Slice of Life: The Social Media Illusion

(This is for the Slice of Life challenge, hosted by Two Writing Teachers. We write on Tuesdays about the small moments in the larger perspective … or is that the larger perspective in the smaller moments? You write, too.)

My pre-teen son confided in me that he had gone back into his Musically app the other day, for the first time in a few weeks, only to find out to his surprise that he was Number One on their charts of users. Musically allows you to create short lip-sync videos with all sorts of filters. It’s fun, but I personally find it a bit too much. People heart you. It’s one of those sites.

“It sort of freaked me out,” he admitted, on seeing his username at the top of the chart. “I hadn’t even made anything (new video) in a long time. I don’t know how it happened. Did something go viral?”

He said he even double checked it was his (since he uses a fake name to protect his identity … good boy) and that led us into a whole discussion about the role of followers and why social media is built on this aspect of users needing more and more confirmation or hearts or likes or whatever from an unknown audience. And how shallow that entire system can be, even if it feels good at the time.

This led us to talk about places he knows online where you can “earn” new followers, too. I’m still not clear on this — do you buy followers somehow? What are you giving up? Your data? Your information? Your eyeballs for intrusive ads? Something, right?

“Maybe I should delete the app,” he wondered out loud.

We were in the car during all this, so I told him I would look at the app later. When I did, I realized that he had been duped by an April Fool’s joke by Musically, in which every user who checked the charts found themselves Number One.

Pretty clever, and also, pretty interesting for a social media app built on users and followers to play on the desire of its own users for more and more followers as a joke on those same users. There’s something strangely meta in that circle of thought.

My son was amused when I told him about Musically’s April Fools joke. He seemed a bit relieved, as if there had been a huge weight to bear when you suddenly realize you have become the top dog in a social media chart.

He was also a bit wistful that his day at the top of the charts was all just an illusion. But really, given the landscape of social media and teens, and what constitutes popularity in such fleeting ways, isn’t most of what we do in social media merely illusion, anyway?

Peace (thinking),

PS — “Dad, a whole bunch of kids at school got pranked by the same joke, and thought they were number one. We all did. That’s funny.” — the boy.

  1. I love getting a peek into the conversations you are having. Social media is a new world that needs to be managed thoughtfully and carefully. It sounds like your son is making good choices while he figures out his way through.

  2. Hmmmmm….not nice. Followers are a tricky topic for teens (and for some of us adults too.) We want to feel our words, music, or other creativities are actually reaching someone else, but do they really ‘reach’ others? Where is the interaction? I’m glad I read your slice this morning, Kevin. I’m going to talk to my students today about this topic and see what they think. You may have sparked a future slice for me. 🙂

  3. I like your post because it reveals a very comfortable and trusting relationship between a father and son. I was impressed that you checked on the site and reported back to him and had a conversation about it. I actually thought that Musically’s April Fool’s joke was clever because it gets to the heart of what social media is about…and if you are going to participate, you have to expect some irony in your life.

  4. Kevin,
    Good thoughts about the illusive and artificial nature of social media popularity.

    I have a few 10-year-old students who want nothing more than to become a YouTuber with a million subscribers. When I ask them to describe what they could produce and contribute for a million people to want to subscribe and watch what they upload, they seem perplexed with the question. They just want the million followers.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking slice of life from you and your smart son!


  5. I too love reading of this amount of exchange between you and your son, it’s very encouraging (and I am having a hard time imagining having anything like that with my parents!, oh different times).

    But not to sound like a cranky old fart, I really question the thinking behind this “prank” (or all such pranks). It demonstrates it’s okay to lie to people and it’s justified if only later you say “hah hah just a prank”. What exactly is the lesson of a prank? What exactly is in it for the person at he receiving end? Anyone who becomes a victim of believing it walks away with shame. The only solace is finding others who were equally shamed?

    I see no need for pranks.

    • I remain mixed on it. One hand, I am with you. It seems mean. On the other, my son and my students see social media spaces as temporary places, not deep community (like you and I often see things, Alan). With low emotional investment, he didn’t feel too offended. Or so it seemed.

  6. Fascinating layers here, Kevin, reading about you and your son navigating these ever-changing waters. (As soon as they’re charted, the chart seems no longer current, though that doesn’t mean the mapping effort isn’t without value.) Thanks for this thoughtful glimpse.

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