as some of you may know im extremely interested in what i would call internet ethnography. a specific subset of this is the aspect of the internet that seems to, invariably, cause "internet celebrities" to go insane, and an attempt to fully understand why this is the case. [...]
theres some obvious reasons here but i made an interesting connection to another aspect of the internet that i understand more fully as ive participated in it several times in several ways and, perhaps even without realizing it, you have as well.
the internet obviously inherently makes things "meta". what "meta" actually means in a basic sense is to have an awareness of itself, such as in metacognition, which is formally studied in biology and animal psychology - thats an animals ability to be aware of its own thinking.
this is obvious, the internet has a kind of meta humor, you get a social media profile and gain a kind of meta awareness of certain aspects of yourself that previously were undocumented, unshowcased, or unquantified, okay, duh, but it also happens to groups + internet communities
this was a more noticeable when communities were way more isolated, such as on forums, and were ostensibly organized around a particular topic, but it happens everywhere. it also happens here, to some extent. the group eventually takes on at least a slight meta characteristic.
that sounds very abstract but its actually extremely tangible and the mechanism that causes this is very very easy to observe and explicate. lets take an easy example. there used to be a popular guitar forum online, that was all about playing guitar and guitars.
well people come there, and they talk about guitars. what kind of guitars are best, what are the best amps, what settings give you the best results. what kind of strings. what if you want to sound like the third metallica album. well then you should get this set up, and on and on
eventually, this group of people will have basically had all the conversations it is possible to have about guitars over and over and with all possible permutations. almost, of course not literally, but it will feel that way. every topic will basically have been covered.
at the same time, now there is a community formed around this discussion, and naturally peoples personalities have come out in this discussion and, thats interesting, hey, who are all these weird people that found each other online to talk about guitars. they want to know.
so the conversation + the group itself transitions over to being meta. it transitions over to being about itself. instead of being a forum where people talk about guitars it becomes a forum where the people who came to talk about guitars talk about people who talk about guitars.
and every now and then once enough new people come in they will have those old conversations over again, theres always a slight trickle of new people coming in, but this also reinforces the meta aspect because now those new people also become aware of the personalities involved.
they become aware of the group and the group dynamic and who is who because, as we just established, that became an integral, really it kind of became the central, aspect of the group (instead of guitars). over time this meta aspect becomes cemented, its more like a social club.
if you reflect back onto internet communities you were a part of, if you were lucky enough to be involved with that, that revolved around a topic like guitars, you can probably observe that that happened to some extent. in fact, given this example, i will drop a little lore.
its only really interesting in terms of internet ethnography but it gives a window into the nature of the internet for people that werent there, before the social-media-ization of the internet. im actually talking about a particular forum, that really was about guitars.
over time that "hanging out" social club aspect became so cemented that, when you looked at the forum without logging in, you would see the standard 8 or 9 subforums about various topics. but if you made an account and logged in, there were one or two secret subforums.
the general public or people just cruising the site wouldnt see these, you'd only know they were there if you made an account, but one of them was actually a subforum specifically about sexual topics, because naturally that was a topic of conversation that came up with the users.
so its just an interesting demonstration of the principle im describing that, even a forum literally just about guitars involved people getting to know each other to such an intimate extent that moderators literally had to create a holding pen to contain discussion about sex.
i was like 14 and actually was just trying to get better at guitar though. anyway, you probably have noticed this "group becoming about itself" principle in action. there are a few safeguards against it or really i should say, things that naturally temper it or keep it in check.
one of those things is if the group is about something that is always happening, like sports or politics, or new video games, or something like that, which always creates new topics of discussion and new things to hash out. almost any group has a little bit of this.
anyway, to tie this back into the topic, why the internet makes internet personalities go insane, i was thinking about these two things and realized there is a connection. with most internet celebrities, really im thinking of youtubers, they eventually become "about themselves".
so you have some totally "normal" person, frankly probably without a large level of ability to police or control their own mind, who is initially making videos about X or just being funny, but eventually, as they get more popular, they become their own subject. their life, them.
and thats kind of an unsustainable situation to be in if you have no self control or ability to "tend" to and control your own mind, the "drama", things that happen to you, bad things, good things, even your lack of focus, all of it, becomes a subject. you observing yourself.
i think this meta-ization the internet inherently imparts is dependable enough that if we were to study the internet formally we could call it a principle and give it a fancy name. many internet celebrities go through this cycle, in fact it seems to be a law more than a principle
as we all, due to our time period, have been somewhat forced to live online, its important to reflect on such things. if the internet makes people that put 100% of themselves onto it go insane 100% of the time, what happens when you tweak those numbers. do they correlate directly
could we chart it out that people that put 50% of themselves online go insane 50% of the time? or do they go 50% insane 100% of the time? we presumably will not have access to this data for some time, but you dont want to be caught in being the first batch radioactive mice, do u
i would say due to the time period most normal people put between 25% to 75% of themselves online, and the tail ends taper off from there. i sometimes joke that i am a "reluctant internet ethnographer". its not a path i would have chosen but i cant really look away from it either
for what its worth, not to make it about me, but obviously i, like everyone, live somewhat online, maybe even more than most, so i have thought about how this process effects me. mostly i think having a lot of weird interests, and the art, serve as a little bit of a shield.
presumably i will be one of the radioactive guinea pigs, but maybe i can keep from being one of the weird ones that eats itself or dies after eating too much paper or something. that would be nice. in my mind, i do have a little wall of "warnings", the test cases, the canaries.
photos of the internet celebrities that went too hard, that threw themselves into the spring and never returned, the ones who flew too close to the sun and shattered like so many phone screens. we thank them for their service. now we understand the beast just a little bit better.
(whenever i post anything about people being online people invariably are like, "oh i get it, you're talking about X person", so full disclaimer that i really am thinking about no longer existent youtube people and not anyone here or really even online at this moment).
this is also meant to be a negative thing about the internet, not the people that live on it. i like a lot of “internet people” obviously, in a strange way they are really “my people”. alright caveats over.