Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Keeping It Fake

I used to work for this very famous luxury brand a few years back, and one slow day on the shop floor I noticed a middle-aged woman pacing her way out of the store.

"Madam, are you alright?," I curiously asked.

"Uhm, I'd really love to get out but this woman in front of me is in my way and she just moves in the same direction where I move," she impatiently yet embarrassingly explained with a frustrated smile across her face.

I looked up and I was staring at a woman who looked exactly like the customer and another one beside her who looked like me wearing exactly the same baffled expression. 

picture credit:
 I was staring at both our reflections.

I deflected the awkward situation by saying that the mirror shouldn't be placed on the way out as it was a health and safety hazard. 

The customer left red-faced and I reckon didn't go back to the store until after I resigned.

Looking back to that incident, I thought that if we can be deceived by what we can physically see, how facile is it to get tricked by what is virtually fed to our unsuspecting imagination?

Follow Me and I Follow You

Santiago Swallow's Twitter account was suspended last week. 

Mr. Swallow is a 42-year-old Mexican-born American motivational speaker and thinker, a bigwig at the prestigious TED (Technology, Entertainment and Design) conference and a major player at South by Southwest (SXSW) annual art, technology and music event in Austin, Texas. He specialises in understanding modern culture in the context of social networking and global interconnection via the internet. His book, called Self: Imaginary Identities in the Age of the Internet is due to be released later this year.

He is described as Hollywood-handsome (I say, more like a bleached blonde ex-Baywatch lifeguard who moonlighted as a B-list adult film star judging by the photo) and credited for coining the term 'socially imagined self', which I believe is the virtual extension of online denizens' vanity.

He holds annual 'selfathons' aptly held in LA, where narcissistic tendencies have fattened up the coffers of cosmetic surgeons. 

He conjured and posted inane and senseless tweets such as:
"Dawn does not break. It makes."
"Before you lose weight, find hope."


Mr. Swallow has nearly 90,000 followers and is a proud owner of the much-coveted white-on-blue tick next to his name, indicating a verified identity.

He fits the quintessential internet demigod, so why suspend him?

Because, he doesn't exist.

Behind a Man's Success is a Man 
 One lazy April Sunday afternoon, Kevin Ashton, GM of Belkin's cleantech division, had $68 petty cash (or credit) and he decided to spend it on some leisurely experiment. 

Kevin Ashton via
First stop was at Scrivener, a word processing site used by authors and writers for name generation. Alonzo Arbuckle, Leon Ling, Phil Portlock, and Judson Jackman didn't make it to qualify for a Gmail account. Santiago Swallow did.

For $50, 90K followers are guaranteed within 48 hours of purchase via The refund and exchange policy wasn't explained.

Mr Ashton's quick pit stop to Lightroom created the profile image of Santiago Swallow. With nearly 90K followers but no tweets, TweetAdder did the job by firing off tweets and retweets every minute or so.

For reader and follower cross-reference, the remaining $18 was spent on a WordPress domain for a Wikipedia entry.

All under two hours and Santiago Swallow is live on Twitter. 

Justin Bieber has more than 38 million followers on Twitter, but only 47% of them are bona fide (source: Socialbakers Analytics). That is so unBelieberble.

In 2002, a science fiction film starring Al Pacino was released with mixed reviews. 

Al Pacino's character was a movie director whose career was fizzling out. The star of his film quit and he had to find a replacement. Using Simulation One  computer program, he masterminded the biggest star that would ever grace Hollywood: Simone. 
Viktor Taransky (Al Pacino's character) claimed that Simone was a recluse and strictly guarded her privacy. 

The move provoked curiosity and fuelled demand for Simone's public appearance. 

To butter up Simone's followers, Taransky staged remote location 'live' interviews and a concert where Simone sang as she was projected on stage via holographic technology.
  S1mone on stage

 It catapulted her to major stardom, only a computer virus can wipe her out.


Nev Schulman certainly felt like a fish out of water when he found out that the woman he fell inlove with via Facebook didn't exist at all.

Nev Schulman disovers the darker side of internet dating in Catfish (Picture: MTV)
Nev Schulman on his way to Megan

Critics were quick to dismiss the film Catfish (2010) as a mockumentary. But whether it was based on real-life events or not, it does happen to unsuspecting people in search of that significant other.

 Nev was documented by his brother Ariel on his pursuit for Megan, an attractive Michigan-based woman he met on Facebook.
 21-year old Megan (photographer Aimee Gonzales' photo on Facebook that Angela used)

 Megan turned out to be frumpy Angela Wesselman who attributed the revival of her passion for dancing to the online friendship she struck with Nev.
40-year old Angela

 Angela is a catfish, or someone who wears a digital mask to get someone to fall in love with them.

But why the term catfish?

 Fishermen found out that to keep the cod's fresh quality when transporting them from Asia to North America, adding catfish in the tank kept the cod agile, thus avoiding pulpy meat. Angela's husband told Nev that she was the latter's catfish as she kept him thinking, daring, and risk-taking.


Catfish went on to become a 12-episode series on MTV which first aired on Nov 2012. The last episode ran on 25 February 2013. Nev Schulman investigates the authenticity of the identities of couples involved in online relationships.


Amy E aka Keiko Takamura on

Your avatar is the animated custom-made version of yourself with more strategically placed cheekbones, a more exotic name, a much more fashionable job, address and friends, and enviable talents. If you are for sale in a shop, you wouldn't buy yourself, but you'll pay good money for your avatar.

The invitation to Become Your Avatar is a hypnotic byline to abandon your real life. As your entirety is fictitious, then I think in an avatar world no one will bat an eyelash at your fake designer handbags, fake tattoo, fake eyelashes, fake tan, fake boobs, fake friends or even fake orgasm.

Suspension of Disbelief  

In creating Santiago Swallow, Kevin Ashton wanted to illustrate that credibility is indirectly proportional to a large following on Twitter, or any other social media platforms for that matter.

 Reputation precedes credibility. It used to be that credibility was built over time, not overnight. Or you marry into it. Nowadays you can buy it, dress it up, even magnify it.

S1mone, Nev Schulman's Megan, and avatars are alternatives to reality. In as much as models are airbrushed to flawless perfection, lives are edited to paragon and impeccability.

When we were young, we were encouraged to play make-believe. I guess some people are not told that you don't take your imaginary friends to adulthood.

I'm signing out now. It's my avatar's turn.


PS. As of 8:07pm GMT, Santiago Swallow's Twitter account had been reinstated (in fact a few minutes after it was taken down). I feel bad for him as he now has only 63,224 followers. So I decided to follow him. And he followed me back.


  1. And yet people wonder why I'm so cynical? I don't do the tweeting or FB thing but Santiago Swallow is such a great name! His creator Mr Ashton looks like he should be wearing an orange jumpsuit.So much out there is fake - don't I know it! (she said, dipping her paw into a champagne cocktail and teasing her whiskers into submission!)

    1. Sulky, you're just a misunderstood furry one. At least you're real and not battery-operated.

      You should try Instagram instead so you can post 'polaroid' style shots of your paws, whiskers, interviewees, and creepy neighbours.

      C'mon, drink some more.

      Santiago Swallow is now following me on Twitter by the way--and he says he's an A-list adult film star. I wanna see the proof.

    2. And if/when you get that proof feel free to share it!

    3. I will send Santiago Swallow himself to your doorstep!

  2. this is a metaphysical issue isn't it.

    people take drugs to alter their reality - people drink so we can alter our looks or get someone else drunk so we look better!!

    But the parallels seem more and more interwoven and I do wonder at what point will they irreversibly fuse.

    If our alter ego and our cyber ego is doing well does that not count??

    Much food for though - great post!

    1. Thanks CSW! I'm sure you've heard of designer babies.

      So the next step will be to start them young. Designed and manufactured from the very beginning according to the wishes of their parents.

      Scary thought is if our alter ego/cyber ego are faring better than us, then maybe the human race is doomed.

      All I want is to have power to be invisible when I want to.

      Do you think I'm asking too much?

    2. A little bit - but you can say "beam me up Scottie" over an over and see if he hears you!

    3. I tried. Didn't work.

      I need a bit of practice x

  3. great post!

    1. Thank you Glamorous Girl! And thank you very much for visiting my page.

      Two interesting facts here: you're also wearing a hat in your photo; and when I was in my teens (which I pretend was just 5 years ago) my friends and I called ourselves Glamorous Girls. Not that we were, but we really thought we were :)

      Those wedding dresses on your page are very glamorous indeed!

      We shall 'see' more of each other.

      Have a lovely weekend :)

  4. nice blog
    Do u want to follow each other on gfc and on fb ? Let me known

    1. Hi Eve G,

      Thank you for visiting my blog and for your kind comment :)

      I enjoyed reading your post also...I agree, always look on the bright side of life. And have some macaroons on the side :)

      Thank you for the invite. I'm following you on bloglovin and you're on my blog list now. You'll also find me on bloglovin.

      More soon x

  5. Wow, what a thought-provoking post. It's incredible to think that we've crossed over to an era where the concept of "identity" has become so fluid and malleable. We also now live in a time where narcissism is easily the most prolific social dysfunction -- so scary and intriguing all at once.


    1. Thank you Rhona!
      I agree with you. Nowadays you can create your own identity and split them into several personas and drop them at your convenience.
      It does scare me how it will be in the future!
      Have a lovely day x


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