Remember The Matrix? It was that super cool action/sci-fi flick with Keanu Reaves that spawned two impossibly horrible sequels. One of the things I remember most about The Matrix is that it introduced me to the term “residual self image.” In the film, your residual self image is your real-world mind’s mental projection of yourself while plugged into the matrix. Basically, it’s a way cooler version of yourself that only exists in the computer program. Since the Matrix came out, the world’s been taken over by the internet. Many of us spend more time “plugged in,” at our jobs, through our phones, laptops and tablets than we do in the real-world. We all have online personalities and personas, and for some of us, those online personas line up pretty accurately with who we are in real life. For others … not so much. On Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and on our personal blogs and Tumblr accounts, some of us have created residual self images so far from who we really are that they sometimes become impossible to maintain.
Last week I read a blog post where the comments section twisted into a discussion around wine choice. One commenter mentioned their affinity for moscato. What followed her comment were another fifty comments centered around her drink of choice, many of which lampooning her and people like her for their supposedly unrefined wine pallet. Of course there was the commenter who blamed Drake, then there was the commenter who explained for us in painstaking detail the type of grape used to make moscato, and then there was the wine connoisseur to tell us what we should be drinking instead of moscato. Each diatribe struck me as odd, but for a time, I couldn’t really figure out why. Then it hit me: Amongst the internet’s tasting-making, elite, calling people out for drinking moscato is so 2011. To do so is to expose the gap between who you are in real life and the residual self-image you’re projecting while plugged into the internet. This is because in real life, the world’s taste-makers and purveyors of awesome have absolutely no problem exhibiting areas of their taste that happen to be ironically ratchet. In reality everyone loves moscato. Not liking moscato is like not liking Kool-Aid. It’s sweet, it comes in a bottle with a cork (most of the time) and if you drink enough of it you’ll get a nice little buzz. We all know it’s meant to be a dessert wine, still, don’t be surprised if at the next BBQ you attend you find a bunch of college educated folks sipping moscato out of red cups while yelling something like “Nine months later … similac!”
This dynamic has its roots in the rapidly expanding landscape of the internet. When my generation (the millennial generation) was coming of age in the late 90’s the internet wasn’t really the place to hang out if you weren’t the kind of kid who played Magic the Gathering in between classes. Sure, most folks jumped on the various, early social networking bandwagons, from BlackPlanet to Friendster, and then later, MySpace. Still back then, the only folks who were perpetually dialed in, to the point of creating residual self-images, were the kids who saw the world through HTML coded sunglasses.
But the awesome thing about those early adopters to this perpetually connected lifestyle is that they had no pretension or self consciousness about who they were. The internet for them wasn’t a place to go and pretend to be someone else, but instead a place to go and find others who shared similar real life interests. At some point, between the advent of Facebook and Twitter and the emergence of smartphones as the mobile device of choice, the “cool kids” found the internet and took up residence. Now, when I say “cool kids,” I don’t mean the Kanye’s of the world, I mean the folks who inspire folks like Kanye, the Gladwellian mavens of the world. With their arrival on the internet came the same trendsetting, the same swag-jacking and the same subsequent social stratification once reserved strictly for lunch room tables and velvet roped club lines. And where there is that kind of separation, there will always be pretenders. This is how folks who’ve never thrown a punch become internet gangsters and this is how folks who couldn’t tell the difference between a sauvignon blanc and a moscato become the boughiest folks on the net.
Both the internet’s early adopters and the late adopting cool kids of the net have in common their contentedness in accepting the contradictions that come with being yourself. This how the phenomenon of ironic ratchedness came to prominence. Somewhere some internet revolutionary nonchalantly expressed seemingly contradictory but actually complimentary influences, like say Jack Kirby and Pablo Picasso and a lightening bolt cracked across the social networking stratosphere: it’s o.k. to be ratchet when you know you’re being ratchet and when everyone knows you know better. But like most revolutionary and progressive ideas in the age of the internet, the realization that ratchet ain’t always wrong is being adopted quite liberally, almost to the point of corniness. It’s only a matter of time till the folks who have residual self images that are distant from their reality realize how cool one seems to others when reconciling interests that seem diametrically opposed. At that point, it’ll become as played as calling someone out for drinking a wine you know you really love.
Actually … it’s already starting to happen. #YOLO