Connectivity is the most touted facet of social media, but let’s hear it for loneliness. Sure, Facebook digitally links you up with friends you’ve long since abandoned geographically, but it can also make you feel like the last person on the planet when those quasi-friends don’t like what you have to say or show. Very few modern experiences are more oddly isolating than the un-liked status update—that painting in a gallery that everyone walks right past. You could be at a restaurant surrounded by actual friends, post a picture of this summit online, and if nobody notices, feel even lonelier than if you were alone.
A new project from New York-based agency RXM Creative illustrates this peculiar modern condition with a social media-adjacent toy no sane person would own.
The Social Ego is a device that would ostensibly integrate with all your social media data to create a physical representation of how you're doing online at any given moment. It's an ovoid, cybernetic blow-up doll that inflates or deflates based on likes and faves and any Snapchat-related push notifications. And it all started with the agency's own insecurities.
"The inspiration for the Social Ego came from the emotional turbulences we have individually gone through on social media, but also observing the huge impact a like can have on any of our friends and brands we work with," says Raul Mandru, one of the RXM creative directors who brought the device to life, along with Mihai Botarel. "Although we still take social media with a touch of humor, it's emotional impact is as real as it gets."
Although the video is indeed funny, it also evokes the familiar panic of feeling unacknowledged. One scene uses the classic advertising signifier of sexual impotence, a sad couple in bed, next to a small Social Ego. It's ridiculous, but not too far removed from the truth. Social media has given us a mainline to joy or sadness we never knew existed, turning neutrality uninteresting. Knowing that any picture or clever observation you post might not receive a warm welcome adds to the excitement. Every moment is a crap shoot, and doing nothing is boring.
What's interesting, though, is that this condition doesn't just exist among us plebs. Celebrities and even those who answer to a supposedly higher calling are held in social media's thrall as well.
"Clearly in the media now the most prominent and also fluctuating Social Egos belong to the presidential candidates," Mandru says. "Donald Trump must have a huge one, Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton as well. Wouldn't it be amazing to see their egos inflate and deflate in real time as the presidential race unfolds in social media?"
In the case of these high-profile power users, following along online feels enough like getting a physical sense of their egos already.