Fyre and the commoditization of approval
I know the internet doesn't need another article ranting about the (Dumpster) Fyre Festival, nor do we need another diatribe on the harmful effects of social media. But the catastrophic failure of the Fyre festival highlighted an interesting phenomenon that I'm deeply interested in, namely, that people are spending less money on acquiring possessions, and they're spending more money on experiences that are instagram-able.
Fyre was marketed as an ultra-exclusive 4 day spring break for the rich and famous, boasting non-stop parties on a tropical beach, mainstream headlining bands, bottle service on yachts, supermodels roaming the beach, gourmet food, and "glamping." If you aren't familiar with the offerings, there have been innumerable write-ups about the festival, this one seems to me to be a good summary. Fyre was billed as "the most instagrammable event of the decade." Kylie Jenner and various models were also paid by the festival organizers to promote Fyre on their instagram accounts, which is the most dismal sentence I've ever had the displeasure of typing.
Like the fourth wall of a tv set facade falling down during live broadcast, the harsh reality behind this luxury lifestyle experience was exposed for a brief moment, naked in front of everyone, and people were shocked to see it. A class action lawsuit was shortly underway, and ironically, the primary source of evidence in the case were the Instagram and Twitter posts of those who were unfortunate enough to attend the event.
This is just one recent example of a systemic shift in how people are spending their money.
In 2003, teens spent about 30% of their budget on clothing. Today it’s around 20% (source). This downturn is due to the fact that teens are spending their money on concerts, brunches, vacations, and other experiences that can be photographed and posted in exchange for social equity. Jaime Derringer, editor of Design Milk, said of the uptick of VRBO reservations in Palm Springs, FL: “This is the Instagram generation and it wants an experience associated with an area. And in Palm Springs, that means the desert, the sun, the palm trees, and the midcentury modern house. You want to stay at places that are Instagram-worthy because you are living your life as content.” (source)
People are paying money just to be seen in an environment that others will like and envy, and they aren't satisfied in the experience itself because they're merely looking for the approval they derive from being there. This is why we see the vast majority of young people at concerts shooting photos and videos and posting them to Snapchat and Instagram before the first song is over, and spending the rest of the concert checking to see how many likes they've received rather than enjoying the experience they're claiming on social media to be present at.
Es Devlin, best known for designing Beyoncé’s concert stages said "The artists I’m working with are bombarded with images of themselves and their shows. They are aware that many people will perceive their shows through those [images on social] media. So to a degree we’re designing [concert stages] to a square at the moment. That’ll probably change. Instagram may suddenly become a triangle" (source)
Corporations are getting in on the game, evidenced by the fact that many companies' success metrics are centered around time on page, bounce rate, engagements, and impressions. These all, they believe will lead to future revenue, and they're correct, but only because consumers and corporations are mutually interested in commoditizing likes.
I believe the Fyre festival failure is an excellent case study on the vanity of the Instagram generation. People paid lots of money to be immersed in an experience which promised them a chance to appear more successful and popular and well-traveled than they really are, and it proved to be just as vapid as the likes it proffered.
Whereas previous generations squandered their money on possessions, this generation spends money and time on acquiring popularity via social medias. The human need for approval is an age old story, but what has changed is that this approval comes virtually through a device that has constant access to your attention, and is capable of curating our lives through a filter that maximizes the positive opinion of those who see it.
Our lives are filtered, both through input and output to make them more palatable to ourselves and others. It's my belief that when one day, those filters break down like the Fyre festival, the results will be equally as nauseating.