A Grand Unified Theory of Cringeposting
My Secret Shame
Note: Nabeel and I are hosting a free comedy show on the TVCO app tomorrow (Saturday Aug 8) at 9pm EDT! All tips and proceeds go to the NYC Coalition for the Homeless. If you check it out, even for a few minutes, it helps us out.
With social media and all, nothing gets deleted these days. Everyone’s past is an open book. This dreadfully banal and uninteresting statement is oft-uttered by a hapless parent cautioning their child against posting debauchery online. Future employers will look back on all the fun you had, the logic goes, and will decide they do not want to hire someone who once had fun.
These people, bless them, don’t understand the true reason that excessive posting is bad: it leaves a personally mortifying reminder of the human you used to be, or at least the public persona you used to curate. A collection of your worst tastes, takes, and talents, all indelibly stamped upon the shattered visage of your 2011-era Facebook page. This is no mere scrapbook. It’s continuous, showing your evolution into the person you became today, allowing you to trace back every shred of who you are now to some nascent seedling of an idea in yourself four years ago.
No one else cares, either. You’re the only one compulsively going to your own profile and lazily scrolling back in time, fascinated by who you used to be. Maybe I’m the only one who feels this way (I am not) and maybe everyone else was very cool from the start (they were not) but I can’t help but almost sink into myself in pure horror when I see the kind of stuff I used to think was acceptable to post.
My greatest shame, and in some ways my greatest crime, thankfully happened in a Facebook group which has now been deleted. I’ve only recently told my friends I did this, because it’s just that embarrassing. After deciding to attend the University of Michigan, I, along with many others, joined the Accepted Students Facebook group. Infused with some kind of magic childhood purity, I posted absolute cringe non-stop: asking if anyone else liked Arrested Development, posting an article about gay marriage being legalized and “congratulating” the LGBTQ community, commenting on almost every post. One time, I was recognized at a party from posting too much in the group, causing me to leave immediately out of pure shame. While the main group’s been deleted, I managed to recover this gem from the Honors equivalent:
Just miserable stuff. Mortifying for me.
Anyway, I’ve spent some time trying to figure out what exactly makes the perfect confluence of factors to create personal humiliation on this level. I’ve come up with a number of theories.
After taking an average of all my posts (I did not really do this), I realized the sweet spot was around 6-7 years ago for the purest hit of mortification I could find. Anything past ten years ago was like staring at a stranger’s page. I was simply too young and the internet was too forgiving for excessive posting to be anything but a novelty.
Irony Index (ρ)
Once would think that ironic posting would age better, but I’ve found that things originally intended to be jokes age pretty badly:
While things that are reasonably sincere are fine — to a point:
It seems like online irony continues to build on itself to the point of basically destroying the value of anything that purported to be ironic that came before. Therefore, I’ve developed the Irony modifier. If applied to a recent post, it will boost the “goodness” of the post. If applied to a post within the “dark zone” (3.5 years ago - 10 years ago) it’ll decrease the score. We’ll measure this on a scale of zero to two, two being very ironic and zero being extremely sincere. One(1) will serve as the “joke” area of housing jokes that aren’t really super tongue in cheek, but aren’t puns.
Content Volatility (σ)
When attempting to formalize my theory of what makes something especially embarrassing, I couldn’t ignore references to outside work. I am a pretty reference-heavy person, which I’ve (unsuccessfully) been trying to correct a bit out of the fear of alienating friends. Let’s take two of these older posts as an example.
In 2012, I made a joke about Donald Trump, a joke of a man I assumed would never become president. In 2013, I did a “quirky” post about Alexander Hamilton, two years before the smash musical sensation arrived to grace the Broadway stage. I posit that these two posts have aged differently.
The first one has GAINED value. I was professing an opinion (Donald Trump is stupid and I do not like him) that turned out to be correct. Paired with the date, this one is a funny coincidence that I can show my grandchildren.
The second one, which wasn’t even related to the musical, turned out to age very badly. The point of the original post was to perform that I was the type of person who would stan a founding father, a person who is Historically Educated and Civically Evolved. Now, of course, because of the musical smash hit Broadway sensation, it is extremely normal and lame to do something as ignorant and, frankly, racist as stanning a founding father.
Therefore, I am assigning a positive(+) or negative(-) value to my Content Volatility variable to represent whether or not modern consensus has cast the object in question in the same light I did. If so, positive. Otherwise, negative. The object will also will be measured on relevance from zero to one, with zero being complete irrelevance and one being constant, daily relevance.
We’re going to measure “cringe” on a scale from -2 to 2. -2 being gut-wrenching mortification, 2 being a fond feeling for yourself. Here’s the formula I made up:
Let’s try a sample post out and see how it fares within the system.
τ = 7.5 years
The irony index… I think this one has to be that “relatively sincere” joke line we talked about. ρ = 1
This one has two references, which I had not planned for. Django Unchained has lost relevance, putting its value low, but Downton surprisingly regained some last year when the movie came out, putting its value higher. Let’s compromise on a value of σ = .4. This is such a huge waste of my time. If you’re reading this, Jesus. God, what a wasted evening.
This gave me a final cringe score of -0.28… Honestly, pretty accurate. This post is pretty dumb but it’s not like, earth-shakingly embarrassing to have ever been this way.
The system works! I refuse to acknowledge the failures of my methodology—I am now going to put “successfully developed mathematical model that increased newsletter engagement by 30%” on my resume. My brain is rotting in place.
That UMich Honors Class Facebook post is maybe the funniest thing I’ve ever seen. As a person whose life goal is to consume as much horrible content on the internet as possible, I cannot help but feel unadorned pleasure reading the sentence, “I’m definitely looking forward to partying and having fun but grades are also super important to me.” Spoken like a guy who’s definitely looking forward to partying and having fun.
I tried to find some cringeworthy shit I posted on Facebook back in the day (God knows you should never dip a toe into your old GChats), and while there’s a lot there, I was mostly stunned by how we used to communicate by alternately posting on each other’s “Facebook Walls.”