I don’t know what the rest of you were thinking about the evening of Thursday, February 26th, but I’ll tell you from the start my worries had nothing to do with #TheDress. There, I did it. I used a hashtag in an otherwise properly parsed, grammatically correct sentence. It’s not something I ever thought I’d be guilty of, but then, I also didn’t think I would ever write a blog post about the significance of a social media happening.
A happening is the best description one can give to a silly question about a dress posted on the Internet that ended up with, at last count, 38,553,853 views on BuzzFeed.
That is 38 million, which adds up to a lot of people having immense interest in a blurry photograph of a white-and-gold dress (yes, that’s the color it looks to me, and approximately 80 percent of the rest of us) that has run the gamut of rationalizations — from scientific analyses of how human eyesight can be deceived, to metaphysics, to sophomoric stunt. The fact that some people see the dress as gold-and-white, while others are ready to bet the farm that it’s blue-and-black (supposedly the actual hue) has nothing on the number of opinions being bantered about as to why we see the colors differently, and what those differences mean in the great experiment of human existence. My favorite, that people’s differing perceptions on topical issues is a lesson on epistemic humility, that none of us can have complete intellectual knowledge of every given situation, that we should keep our minds open when in disagreement with another who presents an opinion on a plane different from our own, is because that is certainly the basis of my mantra that we’re all supposed to be trying to get along. That, or go find your own planet.
The problem is, these feel good, warm-and-fuzzy platitudes aren’t the real reason for the celebratory acknowledgment that there were so many views. This crazily viral social media happening was created by money, and it made a lot of money as well. The event raised the bar on how to generate virality from the mundane. BuzzFeedBiz editor Tom Gara tweeted, “‘Great work everyone, we broke BuzzFeed,’” because in the social media arena, it’s a good thing when something you post makes your servers crash from the weight of traffic. If nothing else, it gives people something to talk about. All I know is that when my computer crashes, I get very upset. Just ask Dr. K, my web guru.
But back to the night of Thursday, February 26th.
While the rest of the world was glued to computers and mobile phones, debating the color of #TheDress, I was worrying myself sick over whether the chicken liver pâté I had concocted the Saturday before (and frozen for preservation) would be edible. I’d never made pâté before, but decided it would be the perfect way to break in my glossy new kitchen, the one I’ve been agonizing over for the last ten months, the one that I had dreamed about while I prepared meals on the three-burner propane stove our RV (Mabel, to those of you who are familiar with her girth) was equipped with. It was my chance to invite a couple of friends over to see the remodeled house, and offer something other than cheese spread from Tupperware and beverages from blue plastic Solo cups. I was keeping Dr. K busy moving the boxes out of sight so our guests wouldn’t trip over them in their haste to sample my pâté, so I know he wasn’t waffling over dress color, either.
I was also curious about what my kids were doing on that critical evening when the world changed, and learned two things:
(a) Harrison does actually study in medical school, to wit: “I was ferociously studying for a physiology final. Someone saw it on Facebook, then ‘boom!’ Distraction city.”; and
(b) per Isabelle’s recommendation that I should take a look at one of the snarkiest sites of satirical merit on the Internet (“Find The Oatmeal’s response to TheDress,” she texted) helped me confirm that I am raising them well.
But the bigger question is, if I think about #TheDress, does this make my existence worthwhile?
With the confirmation that, at least on the homefront I was not alone, I considered the value of the Internet itself. Just last week the New York Times reported that “most of the world’s 7.2 billion people still do not have access to the Internet”, although half of that number have cellphone service.
What a relief, I thought, that we are well on our way to enabling “billions of people to use a communications system that has become indispensable to the modern economy.” We are well on our way to learned discussion over worthy topics with the rest of the world, and creating a global economy.
But with over 38 million views of something so meaningless as a poorly photographed mother of the bride’s outfit, what will we 7.2 billion really find worthy conversation fodder? I was relieved by Digiday’s assertion that publishers at the forefront are promoting content quality over quantity, but how long will quality take to catch on?
Rene Descartes, father of modern day philosophy, defines the process of thinking as
what happens in me such that I am immediately conscious of it, insofar as I am conscious of it.
By that Descartes means that our minds tell us what we are seeing, therefore making us thinking, conscious beings. But is existence enough, simply because we see and debate the color of someone else’s dress on the Internet? As Billy Preston so wisely noted back in the ’70’s, “Nothin’ from nothin’ leaves nothin’. . .”
I continue to be endlessly curious. Did any of you see #TheDress? Or were you doing something of value, somethin’ that wasn’t nothin’, which might create memory and significance in your life.
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Award-winning author Emily Kemme writes about human nature, illuminating the everyday in a way that highlights its brilliance. Follow her on her blog, Feeding the Famished, https://www.facebook.com/EmilyKemme, or on Twitter @. Life inspired. Vodka tempered.