How does isolation change status-seeking?

That is the topic of my new Bloomberg column, excerpt:

The plunge in status-seeking behavior is yet another way in which the lockdown is a remarkable and scary social experiment. One possible consequence is that many people won’t work as much, simply because no one is watching very closely and it is harder to get that pat on the shoulder or kind word for extra effort.

Worse yet, for many people social approbation compensates for economic hardships, and that salve is now considerably weaker. Time was, even if you were unemployed, you could still walk down the street and command attention for that one stylish item in your wardrobe, or your cool haircut, or your witty repartee. Now there’s no one on the street to impress.

Americans are learning just how much we rely on our looks, our charisma and our eloquence for our social affect. As Sonia Gupta asked on Twitter: “Extremely attractive people, I have a genuine question for you, no snark: What’s it like to not be getting the regular daily social attention you might be accustomed to, now that you have to stay inside and isolate from others?”

…To some extent this status erosion is liberating. It may cause a lot of people to reexamine perennial questions about “what really matters.” There are other positive effects: fewer peer-related reasons to go out and spend money, for instance (do you really need that new jacket, or to try all the hot new restaurants?). That will help make tighter budgets or even unemployment more bearable. Some socially anxious people may even feel they are better off.

Yet overall this is a dangerous state of affairs.

There is much more at the link.


Conversely, people with depression or other difficulties coping may feel less pressured; less different than their more successful peers; and less alone/more in common with their peers.

I am usually a bit depressed (sometimes a lot), but I am flourishing in this crisis. Finally something new and unexpected!

Finally, staying at home and doing nothing is the socially useful thing to do!

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“Yet overall this is a dangerous state of affairs. One risk is that we will elevate the status of performers who remain on television frequently.”

Why is this called a risk (forget about Trump please)?

Because most of these people are really stupid

Different anonymous here.

I can't really see the pandemic bringing back "tv watching."

I'd think it is still a declining demographic. Maybe someday data mining can reveal if shutdown lowered the median age at all.

If you want frequent updates, the internet seems a much quicker way than cable TV news which takes a long time to cycle through to the point you may be interested in. I would bet internet news sites traffic has significantly increased, but not as you say cable TV news.

Not so sure about this post. Being unemployed can hurt your social life a lot when the first question many people ask is "so what do you do for work?"

Also, it seems the majority of replies on the Twitter thread for "very attractive people" are more humorous than sincere. It seems to say more about other Americans' assumptions about what it's like to be extremely attractive than it does about the actual experiences of extremely attractive people.

Haters gonna hate the attractive 1%, like me actually.

Bonus trivia: I just listened to the Bee Gees "Stayin' Alive" and had no idea that the lead singer, Barry Gibb, was still alive. Good for him!

Have you ever considered that you are disliked for your personality and not your money/power/success? I don’t begrudge you your money. I begrudge you for the fact that you must mention yourself in every post. And you probably wear speedos.

"Ray Lopez" is not a real person; it is an algorithm!

Not just any algorithm. Ray Lopez is an top algorithm in the top 1% dating an algorithm half his age.

Since the Referee hasn’t been around much lately, I award you 5 internet points. Well done.

I'll allow it.

Speak for yourself. I like Ray's insights, disagree with lots and agree with lots of them. I know people like Ray, and would love to sit in a bar with him and chat. I'd make sure my daughter was nowhere within a few hundred miles first though.

And another 5 internet points. Ray would be a great drinking buddy.

I’ll give you that. You probably need a drink to listen to him talk about himself.

Exactly. Ray is a perfectly splendid goof.

The literary creation Bertie Wooster is a goof. But he’s a goof with standards.

The status seeking game is turning into "who is least affected by coronavirus." People now show off their status by having cushy work-from-home jobs, family members all safely together, the foresight to sell stocks and buy toilet paper, connections in China who can ship them PPE, etc. Kooky preppers are gaining massively in status. People who are suffering are seeking comfort in "shared sacrifice," i.e. no matter how much you're suffering, someone else is suffering more.

I'm a self-employed professional so this seems ridiculous to me. I have clients because of my reputation for quality service not because of the clothes that I wear or the friends that I choose. I suppose I am out of touch with modern man (and woman). This helps explain to me the popularity of Facebook and the Kardashians and why Rene Girard was right and Peter Thiel is a billionaire (he is a Girard acolyte). Could the lock-down be the end of the Kardashians? Fat chance that those fatties with no talent will fade away.

Samizdat. If everybody thinks this, it will decrease the un-attached supply of slim ones.

Adjective in the wrong place... supply of un-attached slim ones

I was following and nodding my head along with reward's thoughts until the strange reference to Peter Thiel.

It's pretty clear why he's a billionaire. He was a co-founder of one of the two companies that eventually merged to form PayPal. And then he was a founder of Palantir and a very early investor in Facebook. In particular, he invested $500k in Facebook at a time when its valuation was $4.9 million. Whatever else one thinks about Thiel, those three good decisions - or being in the right place at the right time for all of those, if someone wishes to be less charitable - made him a ton of money. In particular, his PayPal stock (worth about $55 million when eBay acquired PayPal in 2002) provided him with the money to make investments such as his Facebook investment.

* rayward's thoughts

In isolation, I seek for status by announcing a world revolution on the MR comment section. I feel a little bit like Lenin isolated in Zürich in 1914-1917. I don't know if it really rises my status but It's fun.

I shall follow you to the gates of hell comrade!!

@Joel with the umlaut - it's fitting you feel a bit like Lenin in these plague times, for the reasons cited below. - RL

"Lenin on the Train" by Catherine Merridale, Allen Lane, 2016 - The German “sealed train” that gave Vladimir I Lenin safe passage from exile in Switzerland through wartime Germany to Russia in April 1917, in the aftermath of the overthrow of Russia’s monarchy that had exiled the Russian revolutionary leader, was historically pivotal.

British historian Catherine Merridale reminds us in Lenin on the Train that Lenin was seen as a “plague bacillus” (in Winston Churchill’s phrase) by Berlin.

Good grief Ray. The diacritical mark above the e in Joël's (obviously French) name is not an umlaut. It's a tréma. The term is derived from the Greek . Basically, it means that the two vowels here are pronounced separately. I'm surprised you did not know that. An umlaut appears only in Germanic languages above the vowels a, o and u and never an e. I'm very disappointed in you.

And I say diaresis. Not sure what the New Yorker style guide says.

If we are speaking of the French language (and I was), tréma (la tréma) is preferred. I don't think the New Yorker or any other English language style guide has anything to do with it.

This should be samizdat because it will drive the stock market down. What happened to your Straussian ways.

A bit off-topic: I wonder how the responses to that Twitter thread would vary depending on where it was asked. Would Reddit produce much different responses due to its relative anonymity? How about Facebook, where everyone knows everyone (relative to Twitter, anyway)?

Performers? Some television personalities, sit-com actors, for instance, are performers by definition. Others, while actually performing as each of us does on a daily basis occupy different roles. News readers are, in fact, performers, even though their simple task is to read a script. Now that isn't enough. The news reader must be attractive, with a pleasant personality, an individual that you would be willing to invite into your home regularly, and actually do, in the sense that you do so via the airwaves. Being telegenic in a serious sense is becoming a requirement for political candidates, if not being already the case. Barak Hussein Obama owes his political success to his appearance and performance rather than any policy positions. He was and is most qualified for the role of a news reader at a mid-market television station in a place like Memphis, TN; Charlotte, NC or Flint, MI.

I loved Robin Hanson's book "Elephant in the Brain". I wonder what he would say about the implications for the signalling model when there is no one to receive our signals? I would to like hear of a more refined signalling model that can account for specific signalling modes (physical, virtual, etc).

Is Tyler being deviously ironic here? First, he claims that status-seeking behavior is on the decline. Then, he links to a social media tweet that allows the tweeter to demonstrate how woke she is because she is so attuned to the unchecked privilege (in normal times) of the "extremely attractive". Btw, one will note in the twitter bio that the tweeter's preferred pronouns are she/her, in case you were wondering.

Genuine question, no snark: can someone self-identify as one gender for purposes of being the subject of a sentence and a different gender for purposes of possessing something, i.e., could one' s pronouns be he/her or she/his?

@BC - what? I'm too old for this... PS--your nym is not "PC", it should be BCE not BC.

Mr/s. BC : It sounds absurd but I know one individual within my organization's Slack whose profile says "he/him/their"... Not sure if he's trolling, or if their understanding of grammar is undeveloped.

Maybe, he's a communist so that everything he (they?) own(s) is owned jointly with other people.

The Straussian interpretation of the article is that Tyler is talking about the rise in status of people like himself: academics who are also in the "public intellectual" realm through blogs and opinion columns.

(Much as he's already told us how recently how people like himself are doing economically. Just fine - they can still afford home delivery of pickles that sell for $10 per quart. For context on that cost, mass-market jars of pickles in grocery stores sell for about $2 to $4 per quart.)

Just 10 dollars? How disappointingly middle class.

I think a lot of people are going to rediscover home cooking, so when the lockdowns are over, fewer of them will be dining out in general. People who are working from home and hence still getting paid (like me) won't be eating lunch or dinner out and will save a ton of money.
Also, there will be mass withdrawal from espresso latte habits, so coffee shops may suffer.

Hazel, before people 'rediscover' home cooking they have to know how to cook in the first place; most Americans can't boil an egg hard. I am surrounded both in Greece, the USA and the Philippines (fry masters) with gourmands. I am a good cook but don't even try to compete with my companions. They even make yogurt (easy to make actually) and cured olives (id, was surprised it only took ten days, pace the internet, and they were not bitter). Homemade bread? Please. Homemade pizza.

Yes, that's it! People will be spending less money after the lockdown, too, because they've "rediscovered saving", right? Not because they're unemployed.

That too. But I mean there's a certain class of worker that is still making money but finds themselves without a place to get lunch or having the luxury of eating at home. Those people are going to become more acutely aware of how much money they have been blowing on lunches out and coffee. After getting into the habit of making their own breakfast lunch and dinner every day for a few weeks some of them will continue doing so.

Hazel - I'm dubious that there will be any big change.

(1) Some of these people aren't cooking that much. They're getting delivery and takeout for a lot of meals.

(2) Some of them who are cooking almost certainly don't enjoy the actual cooking and/or find the food that they prepare isn't as good as restaurant food.

(3) A lot of these people already knew how much they were spending on coffee if they took less than a minute to do simple arithmetic: 250 work days per year times $3 to $5 per work day. There have also long both other simple alternatives to stopping and buying coffee on the way to work (or during a break): make coffee at home and bring it in a travel cup or drink the coffee that's available at many offices.

The last time I checked the coffee packaged for the popular Keurig home brewer was going for $32/lb.

Chuck - changing from a Keurig to either ground coffee (or grinding your own beans) can easily reduce that cost by about 65%. The savings can be greater than that depending on how particular you are about coffee (and I'm not just talking about Folgers or Maxwell House when I say that there are options that save more than 65% relative to that per pound price for Keurig pods).

"250 work days per year times $3 to $5 per work day."

Or hit up McDonalds, for a $1 coffee...

I can't imagine that delivery is a viable option for that many people - the wait times must be insane.

Hazel - admittedly anecdotal from my area (Austin), but there are insane wait times for grocery delivery but not for restaurant deliveries.

Grocery delivery slots here aren't available for days, or sometimes weeks.

Grocery delivery, however, is a much more labor-intensive process than restaurant delivery due to the need to pick products off shelves to fill orders. There are also probably some limits to how much stores want to scale this, even if the labor is available, because they don't want stores overrun with delivery workers, making it tough for those customers shopping themselves. That's a particular concern for any grocery stores that are trying to control crowds in stores for social distancing.

Getting restaurant food delivered has proven to be quite easy. Not surprising as it's very easy for those delivery platforms to add drivers. In the case of UberEats, they even have a readily available pool of identified labor in the form of Uber drivers who now have little if any business transporting passengers.

Takeout (i.e., picking it up) is also an option. The overwhelming majority of people in this country have at least one car in their household, especially those with the financial wherewithal to eat at restaurants regularly. The middle-income and higher households who don't have cars almost all live in places like Manhattan or the most dense, walkable parts of other cities, with numerous restaurants within a walkable radius.

In short - if you imagine that getting delivery or takeout of restaurant food isn't viable for people due to long wait times, then your imagination is completely incorrect.

I think you have a point there, but it's not just the change in habits from being forced to stay home. Some people will come out of this with less money on hand, so they'll feel a need to build back some kind of reserve. Some people will fill more germophobic about getting in line at a coffee shop. I would expect the restaurant industry to see lower customer traffic for the rest of the year. I have no idea if we'll see significant effects beyond that point.

I'm genuinely curious, do US workplaces have kitchens with the facilities to store and reheat food? All of my workplaces have had these -- even really humble shop store/staffrooms where it was literally a bar fridge, a $50 Kmart microwave, and a sink with some homebrand dish detergent. It seems like at least 70% of people bring and (if applicable) reheat their lunch on any given day. Is this not the case in the US?

My experience working in offices. Most offices - probably the overwhelming majority - have an area with the facilities that you're discussing: a communal fridge and microwave.

I've personally never worked in an office where 70% of the people bring in and reheat lunch. Some people do it, but less than half in my personal experience. I would imagine that percentage varies a fair amount based on salary level, though.

Another misfire of a column. If Tyler went on insta for one second, he could never write that status-seeking behavior is on the decline. If anything it has drastically increased. If you don't believe me, ask Professor Callard!

I agree with Tyler that such a drastic and sudden reduction of avenues for status-seeking behavior entails less of that behavior overall, even if one sees more of it on social media than one had earlier, or one sees more of it from some people--such as Tyler and myself--than one had earlier.

I liked this as a good, but not super serious, piece.

(Don't know if you've heard, but the City of Los Angeles is making a big push: "This is the week for everyone to stay at home. Don't shop at all if you have food at home." Preempting the TV.)

It would be a sure sign
Of being
If you were seen outdoors
In the neighborhood
During working hours.

Now, you can be unemployed
And people think:
He's really following the Guidelines.

Haiku Bill!

I’ve only been asking for a Haiku character here for the last 5 years!! Well done Bill.

in a viral pandemic how does isolation change status seeking behavior?
one politician makes histrionic charges of crimes against humanity
but not against china

After, 'Yet overall this is a dangerous state of affairs", I expected more reasons. But I saw only 1: Trump filling the vacuum (true), but what are the other dangers? Do I need a subscription to read the remainder of the article?

Doesn't the type of status seeking matter here? If you are looking for public, in-person recognition, then I suppose a lockdown is detrimental. But if you are a Proust-like hermit, who hides from the world and seeks, at most, recognition of your talents and output through publication and the like, then a lockdown may increase your productivity. After all, there are even fewer reasons to leave the home and thus fewer work distractions.

Extroverts may suffer; I doubt introverts will. Doesn't the pandemic simply give introverts a rare advantage in a world that otherwise prizes the loud self-promoters?

"As Sonia Gupta asked on Twitter: “Extremely attractive people, I have a genuine question for you, no snark: What’s it like to not be getting the regular daily social attention you might be accustomed to, now that you have to stay inside and isolate from others?”"

Ummm she clearly is not on Instagram, there is enough attention-seeking based on appearances to last a lifetime!

As a moderately attractive man living with roommates, some of which are extremely attractive, social media keeps the praise flowing. My roommate still get’s dozens of girls invites to go out with him everyday through tinder, instagram ect. The young as reckless as ever.

We kinda get what interests you.

I would hope that the biggest change is in the appreciation of jobs. Now we all know that truck drivers and butchers are more important than investment bankers, marketing consultants and M&A lawyers.

For me, as a lawyer, the consequence is to stop working. My job is really not important enough to risk my health. I'll put more emphasis on literature and long walks in nature. (I am currently staying on an island where I can go hiking all day.)

looks like divorce law is gonna be doing a brisk business

Won't make a difference. Important people hate being beholden to those they consider inferior to them. They are plotting their revenge as we speak. Count on it.

Marilyn Manson said something about this:

What is the basis for the assertion that there as been a "plunge in status-seeking behavior?"

Thanks in advance...

I imagine handsome instagrammers, tiktokers, etc. are having a field day. The office is certainly one place to exploit ones natural charms, but in an age of live digital streaming, there are plenty of other outlets. Perhaps in a digital world where we deliver productive services (spreadsheets, reports, etc.) independently of social interaction (i.e. via email) and can get paid for our looks and likes on social media, we more accurately price our various talents, while risking any synergies that may exist in combined delivery?

It will be absolutely unacceptable to the mighty economists if some portion of us decide living a simpler life, less focused on consumption, has some benefits.

It is the basic reason we are still kicking hippies, a half century on.

Ever hear of intrinsic motivation?

This crowd doesn't believe in that because they're all-in on The Elephant in the Brain. The idea that many of us honestly don't care about status is highly foreign to the way they understand the world.

Average is Over hypothesis: The truly remarkably attractive people will get all the attention on the internet. The merely attractive people who would have gotten attention in a room of 10 people will be passed over, and that might be tough for them.

Agree a thousand percent. Also, the attractive guy or gal with a nice personality is really suffering because they just don't stand out on the internet but could be a rock star at work.

Funny that LeBron James is mentioned. Here's LeBron's latest quarantine tweet:

"Thinking about maybe sitting down and breaking down some of my most memorable games and moments in my career. Maybe IG Live it or just film it and hold on to it for another time."

You lost me at "COVID-19 is the great equalizer". Poor people are seeing all of their wealth and life savings wiped out, while the rich are able to snap up equities on the low.

Yes, it's a breathtaking lack of self-awareness from Tyler given how he is able to deal with this situation.

As Pranav states, some of the demarcations are about income and wealth levels.

Some, however, are simply about industry. The successful restaurateur or bar owner who owns a few locations is now scrambling to figure out if he or she can get a Paycheck Protection Plan loan and fretting how much business will come back even when mandatory lockdowns end. The situation is particularly rough if this owner took out loans within the past 6 months for expansion or renovation.

Some is closer to dumb luck in career choices, Think of people with similar professional and educational backgrounds who took similar jobs within the finance and accounting departments of large companies. The person who is at Wal-Mart (or Kroger, or Costco, etc.) right now has a lot better job security than the person who is at Southwest Airlines (or Hilton, or a "non-essential" retailer, or GM, etc.).

programmers have been doing this for a long time. Its called twitter, medium and github repos with stars.

The decline of regular social cues confirming the high status of investors seems likely to depress their Keynesian animal spirits. "Even apart from the instability due to speculation, there is the instability due to the characteristic of human nature that a large proportion of our positive activities depend on spontaneous optimism rather than mathematical expectations, whether moral or hedonistic or economic. Most, probably, of our decisions to do something positive, the full consequences of which will be drawn out over many days to come, can only be taken as the result of animal spirits—a spontaneous urge to action rather than inaction, and not as the outcome of a weighted average of quantitative benefits multiplied by quantitative probabilities." -Keynes 1936.

I believe your premise of "most of those options [to display status] have been whisked away from us" is off and perhaps would be more accurate if age-bound: "most of those options [to display status] have been whisked away from people over 30."

To your end point ("If you really are obsessed with continuing the status-seeking game, your best options are probably online."), rather than status-seeking behavior plunging there are simply replacement status outlets thanks to Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat, Instagram (still), etc... for those already versed in them.

A slightly different take could be: Status now seems more confined to the relatively small groups a person was in pre-social distancing. Earning exogenous status is now harder, and perhaps even less valuable, than it used to be.

I foresee a big increase in the savings rate, enabled by reduced consumption and driven by fear of disaster. This is the third black swan of the 21st and we’re only 20 years in.

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