I Don't Wish To Be Percieved

How do we grapple with perception when everything is content?


A few years back, there was a trend of think pieces written about the prevalence of CCTV and surveillance technology in the UK, in London (and other big cities worldwide). They focused on how we as a modern society were being watched and tracked by the authorities, and the consequences of living in a surveilled state. As it turns out, it wasn’t the government-installed cameras we needed to be wary of; it is of each other and the cameras in our pockets.

There’s no denying that with the development in technology over the last few years; the advancement in the quality of footage that can be captured by everyone who owns a smartphone, we have all been able to share and contribute to some heartwarming, historical and unwittingly seismic moments in internet culture.

I’m a private person. I always have been, even before putting your entire life on the internet was even a thing. I’m the type who unnecessarily reads into people’s tones and looks. I’ve even asked my manager NEVER to tell me that they ‘need to have a quick chat’ as the sentence strikes the fear of god into me; I become obsessed with the idea that I’m about to be fired/have unknowingly burnt down the office.

“As it turns out, it wasn’t the government-installed cameras we needed to be wary of; it is of each other and the cameras in our pockets.”

As a millennial (UGH, I hate myself as well), having the peak of the internet in my formative teenage years, I crave the anonymity that was the before; versus having to be both a person in real life and online. Creating a version of myself to present to people is stressful enough without having to curate an online representation of who I want to be. In 2023, every caveat of our being can be mined for potential content. Add to that the speed and velocity that something can become viral (however mundane it is) and in millions of people’s phones within moments, is terrifying. Being judged by people who know me in real life is one thing, but the idea of being judged by strangers? My own personal hell.

When Andy Warhol stated that “everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,” I’m sure he didn’t envision viral TikTok moments. And yet, some can spawn such reactions that they become talking points and moments of cultural reflection. That’s not to say that I have not, not enjoyed others' viral moments; and followed and eagerly consumed their content as a result, whether it be someone who is just objectively hilarious, to those who I can relate and just want to become friends with.

“When Andy Warhol stated that 'everyone will be famous for 15 minutes,' I’m sure he didn’t envision viral TikTok moments.”

Last year Emily Ratajkowski dedicated an episode of her podcast to “Going Viral without Consent?” which covered “celebrities” and the unwitting rules that they have signed up to in today's world, with both the cultural and legal ramifications of such incidences (which I’m not going to get into here). The speed at which celebrities have had to calibrate to this new normal is not lost on someone who eagerly consumed celebrity content in the noughties. It’s wild to recall how grainy those photos of Kate Moss were back in 2005. Can you imagine what they would look like on the iPhone 14 Pro? Hang it in the Louvre! Even someone whose whole reputation and personality to the press for the last twenty years (at least) has been of a clean-cut, wellness junkie Gwyneth stated last year, "Talk about doing cocaine and not getting caught! You could just be in a bra; having fun; dance on a table {no camera phones} no, no camera phones – no paparazzi – you could just stumble out of a bar, go home with some rando and no one would know!”. The idea of this anonymity for celebrities must feel like a fever dream for those who have lived through the shift.

It’s easy to forget how much we are open to being recorded without explicit consent. Or at least how easily it can happen. There is no hiding, no choice in keeping ourselves private. Everything is content, whether you consent or not. So maybe this will force us to be better people to not only each other but maybe ourselves as well. I’ve always tried to believe that if you don’t want to be spoken about badly, don’t behave badly. And that is my main goal, to grow and better myself as a person. So as long as the fear of being exposed as being a twat to people who know me, as well as strangers on the internet, then maybe we should embrace the potential of this new reality. However terrifying it is.

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