Portrait of a Man Seated on a Rainbow

“Move to your left a little, no, sorry, my left, move to your right. No, look, just hold, no, okay, stay right there, I’ll move.”

Regina’s frustrated with me, I can tell. These portraits always bring out the worst in both of us. There was a point, not long ago, where we’d do these sorts of photos with special effects in apps. You remember the ones, I’m sure, where you point the camera at yourself and a silly animation or sponsored brand message pops up over your head. Those were the good old days, when this was all so much easier. God, I feel old saying that, but it’s true. Things were easier back then.

There’s a tendency to feel like things changed suddenly, but when I think back through the evolution of social presentation, it moved more like a glacier, inching itself deeper and deeper into our lives as automation and government subsidies freed us to spend more time on ourselves. I can vividly remember the pitches of this new world, “when money and wealth become meaningless,” they told us, “you’ll be free to cultivate talent and intellect and make the world a better place.” Of course, that’s not what happened. Without money, people found new ways to show off their wealth, and social presentation became the new gold standard.

“Okay, I’m going to try and snap a few from here,” Regina calls out. I can barely hear her over the buzzing of the rainbow. I remember as a kid being told rainbows were just tricks of light. It’s funny how wrong we can be, sometimes. “Smile!” Regina yells. I smile. I assume she has the telephoto lens on me, but I can’t quite make her out.

As more people learned and grew their minds, it became difficult to assert social and political dominance. For a while, this seemed to work in everyone’s favor. We all worked together to create new technologies, to tamp down and improve on long running issues, and give everyone in the world a baseline living standard. But in doing so, strands of our old world were never totally destroyed. As leisure time increased, we spent more time documenting our new lives of doing less. Someone smarter than me can probably detail this better, but for my own part, I felt a deep loss when I’d lost my job and turned to social to feel better. I never knew how to fill my time, and the constant pursuit of bettering humanity was emotionally taxing, if I’m honest. We like to think when given unlimited resources and opportunity, humanity will create great things, but it turns out that’s only partially true.

“Okay, just one more angle and we’re done!” Regina yells. I wave back in acknowledgement, trying my best to hide my annoyance. I’m starting to feel a little woozy up here. I’ve heard you shouldn’t spend more than a few minutes sitting on a rainbow. Something to do with the stability of the waves. They can only exist in our world for a set time even if you’re observing them. They used to up signs that read ‘Don’t take your eyes off them unless you have a parachute!’

At some point we all grew bored with the digital special effects of photos. People started recreating similar pictures in the real world. It started innocently enough, with detailed face painting or props. But these types of things are never good enough as they are. People will push and push and push. Soon enough, social presentation became a commodity. It was a way to show how much better you were than others. Whether that was through pure artistic talent, engineering, or, in some cases—perhaps even this one right here—guts.

And then here we are, I guess. With me sitting two miles in the air, my feet dangling off this highly unstable, buzzing death trap, just so Regina can snap a picture that hopefully improves our social standing.

“Okay Lamar! I think I got a few good one!”

I flip my legs over the rainbow and slide back to the ground.