10 May 2009

Remarkably unremarkable

If you cast your eyes to the right of the screen, you'll notice I am a frequent user of the microblogging service, Twitter.

This post isn't actually about Twitter.

If it were, I'd be coming in on this typically too late, as the maelstrom over the merits or lack-thereof of Twitter has ebbed into a persistent shower. But, something I've noticed about those decrying Twitter as a time wasting, pointless exercise is that they have one thing in common:

They are bewildered at the amount of banality "tweeted" on any given day, especially by celebrities.

This got me thinking, not so much about Twitter, but about our obsession with remarkableness... remarkability... being remarkable. There is an attitude, that in order to be at all worthy of attention, you have to somehow be very very important. But this importance, especially when it comes to the online world, usually does not mean actually important - name the Secretary-General of the United Nations, and the heiress to a certain high profile and very rich family in the hotel business, and I'm sure you'll come up with Paris Hilton faster than Ban Ki-Moon. It would seem that importance, in the North American psyche anyway, does not always mean one who helps the world the most, but rather one who is known by most of the world.

There is something to be said about indulging in the representative rather than remarkable. And it seems like there is a great deal of unhappiness when people mistake the remarkable for the representative. Really, if our view of the world and ourselves were formed only by the remarkable then we would all be oddly young go-getters with high paying jobs, disproportionate amounts of liesure time, high skill hobbies (musician, artist, author, race car driver), and a fair amount of public attention. We would all be the very best of the best churned out of the sausage factory, while the seconds and defects get tossed into the dog food pile. Problem is, as the bar of success gets raised, the dog food pile gets larger - and no matter how clever and hard working you might be, that's where you wind up.

That's not to say that 'important' people don't play a valuable role in society. Those that are lauded for their talents and good deeds provide something for us to strive for. Perhaps we won't ever reach their success or fame, but we may find ourselves following their example and developing our own talents, or doing our own good deeds. But, when remarkable people become the only people who are deemed worthy of paying any attention to, we find it difficult to measure up to that standard - feeling that we ought to and are failures if we do not.

Here's where we come back to Twitter for a moment. Twitter is a lagoon of the representative. What people tweet about is the same stuff you would hear around the water cooler at work - the latest news, what you ate for dinner last night, the latest antics of your sister-in-law/kids/pets. Sometimes people tweet about random thoughts that occurred to them while reading, watching television, or working out. Others tweet about their daily routine "Dragged myself out of bed at 6 am, ran for 8 miles, showered, now off to work." These are all things that we can relate to on an everyday basis, and they represent the basic units of the human condition in the Western world.

Some celebrities have chosen to share with the world the more representative aspects of their life. Wil Wheaton, David Hewlett, and Robert Llewellyn are just a few who tweet about their kids, playing with the dog, and procrastination. There is a certain comfort that these folks who are 'remarkable' on select days because they are actors in the public eye, are actually 'representative' on any other given day. I often wonder if those who are turned off by celebs tweeting the more 'boring' aspects of their lives are secretly ashamed of the uneventfulness of their own lives.

But really, representative does not always mean boring. Just because someone isn't in the limelight does not mean they aren't interesting in their own right. Just because someone hasn't made it on Oprah doesn't mean they don't have an inspiring story to tell. It just means that no one else has heard it. Suddenly, 'remarkable' looks pretty arbitrary. Or perhaps 'remarkable' is just ill-defined. Maybe 'remarkable' isn't how well we're known, but how well we live.

Perhaps its time that we celebrate our representativeness, while striving to be remarkable in our own right - and not worry about what everyone else thinks remarkable ought to be.


Adam said...

A google search for 'Remarkably Unremarkable' brought me here. I am glad it did.

Remarkableness's in the eye of the beholder, I think, and you've done well to point out the morally-neutral state of the expression. Maybe 'conspicuous' is a better word for a lot of people who try to be remarkable, but in my experience the most remarkable people are often also the least interested in being seen and heard.

Anyway, you ought to keep writing pieces like this. You've got a gentle touch, and obscure topics almost always benefit from gentle touches.

Erin said...

Thanks for the kind words, Adam. I like to write when the inclination hits, and am always amazed reading the piece later on that I was indeed the author.

Also, thanks for mentioning how you landed here. I did the same search and was a little floored that I was so high in the search rankings. Until the next algorithm change anyway!