Sincerity vs Authenticity: Static vs. Dynamic Truths

Ryan Tanaka
Jun 22, 2016 · 5 min read

People who are friends with me on Facebook might’ve noticed already, but I’ve been having a lot of fun making music improv videos using their new Facebook Live video feature, which is basically a form of live broadcasting done over your smartphone. Since most of the music I make is done on the spot anyway, it’s a pretty perfect medium for me to turn my practice routine into a “performance” of sorts. (Oh, I have a Seaboard, in case you were wondering what instrument that was.)

My style is an instrumental mix of ambient, IDM, and minimalist classical. Follow or friend me on Facebook if you want to hear more! (Will be doing these at least 4–5 times a week.)

I know myself well enough now that I’m never going to be a rock-star (or ninja or pirate, for that matter) so I don’t really have the energy nor motivation to try to put on a big, flashy show these days. In the video above, I’ve literally rolled out of bed 15 minutes earlier and just played for a while to see where things would go. (Maybe you could tell that already, since I didn’t even bother finding a unwrinkled shirt before hitting the record. My mom was pretty disappointed, of course.)

I’ve made music videos with my camera before, but I never really got too much into it because there was just something about it that I didn’t find it enjoyable. A video is a video, sure, but there’s something about doing it live that changed everything for me. It just seemed more intimate — more sincere — since here I won’t be tempted to filter or edit anything in a way that’ll make me look good. The video is what it is, what happened in that time and space for that 10–15 minute span, nothing more, nothing less.

Sincerity vs. Authenticity

The Japanese kanji for sincerity. This character combines 2 simpler characters of “saying” and “becoming”.

In the 1970s, the cultural critic Lionel Trilling encouraged us to take seriously the distinction between sincerity and authenticity. Sincerity, he said, requires us to act and really be the way that we present ourselves to others. Authenticity involves finding and expressing the true inner self and judging all relationships in terms of it.

Orlando Patterson, New York Times: “Our Overrated Inner Self”

The Internet has always done well with the idea of the authenticity: we’re constantly encouraged to present ideas (and ourselves) in the “truest” way, free of mannerisms and impersonations. We’re always researching and fact-checking each other’s posts to ensure that they are “correct”, often punishing those who don’t maintain a level of consistency in their opinions and ideas. As the article states, society has certainly embraced the idea of authenticity™ to its fullest, sparking many businesses, political movements, and cultural aesthetics alike.

Sincerity, on the other hand, is a word you don’t hear much these days, on or offline. Is there a difference between authenticity and sincerity, or is the former just a synonym for the latter?

While both aim to present the truth, there is one big difference between the two concepts: authenticity is static, sincerity is dynamic.

When we talk about authenticity, we’re usually talking about an object with a well-defined history and story of origin. “Real” coffee made from local farmers, “authentic” brands that aren’t copied or plagiarized, “natural” products that avoid processing — well, the “bad” kinds of processing, anyway. Even in music, authenticity is usually what you use to describe performances that replicate or reenact the practices/mannerisms of historical or traditional styles, such renaissance love songs or West African drum circles, etc.

Sincerity, on the other hand, is a human trait that we use to describe people who are honest and straightforward. The difference between the two are made obvious by the fact that sincerity is a word reserved only for human beings, while authenticity can be used to describe both objects and people. (You wouldn’t call a jacket “sincere” no matter how well made it was, for example.) Authenticity as a phrase has done well in recent years party due to its usefulness in marketing — blurring the lines between objects and people makes it easier to connect the two things as a commercialized product, after all.

While the internet has an overabundance of authenticity, sincerity is a rarer thing to see mostly because social media platforms are usually designed towards outcomes that favor the former. For our own meaningfulness and entertainment, we’re constantly being encouraged to spin up new narratives for ourselves and our friends, generating carefully crafted snapshots of our daily lives.

Sincerity, on the other hand, is just a personality trait. It might have the presence and attention necessary to tell a good story, but it doesn’t have just one particular story to tell. Sometimes the stories are unrelated, sometimes they contradict themselves, some of it is good, some of it is bad…when we call sincerity a “dynamic” thing, we’re just talking about what a person is, after all.

Most of the music that I make doesn’t have a “point” to their creation, usually. There’s no lyrics, no “hooks” or themes for you to remember…not even a clearly defined beginning and end! In line with the philosophies of ambient music, it’s just as much about forgetting and letting go than it is about remembering the things that might have transpired. The Facebook Live feature lets me tap into that side of my creativity, since everything is done in real time and I find it a much more direct, intimate, and ultimately rewarding process. (I might be tempted to make some cuts or edits to pictures or videos that I take ahead of time, otherwise.)

Maybe I might get a new microphone, better speakers, and wear an unwrinkled shirt once in a while (not sure about the last one) but I don’t see myself changing the process all that much any time soon. The Facebook Live community does feel very different than the rest of Facebook, though — almost like being on an entirely different website where its practices haven’t been stylized or codified yet.

Maybe this new feature can breathe some new life into the Facebook platform itself? We’ll see — either way, I think that they might be onto something big here, since the idea that you can broadcast what you’re doing live anywhere at any time is no small thing…and is likely to have a great impact on aesthetic norms just as much as the content it creates.

Ryan Tanaka

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Music, YIMBY, Supporting Andrew Yang and the #YangGang for 2020!

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