Achilles, The Social Network and You
Name ten people from the thirteen century. Pretty hard, isn’t it? Now name ten characters from the Iliad.
The time difference between the 13th century and the events of Iliad is about 2300 years, and it’s likely you know more names from the Iliad even though it’s much older and not to mention that every character in it is most likely fictional, while the 13th century, I assure you, was filled with real people.
Who will remember you?
This text isn’t about the Iliad, or history; it’s about us, our future, and where social media is taking us. Bear with me, I’ll get to the point, but now let’s get back to the myths.
The reasons why ancient myths are still remembered and relevant after thousands of years are hard to pin point; beside their fantastical stories, they deal with themes which always resonated with people, filled with what Carl Jung called ‘archetypes’, elements that stem from the collective unconscious.
A point that is rarely mention is that every myth from a certain mythology gains from the collection of all the other myths from that mythology. Without the Iliad and Odyssey and then Aeneid the founding myth of Rome, with Romulus and Remus, wouldn’t have nearly as much weight as it has now. The backdrop of previous stories, the network of characters and events make every other myth more potent, just as later myths retroactively empower previous myths. This is perhaps one more reason why myths survived for millenniums, after all it’s this that makes mythologies mythologies, and not just a sequence of individual stories.
Comic books are the new mythology of the western world, with superheroes instead of ‘regular’ heroes. This is a point often made, and the same principle of interconnection applies to them. It’s not only the tragic death of Bruce Wayne’s parents that make Batman who he is; it’s also every other event in Batman’s canon, just as the fact that Superman and him know each other, something that enriches both characters.
This is the ingredient for the incredible success of the Marvel films, superhero films that all share the same universe, where every major character interacts with every other at some point, and together they propel the story of that universe.
And now we’re here, at the beginning of a revolution still hard to appreciate. We didn’t colonize the Moon and we don’t have flying cars; practically nothing major has changed in the way we live since commercial aviation started in the 50’s, except for the internet. Social media has been changing the world and what the future will look like because of it is hard to predict. Let me try, I’m gonna paint a picture for you.
The internet is democratic, anyone with a computer and an internet connection can put out their content and it’s becoming increasingly less anonymous; people use their real names, and they expect others to do so.
While these facts are so familiar as to hardly need repetition, we tend to be unaware of their implications. Earlier I used the word ‘network’ to describe the interwoven nature of mythologies, a word nowadays attributed most often with the syntagma social network. We are the first generation to have our lives this heavily documented; with the exception of royalty, we will be remembered as the first of our names.
A picture of Chaplin and Einstein draws our attention seemingly a bit too much, but we can’t help ourselves, we love seeing those exceptional people interacting, it instantly makes them both more interesting and a bit more ‘human’.
This is becoming the norm, relationships are visible now, more than ever. Gary Vaynerchuk is someone who often talks about the importance of social media and he himself is a part of a (social) network of people, consisting of Casey Neistat, Tai Lopez, Brian Rose, etc., who are forming the present, and arguably the first, entrepreneurial presence on the internet, while at the same time being a part of a broader network. They’re all acquaintances (some even friends) or at least there’s no more than one degree of separation between them, and that degree is, of course, someone else from that network. This is what makes them compelling, it’s a synergy, every one of them presents their own story, but together they propel a bigger one. From now on, when future generations think of our time they won’t only think of a few exceptional and frankly insular individuals but of communities, of social networks; a much more complex system of people and relationships, something people find more relatable and therefore easier to remember.
We die twice, first when we die die, and then when no one knows our name anymore; so goes the saying. Behind its cheesiness, it delivers a strong message. Most of us don’t even know the names of our great grandparents, not to mention any detail about their lives. But now even if you fall into obscurity after your death, a future internet archaeologist may dig up much more than your name, everything from the way you looked, to who you were friends with, and once again ‘make you alive’.
Every photo of you, every comment you make, every piece of content you put on the internet will be a part of your legacy, but the thing that will solidify it will be your social bonds with other people who contribute to the collective narrative in their own way. We have an opportunity to rise from merely being bystanders of our time to becoming characters, if not heroes, of this new chapter in human history social media begun.
Perhaps our descendants will look back on our lives, and they’ll see a story, a story they are a part of; a story not only of achievements, but of emotions and intricate relationships, and they’ll find meaning in it, just like we now find meaning in the great Greek tragedies. And when they die just as our stories enriched theirs, theirs will enrich ours. Bringing value, and embracing the social network we’re a part of just may make us immortal.
I dedicate this text to everyone I know, and to everyone I’m yet to meet.