Thursday, July 30, 2015

Book Report: In Real Life, by Nev Schulman
Nev Schulman, if you're not aware, was the subject of the 2011 documentary Catfish.  Nev's brother and filmmaker friend captured his online romance on film, and struck gold when things didn't turn out the way anyone expected. The indie film was a hit, and Nev was thrust into the spotlight and commended for his behaviour in the film.

Without giving too much of a spoiler, I'll say he acted like a perfect gentleman in a situation where most of us would be yelling and breaking shit.

The documentary gave rise to the MTV series of the same name where Nev and his co-host Max Joseph (both of whom I have enormous crushes on) meet with "hopefuls" who want to confront their online crushes, who most of the time have been scamming to them or otherwise lying in some way. It's a great show and there are many elements to it that we can all relate to, even if we've never personally been catfished. Way to go, Nev. You coined a term. I love it. I'm jealous.

The show, in turn, gave rise to Nev's 2014 literary debut, In Real Life: Love, Lies & Identity in the Digital Age. I loved the movie, I loved the show, I loved Nev, so of course I had to read the book.

Throughout the book, Nev interweaves details of his catfish experience that we didn't see in the film with his personal history, throwing in his observances of the way modern technology has infiltrated the human condition and affected the way we build relationships and communicate.

I really enjoyed getting his personal back-story, and I was very surprised by some of the details. Nev, you ladies man, you! (Again, jealous.)

Nev talks a lot about self-image and confidence, and how we use the internet to alter and improve both of those things. His general thesis, however, is that technology is giving us a false sense of importance and achievement and actually removing us further from personal improvement and from society. Essentially, social media is making us antisocial.

Through his anecdotes he shows the reader how we've begun to value digital 'likes' more than real human interaction. I'll admit I felt guilty of many of the behaviours he dissects, like texting instead of calling, curating my public photos to present just the right image of myself, etc. He's right when he says we should get out and live more instead of doing everything just for the sake of sharing it online.

The casual writing style makes the book fun and easy and quick to get through, and gives you the impression of talking to a friend, not some fancy-pants PhD who is using technical psychology/sociology jargon. Nev is just a regular person to whom you can completely relate.

That being said, there were moments that felt a tad patronizing. It can be hard to take life advice  from someone less than one year older than me whose credentials include being fooled on the internet. He did learn a lot from that, and from the experiences he's accrued helping others expose online frauds. The specific advice on how to comport oneself online and watch one's back when communicating with strangers is extremely enlightening. I just got slightly eye-rolly when he told me how to love myself for who I am, go out and make my dreams come true, etc.

I was also a little taken aback at one point by his advice on how to make said dreams come true. Nev suggest living outside your means as a way to force yourself to work harder to be able to afford the life you really want. I will have to heartily disagree with that lifestyle recommendation as it can lead to disastrous results, as not everyone will get their big break at the Sundance Film Festival.

Overall, I very much enjoyed the whole book. It was perfectly structured to keep my attention all the way through, it made me giggle, and it made me a bit sad at times. It even had a few fun graphics for the visual learners out there. I would recommend it to anyone who spends a significant amount of time online (isn't that all of us?) and especially to anyone who has found romance online that has not evolved into real-world dating.

So Nev... in the book (and in your podcast, yes I listen to that too) you talk about how people recognize you on the street, snap a photo with you, and walk away. They seem to have no desire to interact with you, ask you a question, or have an experience with you. All they care about is being able to post the photo and garner some likes. 

I say this to you, Nev - if I ever see you out and about, I will offer to buy you coffee or a beer if you let me pick your brain. I'm totally into interacting with you face to face. And not just because of my mondo crush on you (and Max), but because it would make for an awesome blog post. Just kidding. Because you seem like a cool guy with lots of insightful things to say that tend to go against the grain of a lot of the values and trends of our generation. As a quirky soul myself, I can relate.


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