Trending Topics of Death

twitter-deadI’ll never forget where I was when I found out David Bowie had died. I was in bed. I’d just woken up and was checking the trending topics on Twitter to see what was going on in the world. There it was: David Bowie. I knew it could only be one of two things: a new album or he’d died. It was actually both, technically, but the trending topic was for the death of the Starman. What a bloody awful bit of news to read about when you’ve just woken up. Thanks, Twitter.

I was on the train when I found out that Prince had died. It was the end of a long day and I thought I’d have a look at what people were chatting about online. Twitter’s trending topics are normally filled with idiots from the Kardashian mob or their associates, but there he was: Prince. Again, it was either a new album or death. Turned out it was death. Well that sucked. What do you do when you hear something like that? The instinct is to tell someone, but you can’t really do that in a train carriage full of strangers. So I tweeted my disbelief:

Oh Jesus Christ. Prince. :(

What else can you say?

Why do we feel sad when a celebrity dies?

The death of a celebrity is a curious thing. We didn’t know them, but oftentimes they came into our lives in some shape or form. Those celebrities we treasure, like Prince or David Bowie, gave us something that made our lives better. With Prince and David Bowie, their deaths are shocking because they gave us something quantifiable, like incredible, original music, and with it came the emotion of experiencing that music coupled with an admiration for or awe of the creator.

It’s the charisma of the individual, shown to us through performance and the media, that takes the imagined relationship between us and them into new territory, to a place where we come to know and emotionally invest in the celebrity’s persona.

So I can rationalise the sadness I felt when David Bowie and Prince died. David Bowie’s death was all the more impactful because of the Blackstar album and the song Lazarus. It felt like a personal message. I sobbed a little bit. But whatever. It was extremely poignant.

I am, however, convinced that the way we hear about celebrity deaths today has greatly changed how we react to them.

The death list

How did we find out about a celebrity death before social media? It would be in the paper or on the evening news or a friend would tell you. It could still be extremely sad or shocking, but the response felt altogether more sombre. The way people reacted was different. I think this is for two reasons: 1. When a celebrity dies, social media becomes a place of mass hysteria, and 2. The Internet and social media have meant that the imagined relationship we form with celebrities is now much stronger than in the past.

I tend to find out a celebrity has died from social media, and more often than not in recent months, it’s been through Twitter’s trending topics. As soon as I see the name of a celebrity who isn’t a Kardashian type, my first thought is that that person has died. Ronnie Corbett, Victoria Wood, Alan Rickman, Lemmy, Paul Daniels, Terry Wogan: the list goes on.

With these deaths comes the complete meltdown of social sites like Twitter. Everybody wants to say something about what has occurred. For a few, they will try and own the grief and make it clear that they are a bigger fan of whoever has died than anyone else. It becomes a bit of a pissing contest. Even other celebrities get involved. It’s at that point that I normally need to turn my phone off and do something else.

That manic time only adds to the emotion you experience when a celebrity dies. Tributes come in, people start posting images, videos, memes and more, and you remember all the things you loved about the person. It’s as if we’re all contributing to some kind of collective grief. With celebrities being so much more accessible now, there’s a wealth of content out there that people can share immediately. We’ve been bombarded with it through media for years, and this in turn has helped build the imagined relationship.

This is the new norm

Nothing about this makes me think that it’s going to go away. Our thirst for media has meant that new celebrity personas are created every day. Furthermore, we’ve reached a point where many of those celebrities who became famous before the Internet, in the early days of television, national radio, VHS and various other mediums, have reached an age at which their more likely to die. This will continue to happen now. We made this situation ourselves by developing technology that allowed media to be widely shared. There’s no turning back.

Kind of makes you yearn for a simpler time, huh.

I tried to delete all my Facebook posts; now I hate my younger self

I hate FacebookI didn’t really expect to learn anything from this exercise. I thought it would be a quick job, in and out, with nothing much to it. How wrong I was.

I was attempting to delete every single Facebook post I’d ever made. This year, I stopped posting on Facebook and unfollowed all my friends so I can’t see any of their updates. I blogged about this not so long ago. The next phase of the process was a no-brainer: remove all my Facebook posts, dating back to 2007.

This seemingly simple task turned into a voyage of discovery.

Initial anguish

The first thing I discovered was that it is really, really, really hard to delete all of your Facebook posts in one go. There is no magic button. I found a Chrome app that claimed it could do it for me. It couldn’t. I then found a different Chrome app and it kind of worked, but required me to pay $2.99 to do the job properly.

I paid the money and set about deleting everything, but even with the app fully functional, it was still frustratingly difficult. There’s nothing straightforward about any of this because there are all these different kinds of Facebook activity to trawl through – literally thousands of things

I’ve been going at this for most of the week and I’m not even sure if I’m anywhere near finished. It would probably have been easier to just delete my account and start again. There are some of my posts I just can’t seem to rid of. They are seemingly immortal.

I thought this was all soul crushing enough… until I started to read some of my older posts.

Deeper despair

It turns out that in the past, I was exactly the kind of person I’ve come to hate on social media. I was that guy posting cryptic emo messages desperate for attention. It was me who was happily showing off pictures of my food and blurry concert photos. I had no qualms about posting updates of outings and social events that I thought would show everyone how awesome my life was.

I was basically that idiot posting complete bullshit that absolutely nobody cares about. A prime example would be the endless inane updates I used to post about being in the process of writing a story (I was a journalist in a past live) or else editing a story or researching a story. I shared little titbits about things I was doing and places I was going like some kind of needy schoolchild.

It’s embarrassing how much of a pillock I was. I imagine that everyone’s old Facebook posts are at least a little bit cringey. It’s normal to feel a little bit ashamed of how much of a clown you were when you were younger, but Facebook keeps physical records of this shit. Old photos are one thing, but status updates are a manifestation of our inner thoughts. Some things are best kept archived.

Also, I have no idea who a large number of the people I was talking to actually are. No clue. Then there are all those public conversations I had with old school friends and acquaintances I found on Facebook. The initial excitement of reconnecting was rarely enough to warrant a follow-up conversation in the seven or eight years since.

All in all, the whole debacle made for a horrifying experience.

Maybe it’s time to just hit delete?

My Big Mac achieved international stardom and I didn't even get a lousy T-shirt

What a strange week or so it's been. A Big Mac I bought and kept for two months got global media attention and kind of went viral. I'd been working towards something like this happening for several years with all manner of random online projects. For a brief time, this Big Mac thing seemed like it was becoming my defining moment.

How it all began

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about my Pet Big Mac project. To sum up, I bought a Big Mac, forgot about it, found it again and then kept it as a kind of "pet", taking daily photos of the Big Mac doing various activities.

The idea of the project all along was for it to go viral, although I wasn't expecting this to happen until maybe 6 months in. But a couple of months into the experiment, the Big Mac's top bun cracked in half, killing both the burger and any hope I had that this would become an Internet phenomenon. So I wrote my blog to document what happened in the hope that the blog post itself would perhaps get noticed.

About a week later I got a message from a journalist at Metro. She wanted to interview me for a story about Pet Big Mac. Getting a story in Metro seemed like a reasonable payoff for what was essentially a failed attempt at going viral. So I answered the questions and assumed the role of a slightly mad gentleman who had grown fond of his Big Mac. Within a few hours, the story was up, and it was brilliant. It made me chuckle no end and I was satisfied that this hadn't been a waste of time.


But wait, there's more

I thought that would be the end of it. But no, things were just getting started. To my surprise, there was also a story on Delish, which it turns out had actually come the day before the Metro piece. The Delish bit had also been cross-posted to the Esquire website (and later to Yahoo!) and all the stories had been shared with the various social media accounts of the aforementioned outlets. esq This was beginning to get a bit nuts.

Next up, I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw Unilad had done a post on Pet Big Mac and put it up on their social channels. These were some pretty big media hits, the kind that I generally crave in my day job as press officer at a big charity. I was starting to feel a strange sense of pride. I say strange because none of this chatter was really benefitting me in any way. I'll get onto that shortly. 

Going global

What came next was basically an barrage of humourous articles about one man and his Big Mac in outlets like HexJam and as far afield as AsiaDenmark (and Denmark again), Australia (and here), Thailand (plus here), Indonesia (and again), Hong Kong and China, where the story was also being widely shared on the messaging app We Chat. 12636907_10153830648914299_1856913347_o 12656434_10153830648849299_1147074307_o

It was all rather bonkers. But the highlight of the week-long saga was undoubtedly when Vice picked up the story and ran it in their food section, Munchies. This meant the story got repeatedly shared to the massive audiences on Vice's social channels.

The world now knew the story of my Big Mac and I. The final big media hit came from Food & Wine, who posted a story in their FWx section and then shared it on all their social accounts.

All in all, we're talking about social channels with millions of followers sharing about the life and death of a Big Mac. What a time to be alive.

Haters gonna hate

I read some of the comments people were posting about Pet Big Mac and I. It was a real mixed bag. Some people found the whole thing amusing, while others thought outlets like Vice and Metro were sinking to new depths by covering such a stupid story. A few people suggested I must be some kind of freak or weirdo.


None of this really bothered me because the whole thing was like some kind of out-of-body experience. It was happening to me, but not actually to me. It wasn't like people were coming at me directly through my Twitter account or even the Pet Big Mac accounts. Everyone was just talking about me and I was on the periphery, looking in from time to time to see what people were saying.

Fame without the fame

I'd achieved a level of famedom, my 15 minutes perhaps, but I wasn't getting anything out of it. Other than the email interview I did with the Metro journalist, it wasn't like any of these media outlets were reaching out and talking directly to me. I wasn't gaining any more Twitter followers and the Pet Big Mac Twitter and Facebook accounts were barely more popular than they had been at the start, by which I mean they now had around 20 followers each.


There was no real payoff for me here. There was a glimmer of hope when Pick Me Up, a gossip magazine, got in touch and wanted to pay my wife and I to do a story about us, but they were keen to do it from the point of view of my long-suffering partner. I imagine it would have been something along the lines of: "My life as the wife of a man who kept a Big Mac as a pet for two months." The price of public humiliation? £100. Meh. It just wasn't worth it, particularly as it sounded like it could take months for the story to actually make it to print.

I even contacted the McDonalds press office in the UK to see if they would give me a lifetime supply of Big Macs to replace the one that I'd kept for two months. No reply.

Lessons learnt

So that was it. The story came and went and it was quite a ride, but right now I'm pretty much back where I started. I think I could have perhaps capitalised on all the attention by engaging in some of the discussions or maybe even attempting to resurrect the project, but I felt like this would have been kind of a cheap way of trying to milk something that was probably never destined to produce much milk in the first place.

Weird character-based Internet projects can clearly captivate the hearts and minds of the general population. That's definitely my main takeaway from all this. Other than that, I'd say it's all pretty random.

The struggle continues.

I kept a Big Mac for 2 months until I realised I'm a complete moron

Last bonfire night I went out into London for the Million Mask March. On my way home I picked up a Big Mac meal, unaware that my wife had already cooked dinner. So I drank the coke, threw the fries in the bin and left the Big Mac in my bag. The next day at work, I opened my bag to find the said Big Mac. I thought about saving it for lunch but noticed that the bun was on its way to being solid as a rock. Eating it was out of the question.

Then a sudden wave of inspiration hit me: I could turn this into one of my Internet projects. I thought I had hit the big time with this idea. I'd read stories about people that had found old Big Macs years later and they still looked the same, but this was going to take that one step farther. I was going to document the Big Mac with daily photos. I also conceived that I would give the Big Mac a personality and take pics of it in different places, doing unusual things, like one of those gnomes that gets kidnapped and then the thief sends back photos of it all over the world. This was my gnome. I'd finally done something that would go viral.

And so Pet Big Mac was born. IMAG4482

I set up a Twitter and a Facebook for him (I started referring to the Big Mac as a "him") and began taking daily shots. I wanted to take one photo a day and then at the end one year I would be able to make a video similar to people who take pics of their faces every day for a year. Oh, the genius of it!

Life of Pet Big Mac

I didn't want to take the Big Mac home and have to explain to my wife why I was keeping and photographing a decaying burger, so I just kept it on my desk at work. I let a few colleagues in on the idea and a couple of them got quite into it and started helping me come up with ideas for what kind of photo to take next. I think mostly they just humoured me.IMAG5278

Then Christmas came and I decided I'd take Pet Big Mac home for the holidays. This meant bringing him with me to my mum's house in Bath, where my wife and I were going to spend Christmas Day. During the car ride from London to Bath, I confessed to my wife that I'd been keeping a Big Mac for nearly two months on my desk at work as part of a social media project. She was mildly interested, but being married to me means that she has become used to dumb ideas like this. 

At home, my mum was vaguely bemused, but I kept at it, taking a photo (sometimes more) every day depicting a different scenario, all the while posting on Pet Big Mac's Twitter and Facebook page. I decided to hold off on the promotion of the pages because I was concerned about how people would react to it. Part of me thought that if I kept posting, someone would be bound to see it at some stage and then it would go viral.

I avoided following anyone except McDonalds and waited patiently for it to take off. I did a couple of retweets to my personal Twitter page to see if I could catch anyone's eye, but nothing was happening. I wasn't worried though because I was playing the long game. After a year, I would be able to come out with my video and be all like "Hey Internets I kept a Big Mac as a pet for a year and took a photo of it every day. BAM!"


But it didn't happen. On the way back to London, the Pet Big Mac's bun top broke in half. It was as if its stale head had been cracked open in a terrible accident. I was somewhat miffed, but this was what I needed to bring me back to reality. I realised then what I should have at the start: this was a stupid idea. Possibly the dumbest idea for a project I've ever had.

There it ended. The Twitter account had 1 follower (me) and the Facebook page had 1 like (actually not me).

The reason I'm sharing this now is because this idiotic project is really the story of my social media life. I have come up with numerous ideas for funny or interesting Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, all in the hope that one of them would go viral and rocket me to Internet stardom so I could make a living off doing dumb shit online. But really, none of these projects has worked.

A Twitter account pretending to be a small chow chow dog? No, that didn't take off. North Korean Olympics? I got bored of that pretty quick. EDM Bros? No that was never gonna be popular. There have bee a lot more. Many of them I can't even remember. Most of the time, I just lose interest. 

Pet Big Mac taught me that I have a lot of bad ideas that are made even worse by my execution. The Internet has given every moron with a computer the false hope that he or she can be a viral sensation. It has not worked for me yet, but I will continue to try until I'm finally satisfied with something.

Current projects I have are an ironic foodie account, accounts posting old pages from the Argos and Kays catalogues, a gaming channel that requires far too much time to keep active, and my dubstep website. I am perhaps just one killer idea away from losing my mind completely. Cheers to that!


11 social media predictions for 2016

Social media came a long way in 2015. As I'm a bonafide massive expert on all things digital, I thought I'd share with you my predictions for what's going to be big in 2016. If you don't agree with me then you're probably wrong. Soz.

Blurry concert photos will become the norm

Townsquare Media
Townsquare Media

For far too long we've lived in an age where people make a genuine effort to take nice, clear photos at gigs they attend. Those days are almost over and we can look forward to a 2016 full of wonky, blurry shots taken from behind a pillar somewhere near the back of the venue. NME and other music publications will have no choice but to adapt to this trend to ensure that nobody has a bloody clue what they're looking at anymore. There will be an app, available on Android and iOS, that will purposely, beautifully ruin every single photo you take at a concert, just in case you take one that looks a bit in-focus.

Auto-DMs will be big

What we're talking about here are those direct messages that automatically end up in your inbox after you follow someone on Twitter. Only a select few trailblazers have been utilising this feature so far, and through third-party services at that, but 2016 will see the introduction of compulsory impersonal auto-DMs not just on Twitter, but any social network that doesn't want to get left behind. DMs handwritten by real people will be phased out by summer to clear up space for people to invite their Internet friends to follow them on Instagram.


Travel bloggers will revolutionise brunch

Brunch is the next big thing in the travel blogger universe. Actual travel like going places and seeing things and stuff will take a back seat as WordPress warriors will focus their efforts on finding new ways of broadcasting their free brunches to their ever-growing audiences. Live streaming, virtual reality and interactive content will all play a part in the brunch revolution of 2016. You'll get to live every sponsored moment as if you were there.

Inspirational quotes will bring about world peace

Reused and repurposed inspirational quotes did a lot of good in 2015, but just you wait for next year. The misattributed and stolen wise words of some of the world's best thinkers will be copied and pasted en masse directly into conflict zones to stop people being mean to each other.

Facebook will become all about jogs

You may have noticed the recent trend of people sharing status updates about their jogs on Facebook and other social networks. Jogging posts are in for a boom in 2016. You'll be able to not only post about actual jogs you've done, but jogs you're planning to do, thinking about doing and possibly not going to do at all. I predict that some social networks will reject all other content in favour of jogging posts. We really want to know about your jogs.

Klout scores will be printed on passports

Got a high Klout score but worried that not everybody knows about it? The old method of just posting about it over and over again has been OK up to now, but it wasn't really in your face enough. Next year, Klout scores will be printed on all new passports and you'll be required to disclose them in job interviews and at Tesco self-service checkout counters.


The rise of the anti-social network

Tired of browsing Facebook only to see how much more amazing everybody's lives are compared to yours? Well, that will soon be a thing of the past as a number of new social networks will be launched that will actively prohibit all forms of interaction and "friending". Instead, you'll get a white screen with your name and photo on it and a list of achievements including gym certificates from primary school.

Instagram will focus wholly on bots and butts

The era of the "people users" will come to an end in 2016. Instagram will eventually remove the accounts of all actual humans in favour of bots and fake accounts that post pictures of women's butts. Real people will still be allowed to leave comments asking for Kik handles.

Food pictures will actually be edible

You probably already know that all your contacts were really interested in everything you ate in 2015. Whether you were at a restaurant or having something at home, there was a great deal of interest in your food updates. This will be taken to the next level in 2016 as now your friends and family will be able to actually eat your social media posts thanks to a new technology being developed by Google.

You will never be able to check-out

Been to the pub? Cinema? A concert? A restaurant? An airport? A nightclub? A cafe? A hotel? Well you can bet your ass we were all really happy to see your checkins in 2015. What we can look forward to in 2016 is new tech on our phones that will automatically and mandatorily check you in no matter where you go, even if you're just on the street or in the toilet or sat on a bench, meaning that the only way you can be "checked out" is if you're dead.

Everyone will be a digital nomad

This almost happened in 2015. Millions of people gave up their jobs to travel the world and make a living teaching other people how to quit their jobs and travel the world. Next year, pretty much every blog post will be about how to write blog posts teaching people how to make money writing blog posts.

Can't fucking wait.