John Van Dyke is a successful designer in Seattle who worked with my photos on occasion in the 90’s. He’s also an architect and brand creator. Now he travels across the country, filming and recording conversations. I think he is on to something.

“Crossroads – We are all on a journey, sometimes we cross the road.” – Words and Illustration courtesy of John Van Dyke

Here are his thoughts on selfies, avatars, emojis, memes, and memories:

“I have been searching my memory trying to find a point when we started turning inward, no longer talking to each other in person, no longer just being what I remember us being. All those jokes, or cartoons of people with their heads down looking into that dark hole of a screen walking into things, or not paying attention. Mesmerized by nothing that seemed like everything. Becoming addicted to ourselves and our devices. When conversations ended and we stopped paying attention.

The importance of self worth, self value, self esteem, self image, has consumed us since the beginning of social platforms. We have been trained over time to function in a world of likes, exaggeration and make believe. We are judged by people we don’t know, craving their approval, going to great lengths to gain it. It has made performers out of many. Like trained monkeys. In the early days of Facebook, people were buying friends and likes from social entrepreneurs who knew how to load likes onto an account. The number of friends was so important. If you did not number in the high hundreds you were a nobody. This kind of behavior was grinding away at our real time relationships or friendships and beginning to take on toll on self worth for young people. It made make believe a virtue, bending the truth, lying, or creating in our own heads a fantasy of ourselves. In an odd way it was show business. Many had found a place, their safe place, a wall to hide behind, yet gain audience, and attention they never had before.

Simple, innocent stuff at first, just a new place for behavior that has always existed. This new virtual space was growing and audiences starting showing up. The internet, and social platforms became a launch pad for entrepreneurs of all sorts. The democratization of everything. News aggregators provided one stop reading of specialized content. Click bate headlines were created, Influencers were born. Reviews and comments were encouraged with sites for entertainment, food and travel. The power of the comment was relished by many who found a place for their voice with anonymity. It would not take long for the bad actors, or people with agendas to realize the power of this unregulated free space that was growing faster than we realized. A megaphone for anything.

This was a place where stars could be born. Existing celebrities came on board. It was a place for any opinion. It was a place that could destroy or reward. Narcissistic behavior became rampant. Individuals gained power with followers, real ones. Near cult like groups started and provided a place for lost souls. A breeding ground for our worst instincts. All of this mashed up with friends and family that provided legitimacy or pretext.
It is big business and aligned with expanding technology. Social platforms and big tech created algorithms to promote engagement and control what and who we interacted with. Today we are a society globally where 61.4 percent of the world’s population are social media users.

Over time we have adjusted to everything, we have become the trained monkeys, adapting to what has been programmed for us. We are being guided by our preferences that others have interpreted and play back to us. Celebrity and narcissistic behavior has become a feature of social media, and various news feeds and society in general. It is a crowded space and fighting for attention raises the stakes for a winner.
How we behave, what we accept, what we believe, has eroded or been reprogrammed over the last few years. We have been led to believe our country is broken, by the very people who want to break it for their own gain. Wannabe leaders gather crowds with social platforms around grievance and talk of injustice promoting culture war mentality. Some have been elected to congress and achieve celebrity status elevating their social platforms to promote their agendas. The January 6 assault on the Capital was planned, controlled and fueled by leadership, by social platforms, and programmed behavior. Individual self worth for many is tied to following leaders who are promoting the downfall of our country as we know it.

Our democracy is being assaulted. A death by a thousand cuts.

In our virtual world where we live, there is no place where country has a channel, where civics or history live. Our founding fathers had some flaws, but they were pretty smart, although not TicTok stars. Many know little, or care little about rule of law, other than cheer those who push the boundaries and break the rules. Within a moments notice, we can be informed of something, a disaster or event that might bring us together for a time until something else comes along. We might also respond to a call for mob violence, a place to vent our anger. We are easily swayed by those we follow. Those who tell us the news or what is happening. Almost cult like in our devotion, loyalty to a persona, a belief, promise of something. The influencers, leaders, have crafted the art of bending the truth, lying or misinformation. The basics of early social media that pervade society today. Today we might twist the JFK quote and ask ourselves, “Not what we can do for our country, but what our country can do for me.” And take a selfie.

Or… maybe setting our devices down and looking around, talking to a stranger, discovering who we are, where we are, and asking ourselves if we like what we see, do we want to keep it?”

Thank you,
John Van Dyke

American Mosaic