For a second, I thought I might die. It was late on Sunday night and I was gripping a friend’s hand as a human wave of Kanye West fans propelled us violently down a Manhattan city block. We were around the corner from Webster Hall, where Kanye had promised to play a pop-up Pablo show at 2 a.m. Half an hour earlier, we’d been in bed. Now, after having Ubered into the city, sprinted through red lights, and bounded down sidewalks, we joined the hundreds-deep line we’d first seen on Twitter.
After the cautious cancellation of Governors Ball that day — in anticipation of a severe thunderstorm that actually wound up being just an afternoon of rain punctuated with a beautiful sunset and a double-rainbow — Kanye fans were determined to see a make-up show. Fix it, Yeezus, the internet seemed to be saying. But not even a man who sells out Madison Square Garden for a fashion show could possibly accommodate thousands of people on such short notice. On the drive towards the madness, two FADER coworkers and I prophesied the night: in the absence of a proper ticketing system, crowds of fans, many restless and perhaps drunk after a day spent killing time previously allocated for a day-long festival, would flood the blocks surrounding the venue. Even if some lucky ones were let in, many more would wait outside, refusing to budge — hell hath no fury like a stan scorned. The NYPD, even more vigilant of rap shows than usual in the wake of last month’s Irving Plaza shooting, would have to shut it down. We thought there could be arrests, maybe even injuries. We probably would not see Kanye; it would not be fun. If I wasn’t attending in my capacity as a journalist, I wondered, would the social media hype have me compelled to trail Kanye as a fan?
After all, there they were, throngs of fans willing to try their luck. They’d been egged on by social media: tweets from various Kanye associates, Instagrams from Virgil Abloh, Snapchats from Kim Kardashian, and a combination thereof from KTT sleuths, music journalists, and rando fans confirmed both the location and Kanye’s eagerness to perform. Along with rumors and hard facts, they disseminated what once might’ve been a palpable sense of urgency.
When we’d set off on our spontaneous adventure earlier in the night, it felt like a moment in history awaited us. But by the time I got home, minutes before dawn, rewatching all the footage made the efforts feel futile.
Back in the early 2010s, a night like this one might’ve been characterized by FOMO, the acronym for the phrase “fear of missing out.” Writing in the New York Times in 2011, Jenna Wortham described FOMO as “the blend of anxiety, inadequacy and irritation that can flare up while skimming social media like Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare and Instagram.” The result? Wortham increasingly found herself torn “between nesting in my cozy roost or rallying for an impromptu rendezvous.” That era’s adoption of instant-posting social networks (like Twitter and Instagram) and geolocation-focused services (like the then-popular Foursquare) marked a turning point of social media.
For years, people had used the internet liberally to communicate with others and to broadcast their thoughts, ideas, and opinions. Yet social life had largely been relegated to retrospective glimpses: photos were posted to Facebook the day after a party; paparazzi shots of celebrities exiting bars and restaurants took many hours to surface online. By 2010, the year Instagram was launched, social feeds and more accessible data plans made it easier — and almost imperative — to post things on the fly. Coupled with the fact that concerns about privacy were less acute, it meant that you’d know where your friends, acquaintances, and industry networks were on any given night. You’d see that all your college classmates were at the same party, or that many of your peers were at the same shows or listening parties. You’d imagine what they were doing without you, what you were missing, whether you’d made a mistake by choosing to stay in. FOMO was ubiquitous and near-inevitable.
But today, five years later, shifts in social media have essentially made it impossible to truly “miss out” on much. For a handful of reasons — including the availability of smartphones with better camera technology, improved processing abilities, and faster data speeds — social networks with real-time broadcasting features, including Snapchat and Periscope, are beginning to outpace relatively established services like Twitter and Instagram. Whereas livestreaming was once the domain of bored teens in their bedrooms, it is now more and more common from other locations. In other words, not only do you know where everyone is, you know exactly what they’re doing and with whom. A real-time feed of a Kanye West mob, for instance, isn’t as appealing as a sanitized, filtered ‘gram of it is. Even for less precarious events, tuning in from the comfort of home can often mean better views, safer social interactions, and the privilege of participating without expending much energy. Instead of agonizing over what you might be missing, you can tune in and out as you wish; I’d done exactly that earlier in the night, watching the Summer Jam performances that interested me but muting the ones I didn’t care about.
For the hours that we stood in the midst of the mob, eventually walking to its edge right as Kanye careened down 3rd Avenue from the sunroof of a black Benz, we learned as much from reading social media as we did by looking around us. In fact, the night’s best takes — and promising leads about Kanye’s whereabouts — came from people up late at home, many of whom seemed to be having more fun analyzing the videos posted by the crowd than we, increasingly tired and weary, did being the crowd. When we’d set off on our spontaneous adventure earlier in the night, it felt like a moment in history awaited us. But by the time I got home, minutes before dawn, rewatching all the footage made the efforts feel futile. The next day, a friend told me that she’d felt “stressed all weekend” and that she “kept feeling like she was in the wrong place.” Maybe that’s because the right place is the one that increasingly feels like being everywhere: home.