On the Internet, We’re Always Famous by Chris Hayes
Chris Hayes writes about the influence of television and social media on American discourse and celebrity culture, and about what happens when the experience of fame becomes universal.

Highlights and Notes

Humans, as a rule, crave getting up in people’s business.


once upon a time the Internet was going to save us from the menace of TV

Note: Even before getting to the next sentences, I knew the (correct) invocation of Postman was coming.


According to Postman, TV destroyed all that, replacing our written culture with a culture of images that was, in a very literal sense, meaningless.


if you have a particularly empty-minded Megaphone Guy, you get a discourse that’s not just stupid but that makes everyone in the room stupider as well


Trump is the brain-dead megaphone made real: the dumbest, most obnoxious guy in the entire room given the biggest platform. And our national experiment with putting a D-level cable-news pundit in charge of the nuclear arsenal went about as horribly as Saunders might have predicted.


forms of discourse actually shape our conceptual architecture, that the sophistication of our thinking is determined to a large degree by the sophistication of the language we hear used to describe our world.

Note: The dumbing down is real.


I thought, and many of us thought, that the Internet was going to solve this problem. The rise of the liberal blogs, during the run-up to Barack Obama’s election, brought us the headiest days of Internet Discourse Triumphalism. We were going to remake the world through radically democratized global conversations.

Note: I don’t understand, in retrospect, how so many of us—including myself, a rather confirmed cynic most of the time—didn’t see it coming and shrugged off the ultimately more prescient arguments. Was I a triumphalist based more on hope than (mis)understanding?


The brief renaissance of long blog arguments was short-lived (and, honestly, it was a bit insufferable while it was happening).


As for the guy with the megaphone prattling on about the cheese cubes? Well, rather than take that one dumb guy’s megaphone away, we added a bunch of megaphones to the party. And guess what: that didn’t much improve things!


The most radical change to our shared social lives isn’t who gets to speak, it’s what we can hear.

Note: And for every positive instance, including of personal “ambient awareness” of friends’ lives, there are 10x as many things that can’t be unheard…no matter how much we would like it to. My weird foray into thinking positively about humans has been viciously smacked down.


We have now all been granted a power once reserved for totalitarian governments.


Never before in history have so many people been under the gaze of so many strangers. Humans evolved in small groups, defined by kinship: those we knew, knew us. And our imaginative capabilities allowed us to know strangers—kings and queens, heroes of legend, gods above—all manner of at least partly mythic personalities to whom we may have felt as intimately close to as kin.

Note: Related, this is just one of so many problems of scale and humanity. We aren’t meant to live in large communities, with “large” being a lot smaller than many suppose. It feels to me that there are two, practically insoluble things that account for almost everything miserable and wretched about human existence: the problem of (the existence of) consciousness and the already absurdly high number of people (and the former is what finally makes solving the latter practically impossible).


their attention renders us tiny gods. The Era of Mass Fame is upon us


as the critic Leo Braudy notes, in his 1987 study, “The Frenzy of Renown,” “As each new medium of fame appears, the human image it conveys is intensified and the number of individuals celebrated expands.”

Note: The Frenzy of Renown: Fame and Its History by Leo Braudy


fame, or at least being known by strangers, gone from a novelty to a core human experience.


It’s still foreign to most people, online and off. But now the possibility of it haunts online life, which increasingly is just life.


Fame itself, in the older, more enduring sense of the term, is still elusive, but the possibility of a brush with it functions as a kind of pyramid scheme.


Being known by strangers, and, even more dangerously, seeking their approval, is an existential trap. And right now, the condition of contemporary life is to shepherd entire generations into this spiritual quicksand.

Note: And this happens, at least to me, in mundane ways that have both nothing and everything to do with fame seeking…recognition, even on a smaller scale, can be addictive, and in internalizing that, it can permeate everything we do, and even the “purest” of motivations for recognition—those based on the quality and qualities of an argument or a creative work—are replaced, or overly supplemented by, the shallowest.
I feel this, I mean I really feel this in my bones every time I post something to Twitter or Facebook or even Mastodon or a topical Discord. And that feeling is essentially the same, qualitatively, regardless of the content.


In his lectures, Kojève takes up Hegel’s famous meditation on the master-slave relationship, recasting it in terms of what Kojève sees as the fundamental human drive: the desire for recognition—to be seen, in other words, as human by other humans. “Man can appear on earth only within a herd,” Kojve writes. “That is why the human reality can only be social.”

Note: I vaguely remember hearing of Kojeve in the distant past…I now need to read some of his work. Kojève


Kojève identifies in Hegel’s treatment of the Master and Slave. The Master desires recognition from the Slave, but because he does not recognize the Slave’s humanity, he cannot actually have it. “And this is what is insufficient—what is tragic—in his situation,” Kojève writes. “For he can be satisfied only by recognition from one whom he recognizes as worthy of recognizing him.”


The Star seeks recognition from the Fan, but the Fan is a stranger, who cannot be known by the Star. Because the Star cannot recognize the Fan, the Fan’s recognition of the Star doesn’t satisfy the core existential desire. There is no way to bridge the inherent asymmetry of the relationship, short of actual friendship and correspondence, but that, of course, cannot be undertaken at the same scale.

Note: First: scale!
Second: this works both ways. The star’s recognition of the fan is ultimately just as empty. Yet we fans seek it in the same way, again and again.


I’ve come to believe that, in the Internet age, the psychologically destabilizing experience of fame is coming for everyone.


So here we are, our chins pressed into the metal holster between the fennec-fox ears, the constant flitting words and images of strangers entering our sensory system, offering our poor desiring beings an endless temptation—a power we should not have and that cannot make us whole.


It would be better at this point to get rid of the fennec ears. Normal human socializing is impossible with them. But even if you leave the room, you can’t unhear what you’ve heard.This is what the Internet has become.


On the Internet, We’re Always Famous

Note: Reading this now afte hearing Chris Hayes on a podcast and being impressed by him. I wasn’t expecting to be.