I went to a birthday party last night. The man of the hour threw himself a huge bash and invited his many friends. He rented out a theatre and structured the evening as a variety show, with himself as Master of Ceremonies.
What was most fascinating to me about the occasion was how the birthday boy took to the stage and proceeded to perform, not as himself, but rather as a series of characters: First a late-night comedian, then a freakish quiz show host. He presented one sketch after another, each more outrageous than the one before.
And I found myself wondering whether I was witnessing some sort of cultural feedback loop, in which the emerging digital culture of personal invention is starting to redefine the world of flesh and blood.
Our culture is already moving beyond the make-believe “democracy” of American Idol. Media has become fragmented, decentralized. We are entering a time when the traditional content producers are losing control of the conversation, when each individual has become a potential point of broadcast. Consumers are becoming better at voting with their clicks, and the MySpace-driven rise to fame of a Lily Allen could become the rule rather than the exception.
The long tail is starting to wag the dog.
So I wonder, was I witnessing a glimmer of the future? In the age of YouTube, will more and more people assess their milestones, measure the worth of their lives, by an ability to create a persona, to transmit a virtual self?