The Beautiful Secret behind Social Media Voyeurism

“Did you see Kylie Jenner’s latest instagram?”

We humans are inarguably more interconnected now than at any previous time in human history. We are in constant, instantaneous contact with one another – and not just with the people we know “in real life,” but with our favorite (and least favorite) celebs, public figures, and even random strangers whose sole claim to fame is their social media presence.

“YouTube Star”

“Instagram Celebrity”

Louis XIV used to allow people to come watch him eat, sleep, even go to the bathroom. I remember learning that in elementary school (long before the social media age) and being shocked (and giggling about the bathroom part).

My friends, we have gone farther. So, so much farther.

We are a culture of voyeurism.

A culture where one person’s outfit is bigger news than a suicide bombing.

We peer into people’s lives – we follow them, truly, following them around as much as they let us.

We want to know.

I think we all understand that this habit is not the healthiest. It breeds false intimacy, perhaps even to the exclusion of true intimacy with those who are actually around us. It can set a standard of experience (“my life will never be that cool”) that’s often manufactured, an illusion that will sow discontent in our own hearts. It gives us self-centered goals – to have this person’s life, to have that person’s instagram. To be so socially “loved.” Everyone has a “chance” to be famous and admired, and I am someone who “deserves” it.

But in all of this voyeurism, all this jealousy, all this discontent –

there is one kernel of beauty.

People care about other people.

Okay, so, anybody who’s ever read the comment section of anything on the internet knows how nasty humans can be to one another. How uncaring, how cruel. So when I say “people care about other people,” I want to clarify: I mean that people want to know.

They want to see.

They want to understand

and be understood.

The blog Humans of New York is probably the best most shining example of the heights to which social media voyeurism can rise. An opportunity to find compassion and solidarity. An opportunity to see someone else’s life – sometimes a life very different from your own – presented with personal vulnerability, even authenticity.

Does this mean every person featured on HONY is 100% telling the truth? Not necessarily. But I think most of the time people are telling their truth. And we love it – we love seeing the world through their eyes.

“Us vs Them” is such a prevalent, ugly attitude right now. Us vs the other candidate, Us vs immigrants, Us vs government, Us vs the other religion. And some people are so broken, so depraved that when they meet “them” face to face their ugliness only increases.

But in my experience, when you actually know “them”, they’re not a “them” anymore.

They’re a person, just like you. With highs and lows and griefs and joys, choices they’ve made, things that have happened to them.

That’s the redemption of social media. It has the opportunity to vanquish the concept of “Them.”

Does it always take that opportunity? Overwhelmingly, probably not.

But at least it shows that we have that desire, innately, to know and understand other people’s lives.

And that, I think, is beautiful.



Gentrification: The Good, The Bad, & the Ugly

rose & sword


Gentrification is a loaded word. And depending on your socioeconomic or ethnic background, you may define it differently. This disagreement on definitions has led to much misunderstanding.

So what is gentrification? Webster’s definition begins with:

“the process of renewal and rebuilding…”

Sounds pretty good to me. But wait there’s more:

“…accompanying the influx of affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces poorer residents.”

Sounds pretty bad in reality.

My question is: in Birmingham, is it possible to seek the good aspects of renewal and rebuilding while actively fighting the harsh realities of displacement of the poor? 


I hear lots of talk about gentrification these days. As a young, white business operator in a predominantly low-income, minority neighborhood, people have lots to say to me about the word.

My husband and I moved into the neighborhood in 2012. As newlyweds, we were excited to start out new life together…

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Musicians’ Musicians

I don’t go to concerts very often.

You might have gathered, from my recent post about definitive albums, that I care about music. I care about music a lot. I am a musician. Music has always been a part of my life.*

So why don’t I go to concerts more?

I guess it takes a lot to make it worth it for me. It costs money, and I’m likely going to be standing behind some big dude trying to peek under his elbow to get a glimpse of the band (unless it’s a symphony, ah, that lovely fair place where everyone gets a comfy seat and a good view). If I’m going to go to a concert, the band better be damn good.

Not Mumford and Sons good.

Not John Mayer good.

Punch Brothers good.

I don’t care to see something that’s just a visual version of an album. I especially don’t want to see a band that’s not even as good live as they are recorded. I don’t want to see anything auto-tuned and I don’t want to see one guy on a synth.

I want to see musicians.

Do I sound pretentious yet? I hope so.

Because this is one area where I am undeniably a snob. Getting a master’s degree in Ethnomusicology changed my approach to music a bit: when I don’t like something, I don’t say anymore (in my most hipster voice):

“This is so lame.”

Instead, I might nod and say (in a mildly hipster voice):

“It’s a different aesthetic. It’s not my aesthetic, but I appreciate it for what it is.”

When people ask me what kind of music I like, I tell them tongue-in-cheek, “Good music.” More seriously, my aesthetic – what I prefer to listen to and to see live – is complex, innovative, skilled, and thought provoking.

A lone guy with a guitar will probably bore me.

An out of tune violin will drive me nuts.

Something that can be sung to the bassline of Palchelbel’s Canon in D will most likely annoy me.

Now you’re definitely thinking, “Wow, what an elitist.”

I don’t think I’m alone in this, though. People who have had years of training in music (me) or people who have incredible gifts (others) have a high bar. Everyone wants a band or an artist to blow their minds. When you know the little things that go into a song, the common cadences, the difficulty (or ease) of a passage, you start longing for something that makes you go, Holy Shit.

Therein arrives the Punch Brothers, the band that makes musicians say “Holy Shit. That is AWESOME.”

There are others, of course, but I just saw PB live – for the second time – and I’m still reeling. Haha get it “reel”ing? Music jokes.

It’s a strange, eclectic crowd that goes to a Punch Brothers concert. You have your Hipster Bros who like banjos; you have your music professors who appreciate the reappropriation of bluegrass; you have your musicians who want an evening of mind-melting displays of skill. (Also you have the girlfriends of the Hipster Bros.)

I bought my ticket months ago, planning to likely go alone, but I was able to recruit some friends – all musicians – at the last minute. And then we ran into more friends there – all musicians.

You know, Punch Brothers deserve acclaim. They deserve to be lauded for their skill and creative genius and I really hope they continue to grow in popularity. But I think the core of the PB fanbase will always be those music nerds, the ones who laugh at jokes about Debussy and scream themselves hoarse at a shredding mandolin solo.

And that, quite happily – and quite unashamedly – is my element.

Can we take a second and observe that they are all gathered around ONE condenser microphone? #nerd


*Just a wee disclaimer: I do not claim to be any kind of excellent musician. I play violin semi-professionally, dabble in other instruments, and used to teach. However, playing semi-professionally has given me the opportunity to be around a lot of really excellent musicians.