The Man Who Bought the World
My struggle with internet influence
I wasn’t going to attempt this challenge. Writing about being influenced by social media? Me, the man who controls his echo chambers, thinks for himself, and absolutely is not, and never has been, manipulated by an algorithm? Impossible. But...then I thought some more…
The first item I ever bought due to social media’s icy touch, it’s tendrils beginning to twist and wind their filaments into my very soul (and wallet) was a Playstation 2. Yes, I am more than aware that this was technically before social media’s all encompassing reach, but also it wasn’t. I’ve never been a huge gamer, but I’d just started my first ever fully salaried job, where I was earning the huge amount of about £800 a month. The PS2 with GTA Vice City cost £400, so clearly, once I’d paid rent, that was the obvious next purchase. Luckily I worked in a pub/restaurant, and so I could eat for free. Still, a savvy marketing campaign, huge amounts spent on advertising, and a tech leap forward would explain this purchase, yes? Well, no.
At the time I was seeing an uber-geek girlfriend. She was her fellow nerd’s wet dream: hugely busty, pretty, sassy, wore corsets as a matter of course, and obsessed about frame rate back when it was called clocking. She used to marshall her geek army and organise huge LAN parties at Warwick University playing Unreal Tournament. She could tell me why NVidia and FireFox were good, and Windows and Intel bad. She was the reason I bought the PS2.
I wanted to impress her, and she had been telling me in great detail about how some people she spoke to in Japan on online forums were raving about the PS2. Up until that point she had been extremely dismissive of it. She adored all things PC, and sneered at all things console, but she’d been swayed by her Japanese friends over the internet. So voila: my first social media purchase.
We would go on to split up a couple of years later (my next purchase was a platinum and diamond engagement ring; I was not good with money. Or women.), but that purchase genuinely changed my life. Not how you’d think: I do own a PS4, but I’m still not a huge gamer and what few games I do play tend to be on PC. The PS2 did something else for me: it introduced me to DVD’s.
South Park: Bigger, Longer, Amazing in 5:1
For those of you who weren’t conscious of the progression from VHS to DVD, you may not understand why this was so revelatory for me. I struggle to think of a modern comparison for the progression of film from grainy VHS with dodgy Dolby stereo, if you were lucky, to slick smooth crisp DVD with 5:1 surround sound. Perhaps if you imagine moving from an analogue mobile straight to an iPhone 5, or, I think the closest I’ve experienced since, the progression from analogue TV to Smart TV, but now I guess even that is a slightly outdated comparison…
The first DVD I purchased was South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut. I've just got that joke as I write this now. I would go on to buy 3-4 DVD's a week, amassing hundreds of films over a few years. I had all the great films as special editions, I curated extensively, with Oscar and Palm d'Or winners being purchased yearly. My Miyazaki collection was itself a thing to behold. And then, along came the internet, streaming services, Amazon Prime and, much like my iPod albums, my DVD collection was a relic. One day a Music Magpie advert happened across my stream of consciousness, and that was that: gone in a flurry of feathers and a couple of hundred pounds.
Regardless, the DVD experience was what kick started my obsession with film, but also online recommendations. From that one purchase of the PS2 I would always scour the internet in search of reviews, opinion, tech message boards, and more, to obtain the best reviews for the best products. I would shun mainstream print, and that attitude persists to this day of a kind of mistrust for anything that doesn’t hail from slightly obscure areas of the internet. I’m too intelligent to get sucked in by ‘the man’; I’ll go and find reviews from secretive goblins that patrol the wastelands of the world wide web. The places that still honour the gods of MySpace and BitTorrent. These are the people I want my reviews from, not slick-rick, SEO, perfectly groomed influencers.
Of course, I know in my heart that, where there was once a need for these anti-heroes of the net, it’s a much tidier, more regulated (on the surface) place. I can trust reviewers in the main, and even if they are monetised in their content, the income often comes from a variety of sites, or sites that hold a variety of stock, so I’m going to end up with a good product. But still, I have avoided those targeted advertisements like the plague, through the same arrogance: I’m not stupid enough to fall for something a computer thinks I’d like. But then the computer found my weak spot.
Boy in the Ood
As earlier mentioned, younger me was pretty useless with money and girls. Older me is still just as useless, but is also able to implement coping strategies. Sometimes however, the arrow pierces me at the groin, and I am undone. In this case my undoing was a targeted ad on Facebook aimed not at a purchase for me, but as a gift for my partner. So I clicked, and I bought an Oodie.
I will give Oodie their due: it’s great. We’ve just had a profoundly cold winter here, and we welcomed child number 4 into the world last September, so it has come in handy to throw on at a frigid 3am to pace numbly with child. It also has the added bonus of being thick enough to warm her and the wearer, and it comes with, of course, a hood. Or as I like to term it, ear protection, because, believe me, when you’ve hauled yourself out of bed for the third time in a night to a screaming baby who seems to literally get no other pleasure from life than wailing directly into your ear, the discovery that an Oodie’s hood is the perfect blocker is just bliss.
As you can tell, I too partake of the Oodie. I have worn it proudly, as do all sleep deprived parents wear their struggle like a badge of honour (we genuinely don’t care how we look anymore is the real reason). I wear it to put the bins out, answer the door to delivery people, and yes I have indeed been to the shops in it. Being a parent of a baby can feel very lonely at times, so a thing that genuinely brings you comfort is to be grasped and held jealously. It is even comfortable if, when giving up all hope, you lean back against a wall and slide to the floor. I have road tested this particular feature a few times.
Interestingly, following on from the success of this impulse purchase on Facebook, I have found I now willingly browse the logarithmic advertisements, and I am finding more and more products I am interested in. I have a list built up: monthly boxes of snacks and sweets from Japan, consoles which play every console game from the 80’s and 90’s, and, because Facebook cares about my weight more than I do, Huel.
I guess I’m learning to, if not love, certainly accept the vines of social media influence and the people that surely influence many more areas of my life that I am unaware of. I do still want to be cautious though: just as once upon a time the internet was a wild west of unscrupulous individuals, guarded by an honest few who valued their freedom over their dislike of noobs like me, it seems those wanting to make a quick buck still exist but wear a suit. I do wonder whether we have been duped into thinking we are safe now just because our bank accounts can’t be hacked, while not realising that, instead, it’s our brains we’ve exposed. The world is our oyster, but we will have to pay for it.
If you enjoyed this read, please let me influence you into giving me a heart. It helps my fragile ego. If you really want to make me believe in the power of suggestion and influence, please, whatever you do, DO NOT leave me a $5 tip. Seriously. Don't do it. Ah! No! Stop! Bad internet user.
I’m very much motivated by a wish to escape from reality. Weirdly that more often than not involves dark, dystopian fantasy or science fiction, which you’d think, given the state of the world, would be the last place I want to retreat to.