The Paradox of Lives Run Through ‘Social Media’

14 Dec

A man leans back to pose for his selfie stick, not realising his head is on fire… 

 selfie stick

this was the defining image of the Social Paradox Exhibition, which took place on November 23rd at the Stolen Space Gallery in Shoreditch, sponsored by newly launched calendar app Calio.

‘The Social Paradox’ is an apt name for an apt name for a street art exhibition which sought to demonstrate how the tools we use to organise our social lives at the same time hold us enslaved to outdated popularity metrics which often serve to isolate more than connect.

One canvas by Iranian street artist Nafir displayed a girl jubilant about gaining 3 ‘followers’, who were displayed as 3 flesh-eating zombies stalking behind her. Another by iHeart on the subject of VR showed a young boy wearing virtual reality goggles looking down at his hand dissolving in front of him. The real world had become less tangible than the virtual one.

Joe Iurrato’s canvas displays a young boy and girl sitting in front of a sunset, arms around each other… taking selfies. ‘Modern Love’ is the piece’s title. Sad, he implies, that we are so busy recording and curating our lives to enjoy them. The theme of the whole exhibition was neatly encapsulated in the piece by WordtoMother, called simply ‘Social Media Mask’. The self-image we manifest for public viewing becomes so all-consuming it takes over our real identity.

I’m not going to step over into Freudian-style analysis of the conflict between the conscious, unconscious, the ego and the superego… but you get the idea. There is a dichotomy between how our upbringing and social norms state we should behave, and the need to play up to a social media audience which revels in the obscene, the disastrous and, on the flip side, over-idealised standards of perfection. It’s no wonder so many people suffer from ‘anxiety’.

Meet the Organisers….

Citrus-fruit IPA and boutique-label G&Ts were provided complimentary by a local brewer FourPure, the bartenders cheerfully admitting to having sneaked a drink or two or three and a bit giggly as a result. The ambience was pitch-perfect, and typically of Shoreditch everyone was striking an attitude or making clever conversation, an atmosphere which made it intimidating to take copious notes, so if my description of the exhibition is short on detail it’s because I was having too much fun.

Calio, the tech venture behind the company, actually has its manifesto that our lives contain too much tech; that an app should serve a useful function that is rooted in reality. The calendar app they have designed is spartan in its simplicity. You can invite your friends to an event which you create; suggest several different times and locations which they can vote on. And all these are stored in your personal calendar. You can sync this calendar with friends and family.

To widen its commercial appeal, Brand Accounts are going to be introduced in January. Artists and event planners can create a business profile, and by following them you get updates about all their future events.

While the app doesn’t have a lot of bells and whistles currently – though the makers say they are open to suggestions – by distancing itself from the ubiquitous ‘share’ culture, they provide an alternative platform to facebook, where there is an inbuilt tendency to constantly assess and reassess upcoming events by the number attending, ‘maybe attending’ and just ‘interested’. And it has better functionality than Whatsapp, being designed specifically for events.

Calio has a bit of a cult following at the moment, and might accumulate a similar user base to that Whatsapp did when it first launched just by positioning itself as an alternative to the status quo. Calio does not share your data with third parties. In fact, they’ve made a solemn promise not even the app managers can view your personal calendar.

Will they, like Whatsapp, sell out to the highest corporate bidder? I asked co-founder Ramy Al Kadhi, and received a response of sound business sense, despite he and founding partner Latif Baluch’s anti-establishment posturing.

“Obviously we know what the value of the company is, and as business people if someone came up with something higher than the valuation, we would have to take it seriously. But they would need to demonstrate a growth path for that.

For example, if someone wanted to make it about events curation, we’d say no. It’s essentially a calendar app, and that should be our focus.”

I asked what inspired them to come up with the idea.

“There used to be a beautiful app called Sunrise, which let you sync its calendar app with all other apps. Outlook bought them for £100million. They closed Sunrise down, and converted the user base to Outlook…. We saw a gap in the market, and while we’ve created a number of apps before – it’s what we’re in the business of doing – with this one it was something we thought people would really need.”




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