Recently, a notable trend has swept across social media. A TikTok video showcasing a blond woman engaging in eccentric behaviors has gone viral. She imitates a cat’s meow, perfectly replicates the sound of a popping balloon, mimes eating an imaginary ice cream cone while saying “ice cream is so good”, and even pops kernels of popcorn using a hair straightener. At first glance, one might question her humanity. But, she is indeed very much human – she exists, she breathes, she lives.
The French-Canadian TikToker in the video, known by her screen name ‘Pinkydoll’, is what’s known as an NPC streamer. She is a real individual who earns her living by mimicking a video game character, who, in turn, impersonates a real person. This creates an endless cycle of imitation, deftly merging the digital and physical, the real and the fake. It’s like observing infinite reflections in a mirror – reflections that lead us towards the new reality of our digital existence. This surreal spectacle stirs both fascination and concern, challenging our understanding of reality versus imitation, physical versus digital, and authentic versus artificial.
Pinkydoll broadcasts on TikTok LIVE, a feature of the short film platform that allows users to livestream themselves and engage with their followers in real time. During these sessions, her followers can send virtual gifts, which take the form of emojis, stickers of filters on the screen, that range in price from one TikTok coin to several thousand. (One TikTok coin typically costs about $0.013 and users can buy them in packs of 100 or more.) Each gift elicits a standard response from Pinky: she performs an action, makes a gesture, or produces a sound that corresponds to the gift received.
This is why Pinkydoll cycles through a variety of gestures and phrases at a rapid pace. TikTok LIVE’s swift microtransaction model necessitates that she intensifies her performance as her viewers send more gifts. Boasting more than 250,000 followers on TikTok and 20,000 on Instagram, she is making significant strides. On average, Pinky Doll attracts approximately 42,000 viewers at a time with her unique livestreams, which earns her about $7,000 per session. This forms an almost mechanical interplay between Pinkydoll and her followers, a nearly hypnotic cycle of action and reaction. She becomes a digital marionette, manipulated by her audience, who are more than willing to be enticed by their digital fascination. In this parasocial relationship, it’s unclear who holds the reins – the puppeteer or the puppet?
It’s simple to dismiss Pinkydoll as a grotesque indicator of societal decay. However, our reaction should perhaps not be one of repulsion or fear, but instead one of comprehension and possibly even admiration. In her unusual performances, Pinkydoll poses significant questions about the meaning of being human in an age where the line between reality and falseness is increasingly blurred. She prompts us to ponder the essence of being human in an era where technology is reshaping our understanding of identity and humanity. This might even be a preview of what social media will look like when AI finally takes over…
However, there is a danger that we could become trapped in a vicious cycle of superficial pleasure and instant gratification, causing us to overlook essential aspects of our human existence. Our primitive brains are all too easily manipulated by this fetishized mental stew that TikTok’s advanced algorithms serve up. If we fail to address or counteract this, our society is likely to self-destruct. Slowly but surely, we’re undermining our own society, not through a catastrophic event, but through a quiet, digital erosion: one “yum yum yum, gang gang” at a time.
About Sander Duivestein
Sander Duivestein (1971) is a highly acclaimed and top-rated trendwatcher, an influential author, an acclaimed keynote speaker, a digital business entrepreneur, and a strategic advisor on disruptive innovations. His main focus is the impact of new technologies on people, businesses and society.
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