Think Tank: The Dress

For the record, I see either color scheme depending on the angle and the overall lightness. Granted, my glasses have a very light prescription.

I had totally planned to write something else for today’s Think Tank, but Adrian told me that I needed to write about The Dress so here I am.

If you haven’t seen or heard about The Dress yet, it’s this photo of a dress that’s been circulating the Internet today. The original poster asked her followers on Tumblr to help decide on what colors the dress is: white and gold, or blue and black. Some people see one color scheme, while others see the other (It switches back and forth for me.) Basically, the Internet, especially Tumblr and Twitter, has blown up because of this stupid dress. My own father suggested that when I said I saw blue and black, I was messing with him because it was definitely white and gold, and that anyone saying otherwise was just in on a huge joke.

It turns out that your overall eye health and the light in the photo dictates the colors you see, but it is fascinating to me that the collective Internet has lost basically an entire day debating on whether or not this dress is white and gold or blue and black. Taylor Swift even tweeted about it. I wasn’t on the computer for most of the afternoon, and by the time I found out about it people had already made new memes out of it and were claiming that it was the Illuminati’s master plan. It seemed as if anyone and everyone, especially celebrities, had already decided what camp they were in. People I would never have thought would have gotten in on the debate, like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, even made comments. Something so trivial on the grand scale of things got so many people involved so quickly.

This isn’t to say that this doesn’t happen with really important things either: #BlackLivesMatter and #JeSuisCharlie are testaments to that, and gave very important things the exposure they needed. But the furor surrounding The Dress could not have possibly happened 10, 20, 30 years ago, which says something significant about how we spread this kind of information, talk about it and deem things as important.

The FCC made a very important decision concerning net neutrality today, and I have seen nearly nothing about it in comparison to the discussion surrounding The Dress. My parents and grandparents, who definitely subscribed to the newspaper a decade ago (In fact, I think my grandparents still do [go print!]), probably would have thought something like this showing up on the front page of the Los Angeles Times (which is effectively what social media is these days) meant that it was an incredibly slow news day, or that it maybe was a joke that the editors were playing. Something like this simply wouldn’t have been considered newsworthy. There simply wasn’t the physical space for it. My feelings on print media are an entirely different discussion and blog post for another day, but I feel very strongly that print is one of the best measures of quality control.

But because there are no physical boundaries to the Internet, this kind of story can proliferate endlessly and become immortalized. It’ll probably be brought up again sometime in some corner of the Internet. But it is mind-boggling to me that my future children may be able to find a whole archive of information on this meme when in this day and age, New Yorker articles still need a subscription to be accessed. I don’t possess the power of being able to foresee what the Internet’s future purpose will be or what it will look like, but I’m nearly positive that this will end up somewhere. Keeping it 100, I’m unsettled by that. Something like this confirms that there is truly no quality control to the Internet, despite any effort.

But because people have the forum to share the image and proliferate the content, it’s become a big deal. This is expressly why I don’t like content aggregators like Buzzfeed or Huffington Post. More people spend time taking quizzes about which Disney character they are or browsing slideshows of celebrity lookalikes than they do reading about things that have much more power to affect them. Even the outlets that make fun of all of that in a wickedly smart way, like The Onion or Clickhole, have to feed off of these kinds of things in order to have meaningful content.

Despite what color scheme you think it is, quite frankly there is a bigger world out there with more important issues. For being such a wealth of information, the Internet allows for you to select what you want to see and lets things to slip through the cracks, and while I can appreciate the jokes, laughter and camaraderie The Dress has spawned, I can’t help but feel a little sad for our society. I 100 percent understand that videos of animals doing funny things, listicles and debate about what color scheme The Dress is are all great distractions. They are basically the junk food of news, and we all need a few pieces of candy to balance out the fiber. And I’m not setting myself on a pedestal either — I’ve been known to link to the greatest Buzzfeed article of all time.  But I really do think that the buzz surrounding this phenomenon is an indication of how much our culture has changed in such a short amount of time.

It’s startlingly easy to share the image with a friend, reblog it on Tumblr or see who in the world is talking about it. These viral posts are a constant reminder that our world is nearly instantaneous and is always working towards it, and it will probably take me my entire life to figure out whether or not that’s a good thing. Right now, I think if there’s anything The Dress can really teach us, it’s that out of the chaos we should probably start to reevaluate our sense of importance.

What do you think? Let’s talk about it in the comments.




2 thoughts on “Think Tank: The Dress

  1. It’s funny how in light of your post earlier this week, this one would basically fall into the realm of “legit” Internet Anthropology. Perhaps a class wasn’t necessary at all (though it probably would have been interesting).
    Your point about candy and fiber I think is particularly salient, though I fear that unlike candy which a queasy stomach will eventually stop us from eating, gazing into the abyss of Internet memes and cultural phenomena seems potentially imperturbable. I think back to what stops me from going down these rabbit holes and honestly can’t point to anything but past experiences with other endless voids (tvtropes being a fine specimen; for the love of god do not search for it) and the self-control acquired from them. Although, maybe my behavior is just an example of the still shifting cultural norms: becoming accustomed to the ever-growing chaos, accessing both wheat and chaff when appropriate, rather than trying to seek order in the anarchy, or (worse) being swept up by it. Your observations strongly remind me though of The Prophecy of Freakazoid suggested by Bob Chipman. It’s an interesting 6 minutes to spend, should you find them on hand.

    1. Thanks for the comment, Michael! I guess it does fall into the Internet anthropology category. I agree with your point about my point about candy/fiber, but even when too much candy makes us sick, some people inevitably forget that eating too much makes them sick and repeat the cycle. That was also a very interesting video about a show that was obviously ahead of its time — thanks for sharing.

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