Content and Characters

Introduction

Comedian Bo Burnham has a Netflix special called Inside. He begins the show with his song Welcome to the Internet. A few lines from the chorus describe the song’s intent:

Could I interest you in everything?

All of the time

A bit of everything

All of the time

It talks about how the internet has an infinite amount of content that has the capability to fill all your time. Anything you are interested in, curious about, and can think up can be found on the internet. The internet will fulfill all your desires.

Content Consumption

Our culture seems fixated on the content found on the internet. We spend our time consuming content through Instagram, Youtube, TikTok, Facebook, Netflix, Spotify, Reddit, etc. We spend our money on equipment and platforms that allow us to view this content, such as laptops, tablets, phones, and TVs.

When meeting new people, I have found that a lot of getting to know people revolves around what content they consume. What are your favorite TV shows, movies, and music? I find this odd. Why is getting to know someone based on things that other people have created?

Content Creation

Similar to our desire to consume content, we are almost equally obsessed with creating content. The platforms that allow us to easily watch videos make it as easy to create videos. I write this knowing how easy Medium has made it for me to get my writing in front of people whom I don’t know exist and whom I’ll most likely never meet. I know one person who runs an Instagram page as her full time job. Recently, one of her videos attracted 2 million views. Many of my friends have Instagram profiles. While most of these profiles are bare, with few photos and stories, they all present a personality. Perhaps, more aptly, they present a persona.

I came across a Youtube video by Channel 5 News, an independently run Youtube channel developed my Andrew Callahan, called “Chicago Rap Festival”. At one point, a music commentator describes how the 24/7 nature of (I believe he specifically referenced) TikTok has resulted in these content creators feeling like they constantly have to be in character and create content.

I sometimes think about actors and how disorientating it must be to have a job in which you have to pretend you are someone else. (Unless you are someone like Will Smith who only plays himself). I’ve spent the past few years, perhaps my whole life, trying to figure who I am. I can’t imagine having to spend a large part of my life trying to become someone else. To a degree, pretending to be someone else must change who you are; or, at least, blur the line between who you believe you are and who the character you’re playing is. Even more difficult, is that this person you are playing has a life that is more exciting than your own. After watching a movie, where months, years, and lifetimes are compressed into 2 hours, I often find the slow pace of my own life drab and unbearable. I wonder if this feeling is more pronounced in the actors of the movie. I worry that this same blurring between authenticity and character develops in content creators.

I have trouble interacting with people who I feel are playing a character. I want to find out who a person really is: what they care, worry, and think about. When someone plays a character, figuring out who they are is just as fake and meaningless as figuring out who Joey from Friends really is. My fear of content creation is that it drives people to spend their time as the character that people who consume their content believe them to be. With many of these content creators being those in their teens and twenties, who have yet to establish, experience, and introspect on who they are, are pressured to identify to both the world and those around them as whatever character their TikTok profile portrays. By doing this, they fall deeper into becoming this shell of a person they present to the world. Additionally, they are discouraged from discovering who they are, discovering who they’d like to be, and then becoming that person.

Closing Thought

With all these concerns, it crosses my mind: are we not all playing characters all of the time? At each moment, when am I playing the person my friends think I am, the person my family thinks I am, and who I think I am? What exists and what is portrayed? What is worth being?

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Timothy Tan

Timothy Tan

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Collector of Thoughts. This is my attempt to digest, organize, and expand on the daily thoughts that run through my mind.