I was watching a comedy special by Bo Burnham the other day on Netflix, “Make Happy,” and let me start off by saying that I would highly recommend it. I was in full on tears laughing. Granted,I’ll admit this isn’t that hard to make me do, but it was a really enjoyable hour, I promise you. But then, towards the end, he had a serious moment in between two of his sketches that really made me stop and think for a minute. He had the stage managers turn up the lights so he could look at the audience out before him. The 26-year-old comedian talked about how his generation growing up (that would be millennials, like us) were told that they all had something important to something to say, and that the world should hear it.
Now, I’m not going to disagree with this, and I don’t think that Bo did either necessarily. We all have individual thoughts and opinions that if communicated correctly can really make a positive impact on the world and its discourse. But Bo’s bigger point was that maybe we’ve all taken it a bit too far, with the influence of social media. The market has been built to cater to a demand: our desire to be seen and heard by the masses: an audience. Just like Bo sat up on that stage, speaking to the crowd of hundreds before him, millions of people across the world were at that moment posting videos, Instagrams, tweets, statuses, and more. Screaming into the void of the Internet, waiting for someone to listen, to comment, to be an audience for them.
Somewhere along the line, Bo comments, the line has been blurred between performance art and real life. People’s diaries appear in the form of Tweets. Intimate moments appear on Snap Stories and Instagram videos. Announcements, thank yous and invitations take form on Facebook. It’s all a show really. We have been molding ourselves into these performers, these people that dedicate hours and hours to crafting an image online, for an audience that we can’t even see. Where does the performance end and real life begin?
It was a serious moment in an otherwise very chuckle worthy show, but out of all of the jokes and amazing skits that he performed, I think that this is what is going to stick with me most of all. It’s only becoming more true. And it’s not just millennials either. Future generations will experience this sensation, but probably worse. And past ones still feel it too. We all have an inherent desire to matter, to be noticed. But for some, the Internet is the easier way to express themselves rather than in real life. And the problem is that it’s all too easy to take the easy way out online. To have difficult conversations or connect with a loved one in a way so much less sincere than speaking in person, or even out loud on the phone. We’ve lost a sense of quality in our performances, and we’ve lost a certain quality of life in the process of the line between them being blurred.