves with, so the general periods are Pre-History, Ancient History, Post-Classical History and Modern History, which began in the 15th century. Starting there, some notable ages the world has seen since have included, with inter-regional overlap, The Period of the Islamic Gunpowders, The Age of Exploration, the Age of Enlightenment, and the Scientific Revolution.
Sometimes, these social ages are pervasive. Other times, not. I mean, there are plenty of parts of Africa and the Far East that saw and felt next to nothing of some of these Western contributions. It all depends on where you are or were back then.
In America, which is where I am, skipping the “conquest” of the New World and fast forwarding to after the Civil War, we find Reconstruction dominated; then the Gilded Age, when industrialization fueled massive economic growth; then Progressivism took hold in the late 19th century and into the next; then a genuinely pointless world war was started; the Jazz Age appeared for some reason, mainly because of radio mass-production and beginning America’s love affair with cultural appropriation—overlapping with the Prohibition era and the Great Depression; then another war and a Cold War to follow until the Age of Information overtook things with the rise of computer-based numbers crunching, information processing and data storage.
Which is brings us to where we are today. Or were.
From the Age of Information, in front of which our little sub-Age of Immodesty can easily be inserted, let’s backflip for a moment to another, similar time in Western Civilization: that Age of Enlightenment. It saw the day’s intelligentsia and folks-otherwise discussing their revolutionary and not-so-revolutionary ideas in academies and lodges and anywhere they’d scheduled an in-person sit-down with one another for the purpose of promulgating the importance of the individual, and the things individuals possessed that made them individuals, like sensation, liberty, agency, free will, all the things the world’s chronic internet users tend to take for granted today or have seemingly lost tether to.
And it got results. It helped spawn the French and American Revolutions, social reform in England and started a shift toward conscious social thought, personal exploration and individual self-gratification all over Europe.
The ideas arose, basically, against the centuries-old, boot-heel tyranny of the church and monarchy—people in positions of authority who, under the umbrella of wealth and power, and from the protection of their hired thugs and through the dictate of Almighty God—basically ran other people’s lives from afar.
By contrast, if you look at the internet “revolution” going on today in this Age of Information, where folks are “gathering” to “discuss” “ideas” in “places” like Twitter, Reddit, Facebook and a whole host of web forums and various platforms, it’s all being brought to them by (and taking place under the watchful eye of) the modern day baton-catcher of the church and monarchy of Western Civilization: multinational corporations. And all the protections and amenities they can afford.
Hell—Twitter, Reddit and Facebook are multi-national corporations.
But now, the boot heels are a whole lot more covert.
And now, too, it’s not even a sharing of research and an advancement of ideas for the purpose of trying to become empowered while living under the constant rule of someone actually oppressing you, whether it’s excessive taxation, under-representation in parliament or congress, inequality in law or, again, the enforcement of the whimsical will of an invisible, artificially-publicized deity. It’s argumentation. It’s one-upmanship. It’s trying to be known for something, to have that rewards system in your brain activated for having pushed buttons, like a cocaine lab kitty. It’s being accepted in the void. It’s being accepted by the void. It’s gaining followers. “Friends.” It’s seeking acclamation in such a volatile timeframe and on such a microscopic level, relative to the scope of it all, that to engage in it for the years people do seems to defy evolution of the human brain itself. It grabs the Arrow of Time, that irrevocable, physical and biological phenomenon which gives every living thing a chance to better itself, and yanks it down from out of the present, psychologically slowing it, and sits it down in front of a computer screen. Or laptop. Or hand-held device.
And everything that ever meant something to our forebearers gets lost in the virtual morass of so much lexical and visual nonsense: celebrities, fame-seekers, content creators, sound byte pundits, news apps, memes, tweets, status updates, vicarious living, search engine optimization, listcicles, perishable “stories,” etc., etc., etc.
It’s too late to go back now. And just as immodesty’s only going to hold future and contemporary generations back, liberty, agency, free will and nature all have no doubt taken a backseat to the following novel priorities.
Not only are people talking about themselves all over social media, even when they’re not trying to, but you find many doing and saying things with disingenuous motives because they are, effectively, advertising—that is, hyping—what they or (very likely) someone else has created.
Newspapers are dying. That’s a fact. But before we line our hamster cages with the last of them, let’s take a look back at history’s most famous newspaper magnate—William Randolph Hearst, and see if we can’t glean something useful from him. Hearst became wildly successful in his time as a publisher. Why? Because his papers reached millions of people. That’s it. Hearst collected many of the best journalists, editors, writers and cartoonists of his day, and was a pretty good boss, they say. But the whole point of a staff like that was to put out newspapers people wanted to (or though they wanted to) read, and then to sell them for just that purpose. Not to inform the public. Or to be a good human.
Thus, the rise of “yellow journalism.” In his fight with Joseph Pulitzer’s New York World, both Hearst’s paper and Pulitzer’s began to concoct more sensationalistic headlines, saturate their papers with cartoons and illustrations, include more of the kinds of crime, murder and human interest stuff you see today and bring an overall more populist appeal to draw people’s eyes and get them to cast their pennies for the cause.
Back in the 19th and 20th centuries, it was a big deal to be able to easily pick up a newspaper and read about what was going on in the world. But today, with (or because of) the obsolescence of the newspaper there has emerged the rise of Apple news, or Twitter, or Facebook, or Buzzfeed, or the TV networks and big newspapers that have successfully transitioned online to bring you news via your device of choice.
A lot of entities are fighting for your eyes today. And your clicks.
It’s yellow journalism, reincarnate.
The “news” is not the reason why a newspaper was created. It was a business venture. And social media is the same as a newspaper that everyone, more or less, can publish, themselves.
But when you’re all by yourself and don’t employ the equivalent of a newspaper staff, you need to figure out other ways to get paid for it.
Hence, hype. Etymologically, the word is derived from “hyperbole,” but like all things, including how products today are hyped, social media has conspired to create a more water down version of it. Simply put, I take it here to mean unfiltered, high-and-low-level advertising—a direct, unmitigated reference, without art or guile, to something one wants the public to inevitably, financially support.
I’m not talking about the traditional-looking commercial ads you see on Facebook, YouTube and elsewhere, selling big, familiar products like cars, beer and life insurance—which are obviously and directly sourced from those companies themselves—I’m talking about a single account hyping their own brand’s or some other company’s (or someone else’s sometimes heretofore unknown) product to others.
From a single, subtle (or not-so-subtle) influencer Instagram post telling you to eat M&M’s or buy Dove or Revlon, to tiny little Twitter posts telling you to listen to a podcast or watch someone perform stand-up comedy or to support a local business someone else favors—hype, today, is everywhere on social media.
And, as long as the Age of Immodesty lasts, it’s only going to get bigger.
2. Followers as Business Venture
Do the math. Take Twitter, then add the numbers. 15k tweets, regardless of originality, for someone who’s been a user since 2010. Okay. How many tweets per day does that come out to?
15,000 tweets / 10 years x 1 year / 365.2422 days = 4.1 tweets / day
That’s 4 tweets a day, every day, for ten years. 3,652 days. And the ratios are even greater than that for some.
And what’s even more remarkable is that 10% of all Twitter users contribute 80% of everything that gets published.
Is it possible for someone to randomly—that is, with little or no forethought until the moment the tweet is tweeted—transcribe into writing a single thought worthy enough to show potentially hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of people, say, once a day or couple of day, and in the interim retweet other people’s ideas, every day for ten years? Is it possible to do without devoting the sum of a considerable amount of mental energy both before and after the Tweet button is pressed?
How crazy has it become?
Because, let’s not forget, social media was not made for people to just randomly express their thoughts whenever the spirit moved them; for the perpetuation of commonplace ideas by the common, to the common; to carry on a free and rolling conversation among anyone free enough to have a phone or a computer; to create a community based on inherently media-egalitarian principles, and that everyone who chooses to would automatically and equally be benefited, as the platforms lie and say is the case.
It really wasn’t.
It was about creating wealth for the originators, the executives, to roll out a huge IPO, to get so popular as to continually draw in more and more users, and for businesses to ultimately invest in not only via corporate backchannels, but, right up front, to certain users after they had obtained an audience large enough to be deemed a venture practical enough in which to invest. Otherwise, there would be no reward system built into it; a reward system, needless to say, which invariably creates a hierarchy. You introduce a thing like “followers,” and you introduce a currency with which everyone can play and invest. And some are going to get rich. And the very popular, starting out (those known to more through other media channels) are going to get richer faster.
And the prospect of getting rich that way keeps more and more users signing up, again and again, with the hopes of acquiring a portfolio of thousands with which to secure any number of opadocratic sinecures available to the popular and influential.
Opadocracy is a word I’m just making up here, but neologism is appropriate in a new age. It’s the rule or influence users (or influencers, in some cases) have on social media platforms based simply and exclusively on the number of account followers they carry. Because social media is getting just that large and globally influential, and so much money is now passing from advertisers to influencers, for just that reason.
There is emerging a new type of class of scatter-brained individual. Which, in the Age of Immodesty, is leading to a new type of disparity.
When you were a child, and that one day you (if you ever did), finally or unwittingly, stepped over the line from grade school target to grade school bully, even for only a few seconds on the playground, or otherwise fulfilled your statistical destiny because you were the biggest, most developed, most aggressive, most dominant and least empathetic kid in your grade, what did you feel? Not afterwards, not 20 years later, but right in that moment? Of bullying?
You felt good, right? Grade school kids don’t engage in anything unprompted without a reward of instantaneous gratification waiting for them when it’s through. It feels good to bully, right when you bully, any and all reasons (and future regret) aside.
Now, imagine there was nobody you had to physically touch, no cries or expressions of anguish you had to hear and no victimized eyes you had to meet to make yourself feel good at the expense of someone else, and the gratification was still measured the same. Imagine, even, that a psychological Robin Hood Effect might take place, and that there was the chance you would be uplifting a number of people in the process. Imagine it made you seem smart or clever. Imagine it made you more friends. Imagine it got you more followers.
How great would that be?
Well, it wouldn’t. It’s still bullying. And, in fact, is just as responsible for the documented consequences of tradition bullying as, well, traditional bullying.
While the research on cyberbullying tends to focus on teens, data from 2019 show that just under 37% of those interviewed have experienced cyberbullying in their lifetimes. As teens. It doesn’t stop, either, after you grow into your twenties. And, while there are a number of factors involved as to why, adults in their twenties still feel the same resulting pressures and altered self-image and, sometimes, are just as prone to take extreme measures as a result.
It seems as prevalent, if not more, than the real type of bullying today. Only the medium has changed. But as the medium is becoming more ubiquitous with the growing presence of computers and internet accessibility through gaming platforms in homes, smartphones owned or used by teens, it’s likely to increase. And based on that, and on the distant, “victimless” nature of it all and, well, the continued unfolding of the age in which we live, it’s probably going to get worse.
4. The Ballistics of Insult
What happens when the bullying doesn’t work, and the person being bullied fires back something that makes the bully look like just as much of a twat as the bully intended them to look?
As I’ve said, one of the inherent differences in cyberbullying to actual bullying is that the bully can’t actually see, hear or feel that the intended target got the goods they delivered. Therefore, more people attempt it who aren’t prepared to get bullied back. But, just as it’s easier to start bullying someone you can’t actually see, it’s also easier to continue bullying them once they bully back.
Thus: The ballistics of insult.
It’s really just an inherent part of any social system, anywhere. It’s systemic in human nature. You get so many people together in the world, talking about things, they’re going to start insulting each other. It’s going to happen. How do you think the Peloponnesian War started?
Now, undoubtedly, there are people who need challenging, whose words and ideas are societal and large-scale poison masquerading as an ethical or moral preservation, or a shutteringly conservative or self-serving activism. Privileged prejudice, bigotry, even actual racism—classism, ableism, sexism, all these things, because of the inherent deindividuation, high-horse-ism or whatever you want to call it of social media, are often expressed where otherwise they wouldn’t be, among strangers. And it needs calling out.
But the problem with taking to social media to do it, especially against the more-popular or celebrated, is that you’re just offering up cannon fire, volleying it onto an opadocratic, cyber-battlefield, firing without emotional or otherwise cognitive coordinates, and an airball is almost bound to be the result. Except to say those people upon whom you have fired will hear or see that you have fired upon them, and, unscathed in the least or perhaps only slightly grazed, will likely return fire upon you.
Because they know people are watching.
Only, if they’re quick-witted or loquacious (or you happen to be thinner-skinned), they’ll hit their target. Also: because they’re way more popular than you are, Fox News, the Huffington Post or BuzzFeed will possibly report on it and waste I don’t know how many resources publishing what they said, and what other people tweeted back.
Now, in truth, no historian may actually know the single, fateful act which started the Peloponnesian War. (In all likelihood, there very likely were several.) But they all remember the outcome. And why.
Your words, the words of others, are cannon fire. It’s not resolution through the pleasant and courteous, open exchange of ideas.
Like, remember the Age of Enlightenment?
There’s no dialogue. No lessons to be learned, other than: Choose your battles more wisely. It’s not about making actual points. There’s nothing moral or ethical about it. Hell, it’s not even about stating the truth.
It’s about publicly shaming someone into victory. It’s about insulting for prominence. And the least modest will almost always be victorious.
5. The Scale of the Twitterverse
It’s so populated, Twitter, that it can legitimately feel, to some who may not have extensive life experience, on some cognitive level, like the real thing. In fact, because the majority of Twitter users (38%) fall between the age ranges of 18-29, it’s very likely many who get on have not sensually or viscerally experienced much of the breadth of the actual, physical world in which they live. Social media platforms easily become life-experience proxies.
It doesn’t cost any money, per se. You don’t have to buy a plane or train ticket to explore it. You don’t need to own a car or RV, don’t have to fill it with fuel. You don’t need logistical planning, you don’t need to take the same (if any) precautions, there’s no sense of loneliness as you do, no language barriers, necessarily—thanks to translation software—no culture shock, no physical exhaustion, no stress, no imminent danger. Again, it’s like the world (albeit limited to text, ephemeral or embedded photos or videos) is virtually plugged into your central nervous system and feeding you all it has, while you sit or lay motionless, otherwise blind, suspended in the viscous, nutrient-rich medium of that hermetic, embryonic chamber called “indoors” while technology sucks the better part of your life away from you for its own benefit, unnoticed.
The future is here.
6. Cancel Culture
So, combining the previous points, we get to the reasons behind the power of the last big aspect of the Age of Immodesty: Cancel Culture.
For those that don’t know, Cancel Culture is this: First, evidence arises of someone or some business doing something “wrong,” however that is defined to the people who individually react to it on social media. Those reactors, now outraged, start speaking ill of the person or place, creating a negative, influential, popular opinion, some going so far as to encourage others to either no longer spend money at the business in question or, if it wasn’t obvious already, conspire to find out where the perpetrator(s) of the thing works or work, and demand that they be fired. And, because it spreads so far and wide through social media, and fast, what usually happens is that person winds up getting fired or, at least, vilified. Or the business suffers.
While much of the blame of Cancel Culture today falls to liberalism (because so many of these perpetrators are actually more identified with or identifiable by conservatism) as part of deriding a “wokeness” in America, it does go both ways. Donald Trump, for example—far from being a liberal—derides Cancel Culture, yet engages in cancelling, and sets the ball rolling for people and organizations to be cancelled, himself. Cancel Culture, therefore, has no political affiliation.
Power is behind it, and the power of deindividuation. Yet so is feeling good for fighting, per se; fighting for something you believe in; fighting for something you believe will (or should) lose (i.e., bullying). And also, if it makes you more platform-popular in the process and nets you more followers, so much the better.
And why businesses ultimately cave to it with firings or apologies—if they do—is due to brand image. Which, if sufficiently tarnished, is understood to lead to a decline in customers and loss of revenue, over time.
It’s simple economics, really.
And the only modest aspect to be found in the entire thing.