As we head towards the end of one decade, and into the start of another, people naturally begin to look back and decipher the decade – what was it all about, how did we behave, what were the main trends – with a view of predicting what tomorrow holds for us. I’m no different and have been having a little think.
People have talked about “information overload” since I can remember – every single planning meeting I’d have with software companies would, in some degree, touch on this topic. With the convergence of the internet and mobile platforms and the commoditisation of computing hardware, more and more people are creating, sharing and digesting content. Many people see this as fantastic; the internet has empowered people to discover, learn and educate – are we becoming more intelligent and informed? Some have talked about a digital divide, the gap between the have and the have-nots is widening as a result of this access (of lack of) to the internet.
I agree, to a degree. But have also been mulling over a theory for a little while now – and using the analogy of food, feel we’re in danger of creating a bubble of nothing that could hold back and stifle our intellectual development led by our fascination for all things celebrity. Are we, as a result, entering an ‘Infobesity’ epidemic – getting fat on information with no nutritional value?
Allow me to explain, using the analogy of the obesity epidemic sweeping the developed nations today. Economic stability and international relations had, since post-War era led to a society in the developed world of abundance– food, and choice of food, became abundantly available and affordable to most sections of society. Food choice was no-longer the right of the upper-classes alone. However, human nature it seems has a sadist streak, a want to self destruct, with food it’s the weakness for the sugary, fatty and convenience of fast foods – a penchant for the stuff that isn’t that good for us. This isn’t I appreciate the case for everyone, but you could argue it is the case for the masses – just look at the obesity stats for US and UK. When given a choice, people will generally chose the stuff that isn’t that good for them – especially if these are made extremely convenient to consume and affordable.
Now, perhaps a bit of a stretch but I see our internet usage and information consumption as being very similar. The internet is now almost ubiquitous in the developed world, broadband prices are falling and computing power is increasing but decreasing in price. People are now given the convenience of access and almost unrestricted choice/information. But, much like we’ve seen happen with food – people, when given this choice and convenience tend to lean towards the sugary, fatty content – pornography and celebrity. Are people becoming more intelligent because of the internet? I really not sure they are – maybe more informed, but more informed about what?
One of the most worrying trends during this decade has been rise of the celebrity, and something that was mentioned in the recent edition of Intelligent Life, celempathy. The notion that celebrity worship has gone beyond idolism to a need to understand, belong and importantly relate to celebrities. The media continually bombard us with stories of where they’ve been, who they’ve been seen with. Indeed Heat magazine launched at the very end of the last decade and has grown in popularity through the noughties. Perez Hilton is one of the most widely ready websites in the world.
But it goes even further than this, the last ten years has been the age where by society felt that they were truly able to create its own celebrities – the success of X Factor, Pop Idol, Big Brother (although people are getting bored of this format), where real people that the average person could relate to would then be shaped into the celebrity everyone secretly aspires to. The people were able to choose, the people were given the power to create celebrity.
So why am I worried about the rise of celebrity and celempathy – well it seems the internet, for the younger generation, is about gaming, talking and celebrity – and when talking it’s largely about celebrity. All ten of the most watched viral videos of all time as announced last month featured celebrities (Kylie and Ronaldo being the two most watched if you’re interested).
The amount of content that’s created and consumed around celebrity is, from my basic research increasing at a rate way beyond any other genre (other than porn maybe – although as Paris Hilton and Pamela Anderson realised a combination of celebrity and porn can be pretty powerful). This is what I mean by infobesity – people are getting fat on the overly sugary, fatty empty content that is celebrity – we’re overloading on information as it is and most of it is vacuous celebrity nothing.
I know this is a bit of a rant, and opinionated and is definitely only one-side of the story ( I was hoping to generate some debate) – not everyone is as vacuous as I make out. But I don’t see myself as being a shallow person – but have I used the internet to learn a new language, to discover why the Aztecs disappeared, to access great works of literature and to genuinely better myself (beyond what we do for a living)? The answers no.
So I’m worried that this fascination for celebrity/celempathy will continue to grow and be more powerful – and the developing world, much like it has a problem with food will have a problem with content. An age of Infobesity is dawning.
Hell, Arnold Swazzengar is the governor of California, Boris Johnson the mayor or London; what next Katie Price as Prime Minister?
Sure this means the celebrity will become even more powerful in the marketing process, but it’s a bit depressing as well. Will historians in 200 years look back and laugh at how stupid the human race became because of its fascination with the hot-air that is celebrity. I fear it might.