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Tech April, 25 2013

Is There an “End Game” to Being Digitally Relevant?

As of January, there are 1.06 billion Facebook users, 90 million people using Instagram, and 340 million tweets sent on a daily basis. It’s clear that social networking, sharing across a digital sphere, and communicating via non-contact transcends merely “new” users – having noted that over 46 percent of Facebook users are men and women over the age of 45. But is our “need to interact” more a product of having an unquenchable desire for more than is merely at our fingertips? With the Internet at full attention, what’s next once the stage is yours?

I’d be remiss to say that I never thought about the professional benefits of social networking until that train had long since pulled out of the station, and the daunting task of acquiring “followers” seemed both arduous and depressing. Trying to gain social media traction is more like being picked last for kickball than a triumphant summit attempt at Mt. Everest. It’s not a noble quest. Once you get past the notion that people aren’t merely sharing their feelings regarding precocious children or cats with a particularly frumpy disposition, a savvy artist/businessman/writer/photographer, etc. soon realizes that the best publicist is inevitably someone who knows their client from the inside out. That person: you, me, us, we. We are our best advocates – thus we know the underlying wants we hope to pilfer from material shared across a social platform.

The first notable case of “digital-rags-to-riches” has to be Diablo Cody – who many know as the Academy Award-winning screenwriter for Juno. Prior to her gold grab for a statuette that many writers would die to hold, Cody was known as Brook Busey, and was earning a living as an exotic dancer in the Twin Cities while maintaining and cultivating a “voice” on the Internet in the form of her blog Darling Girl. It’s hard to imagine Cody expected to be plucked up by Hollywood, so it’s easy to call her meteoric rise anything but a million-to-one shot. More contemporary, blogging has become less a tool for the mundane and lifeless grind of an ordinary person and instead a medium in which writers can try out elevated ridiculousness under the guise of a regular Joe and regular Jane.

What would follow afterwards would be the transition from a narrative and long-form documentation of life into a 140 character – and supposedly true – exchange between grown up son and father, Of course, the now infamous Twitter account @shitmydadsays. Created by Justin Halpern, the first “regular” person to gain a viral following allowed Halpern to sell the themes associated with the account to CBS for a now cancelled sitcom, write a New York Times bestseller, and parlay his account into several other projects. While it’s hard to imagine that Halpern had a plan when creating the account, there’s no denying that the comedy writer saw potential in the idea of documenting his curmudgeonly father and allowing the world to laugh with him.

In addition to Halpern, Twitter was also the choice medium for stay-at-home mom Kelly Oxford who saw her hilarious criticisms and critiques on life in Edmonton, motherhood, and a variety of other topics become favorite musings for comedy heavyweights/journalists like Roger Ebert and Jimmy Kimmel who championed her work. After selling a movie and two TV pilots, it’s easy to point to Oxford as an “overnight” success – but she’s adamant that she has used every single platform available in the digital sphere to get to where she is today. You can also add bestseller to her list of accomplishments with the recent release of her book, Everything is Perfect When You’re a Liar.

Twitter has connected me to other writers. Twitter has given me a fan base that is almost 50 times as large as my original blog. Make no doubt that famous and powerful fans have bolstered my ‘star-meter.’ BUT- There are plenty of other people on Twitter with all of the above and no career in writing. Why? Because none of these things matter if you can’t or don’t produce. No connections can get you a pilot sale, or sell your feature screenplay if you don’t fucking WRITE IT AND THEN SELL IT. Write. Write and write and fucking write and when you think you’re done and you hate everything you are writing you are almost halfway there. You’d better enjoy writing a LOT because that’s all you are going to be doing for the rest of your days if you want to make a living at it.

– Kelly Oxford

If you think that these mediums are merely meant to create some type of pathway to reach Hollywood’s gatekeepers, consider fashion and photography as other channels in which individuals have achieved acclaim by using digital tools. Joshua Kissi and Travis Gumbs – known collectively as Street Etiquette – honed their sartorial writing skills and found a sense of community using forums on Hypebeast and NikeTalk – with Kissi commenting to The New York Times, ““It was like a high school within a high school online. I felt like I had a voice, and a lot of people followed me.” While Instagram is the “newest kid” on the block, two standouts quickly emerged with an inherent ability to capture the world around them with nothing more than an iPhone 5. trashhand and curious2119 (Tim Landis) parlayed their sheer number of followers and keen shutterbug dispositions into an opportunity to document and experience the launch of various Nike Running endeavors with Landis saying, “It gives you a unique opportunity to capture something different than the things you see on a daily basis … it’s fun to do a different variety of projects. I think it works out very well for brands. Especially when they are allowing someone with a broad audience to capture what the brand wants, but in the artist’s way, still allowing them to have that freedom. I think it’s beneficial and fun for both parties.”

And then there’s the rest of us. The millions. The hundreds of millions. Aspiring. Content. Perhaps a little of both. I’m reminded of a quote I saw online: “I don’t know who you are, but I need your approval.” For most, we’re looking to gain something from the things we share with strangers – even if that something is as small as a Facebook “Like,” retweet or Instagram shout out. Digital expectations and cyber entitlement are a dangerous combination; it makes a person want what they can’t have and have what they no longer want. Social media gives us a voice and we’ll continue shouting until we are all hoarse.

Alec Banks is a Los Angeles-based writer who has written for Esquire, Details, Maxim and Playboy in the past. Follow him on twitter @smart_alec_

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