View From The Side: The Bullshit Pursuit Of Happiness On Facebook
Summer is great. It stays warm enough to keep cracking open tinnies in your local park until pretty much any hour you see fit and everyone can have a good laugh at their awkward, pale legs that haven’t felt sunlight since this time last year. 90% of your #TBTs have been leading up to this so it’s no surprise that you want to get it right, even TfL are reminding you that everything has to be perfect with problematic adverts for weight-loss products adorning their network. The horrible realisation dawns on you that quickly stubbing out meagre spliffs at the sight of PCSO officers and a week somewhere on the Med might not cut it – you need to make some more plans fast, or at least start haphazardly clicking ‘attend’ on aspirational summery Facebook events. If this sounds like you, you might be complicit in the great festival of bullshit that is Summer 2015 online.
My attention was first drawn to this phenomenon when growing numbers of people started flocking to ‘TheSoundYouNeed on the beach’, intrigued I clicked on the event and was greeted with an idyllic coastal cover photo and a few dates in a smooth font evocative of Majestic Casual. A few clicks later I learned that TSYN was a YouTube channel with almost three million subscribers showcasing ‘The finest music of our time: Bass, UK House, Future Garage, Lounge music, Hip-Hop, Minimal & More’. It emerged that they’d teamed up with EXIT and UKF to birth Sea Dance Festival which will take place in Montenegro this July, at the time of writing 124,000 people are attending with an extra day added to satisfy demand. Sure there are logistical issues to get sorted when going to a festival abroad but it seems strange that after going on sale in January tickets are still on third release at £54 even with the announcement of headliners Gramatik, ODESZA and Bondax. With the number of likes on TSYN’s posts to the event barely reaching triple figures it seems that there might not be a Knebworth moment to ‘Baby I Got That’ for 100,000+ Hype-clad Millennials after all.
But I’m not gonna pretend I actually go to every event my profile says I will, we’ve all been guilty of taking the easy option and flaking when it actually comes down to it. It’s tempting to run with the line of people putting forward a presentation of the ideal self, sun-kissed and beach body ready having a better time than you could ever dream of. This is probably true of the kind of people who boast about getting internships on Facebook but there might be a less egotistical, more vulnerable explanation behind it. In a time where we can keep tabs on what pretty much anyone is doing pretty much all the time a FOMO epidemic is spreading with the same speed and devastation as the Black Death did in the Middle Ages. A ludicrous comparison surely? Well why did over 10,000 people click attending to a public ‘London Fields BBQ’ event? A barbecue on London Fields is the most run of the mill summer activity imaginable, there’s nothing wrong with it but it doesn’t exactly require a lot of planning or a crowd of strangers and should surely be confined to you and your mates’ group chat. Not according to the attendees who couldn’t risk being left out on this particular day. In fact so many people felt compelled to join in that the event has since been cancelled either by the original creators, horrified at the monster they’d created, or the fucking suits and fun sponges at Hackney Council set on stopping a crowd that would fill Griffin Park converging on a small green to chuck a few frisbees about and have a bloody good time.
Some of these things do at least seem to serve an actual purpose though, take Cronomio who set up ‘FREE EVENTS in X – Summer 2015’ pages for more than sixty cities with over 500,000 joining from Paris and London alone. As the name suggests people share free things to do on the wall so you can have a browse when you’re broke and bored in the coming months, but predictably most of it is stuff nobody would ever actually go to. ‘Join Young Professionals in London for free to make new friends and to get invited to exclusive parties!’ implores one post, complete with obligatory stock photo. The rest are largely outdoor cinemas, terrace parties with TBA locations and fitness classes, fittingly the kind of things people always seem to be going to but never actually follow through with. The Cronomio app is yet to launch, but when the time comes it will presumably do so with huge success; their tagline is ‘Search less. Experience More.’ which encapsulates the predicament of the target market they’ve so effectively nailed. As well as using the fact that young people in major cities are always pretty hard up to their advantage they tap into the very 21st century fear that we might not quite be living the dream. It’s the lingering kind of fear that makes people think ‘Shit, 15 of my Facebook friends are attending, they’ll be taking advantage of the good weather to get up to fun stuff, why aren’t I?’.
Naturally, as a strange Brummie man suspiciously lambasting the park and ride system at Gatwick Airport once told me, ‘there’s money to be made’. I don’t know how you monetise an event with hundreds of thousands of attendees but I’m quite sure it’s possible. As the guy who made @UberFacts and whoever created the selfie stick have proven the best way to get rich quick is to spot and capitalise on the oddities of our online existence.
The narrative goes that the possibilities we’re afforded by technology these days are so vast that we end up turning the gun of opportunity on ourselves, so overcome with options that we end up just sitting around refreshing Twitter all day. Whether acting out of some kind of abstract FOMO or trying to counteract the uncertainties our generation faces the seemingly mundane curation of people on your timeline’s summer plans may tell us more than we might have thought about the modern condition.