Another Week Ends

1. From The Spectator comes “The Quiet Sorrow of the Instagram Blogger.” It tells the […]

Ethan Richardson / 3.1.19

1. From The Spectator comes “The Quiet Sorrow of the Instagram Blogger.” It tells the true story of one “Influencer,” who really is a caricatured stand-in for everyone these days, named Kelly Larkin, of the “Kelly in the City” brand. Larkin is known (apparently) as an “aspirational but accessible” lifestyle branding influencer. As these cautionary tales go, her social media fame generated a heightened sense dishonesty about her real life, and therefore a deepening confusion about who she really was. Two years ago, she “went public” about her difficulties with infertility and her ongoing bouts with depression.

Larkin had found herself in a strange new place that digital media has brought upon us: the zone of uncertainty where you don’t quite know you you might be talking to online, where the line between truth and deception is frequently obfuscated, and where we’re simultaneously pulled toward unprecedented ‘transparency’ and the desire to carefully craft our personas to the point of dishonesty. We all now inhabit a world where the idea of the ‘truth’ has completely changed, and as a population of internet users, we aren’t yet on a level where we can process it.

For one, this doesn’t just affect people like Larkin who can call themselves ‘influencers.’ When we fill out social media profiles or post updates, we are in effect creating our own brands. And one study after another indicates that people have no problem admitting those personal brands don’t entirely reflect reality. In 2016 a UK marketing firm called Custard surveyed British internet users and found that fewer than a fifth of them said their social profiles were ‘a completely accurate reflection of me and who I am.’

What’s even more anxiety-producing in our age, though, is not just the split between the real me and the projected me, but also the immense pressure that comes with social media’s permanent record. As the article puts it, social media is the “ultimate paper trail.” This creates an environment in which blatant lies may be held accountable, but it also precludes the kinds of content and nuance that are specifically unsexy to mass audiences. Instagram personalities like Larkin, obviously, see it differently: for her, there’s a “strange comfort and admittedly false sense of anonymity and privacy” in posting whatever real parts of her life she decides. Ultimately, though, her transparency doesn’t get the final word.

Simultaneously, we’re all in possession of devices that give us both unparalleled access to the truth and the unprecedented means to disseminate or get absorbed in falsehoods.

2. Which reminds me of an article many of us received here at Mockingbird HQ, from multiple friends. It’s a WSJ book review written by John Kaag (author of Hiking with Nietzsche), about  a new book by Akiko Busch, How to Disappear: Notes on Invisibility in a Time of Transparency. In stark contrast to the Kelly Larkins of the world, Busch’s book offers a seemingly contradictory salve to the alienation of our ever-connected social network: solitude. Kaag writes (ht LG):

Ms. Busch understands the temptation to make everything garishly public. The willingness to expose ourselves stems from the more basic and powerful drive to be recognized. If one wants to “be somebody,” the first step is to be known by as many people as possible. This rarely involves genuine engagement with others but rather a calculated and obsessive campaign of self-promotion. To be clear, there is nothing inherently wrong with craving recognition, except that it tends to short-circuit all other forms of self-reliance or self-actualization. There are, in fact, other forms.

The late Victorians had a word for self-possession: They called it “reserve,” the willingness to withdraw, to save, to make something of ourselves inaccessible and therefore precious. If anything is important about a human life, perhaps it is what we keep undercover and then share, sparingly and authentically, with others. That is not exposure. It is revelation, and it means very little in the absence of reserve…

“Narcissus appears in each culture and each generation in his own particular guise,” Ms. Busch writes. This may be true, but today the pool is so clear, so broad, so tempting that it’s almost impossible not to be transfixed by the reflection.

In other words, in an age of self-branding and self-marketing, regardless of whether that marketing is honest or riddled with falsehoods, comes an identity crisis: a longing for personal recognition that is easily miscalculated as love. I am reminded of the J.D. Salinger quote we used to open up the Identity Issue.

“Just because I’m so horribly conditioned to accept everybody else’s values, and just because I like applause and people to rave about me, doesn’t make it right. I’m ashamed of it. I’m sick of it. I’m sick of not having the courage to be an absolute nobody.” (Franny and Zooey)

Real recognition (aka “love”), in other words, might provoke the courage to be “an absolute nobody.” Or, as McSweeneys delightfully describes, a “Nonfluencer.”

3. Here’s a piece of news for the ages (from the Onion): “Poor Attendance at Intervention A Real Wake-Up Call.”

LAWTON, OK—Brought to the brink of tears by the concerned looks in the eyes of a few of his loved ones, Alex Sheehorn, 29, was presented with a serious wake-up call Wednesday in the form of the piss-poor attendance at his intervention. “I walked into my place to find Mom, Dad, and my Aunt Carla standing there, plus the mediator. The self-realization I’ve been avoiding for months hit me like a ton of bricks—for my own good, before it’s too late, I desperately need to get my social life on track,” said Sheehorn, who was forced to face how far gone he is when his sisters Meghan and Candice texted 45 minutes late to say they couldn’t attend. “Knowing that hardly anyone showed up for me in my darkest moments is exactly the motivation I need to make big changes. Starting today, no more excuses. I refuse to let my addiction prevent me from finally making more friends at work or my rec basketball league.” Sheehorn has since made a resolution to throw away his pills and find a more social drug to abuse.

4. Here’s an amazing story of grace from a church in Virginia. As a part of a month-long January fast that’s become a tradition for the past few years, the church accumulated $100K, all of which was then directed to pay off 34 students’ college loan balances. Talk about the kind of “evangelism” that works, especially with the millennials…

“This year, as our fasting ended, we asked members to make a sacrificial offering that we promised would go out the door of our church,” said church pastor Dr. Howard-John Wesley. “We decided to come to Howard University to find some students who are about to change the world but have some financial concerns, and let them know we’re going to take care of it for them.”

5. Amid the #seculosity of food and dieting in 21st century America, there is an implicit philosophy at work, one that almost wholesale distrusts the ramifications of human freedom. Give a man or a woman an endless menu to choose from, we dieters say to ourselves, and we will inevitably forego the kale smoothie to order Momma’s Pancake Breakfast with double bacon. Given the choice, we will continue, step by step, to self-destruction. There’s sound experiential reason behind it: whenever we do have the chance for a cheat-day, -week, or -month, the evidence proves we have no self-control. But part of that may have to do with the moralizing neuroses our diets, fads, and challenges have fueled.

Enter a new (but very old) dietary strategem: intuitive eating. It is to today’s crash diet what “It is Finished” was to the Pharisees at the foot of the cross…sort of. The Atlantic tells how Molly Bahr, a wellness therapist, became a disciple of intuitive eating:

Bahr decided that she wanted to spread the word about intuitive eating, but there was one problem. Up to that moment, she had been dedicated to traditional ideas of dieting and health, encouraging followers of her growing fitness-focused Instagram account to weigh their food, watch their nutritional macros, and fret over their weight as a primary indicator of their health. Intuitive eating, on the other hand, is a theory that posits the opposite: Calorie counting, carb avoiding, and waistline measuring are not only making people emotionally miserable, but contributing to many of the health problems previously attributed to simple overeating.

Bahr says intuitive eating changed both how she treated her patients and how she looked at herself. She had been constantly weighing and photographing herself, trying to hit goals that she says were disconnected from how she actually felt. “It was really hard for me to realize that I had been so harsh to my own body, even though in my mind I was doing it for health,” she says. Changing the orientation of her public Instagram account was awkward, but she felt like she needed to be honest with people. “One day I had to come up with a post that was like, ‘Hey, sorry for everything I’ve ever said. It was actually all wrong,’” she says.

The article discusses how food culture in America has gotten such a joyless, near-religious severity that the acceptance of pizza and beer into one’s diet sounds like an admission of moral failure. To the contrary, intuitive eating says freedom begets a different outcome:

The theory is that if you can have pizza whenever you want, it feels less essential to eat it until you’re uncomfortable when the opportunity presents itself, or to seek out the opportunity at all. Telling yourself you can’t have something, meanwhile, gives it undue power and allure. “I didn’t understand that the binges were created from the restriction,” Bahr says. “I thought I was an animal.” In the past, research has indicated that American women internalize the importance of restricting food intake as young as age 5, making it almost impossible to test how people would act toward food if they weren’t shackled by a culture of dieting. Tribole calls the unnatural urge to eat a particular food that arises because of anticipated restriction the “last-supper effect.” “It’s the permission paradox,” she says. “When you have permission to eat, the food still tastes good, but you remove the urgency.

6. Great one from the Bee: Church with “United” In Name Undergoes Fourth Split.

“Our church has ‘United’ in the name because we think it’s really important to be united with those people who agree with you on every minute doctrine,” said the church’s new pastor, who just took over the job of a pastor who was voted out in a narrow congregational decision. “We are all one in the Lord—at least the First United Grace Christian Church of Christ Christians are.”

7. The NFL’s Tampa Bay Bucs has a new work policy when it comes to family time (ht HE):

Bruce Arians will be coaching a new team come next season, but he’s bringing a rule that he’s enforced since his days in Arizona.The new Buccaneers signal caller has made it clear that he will fire any one of his staff members on the spot if they miss one of their son’s or daughter’s recitals or games because of work.

And finally, can’t wait to dig into these stories. For all fans of 30 for 30, looks promising: