In the darkly comic 1995 movie To Die For, an ambitious small-town weatherwoman named Suzanne Stone-Maretto (Nicole Kidman) manipulates three troubled teenagers into killing her husband. At one point, the female of the trio recalls what Maretto once told her: “You’re not really anybody in America unless you’re on TV, ’cause what’s the point of doing anything worthwhile if there’s nobody watching? When people are watching, it makes you a better person.”
Now switch the medium from TV to social media, where nothing is real unless it’s documented, rated, liked, or retweeted. That is the notion behind the now-notorious “Yelp for people” app, Peeple, set to launch in November.
Widely hailed as the “worst idea ever,” the app went from being just another obscure new venture to topping the news, following a Washington Post interview with co-founders Julia Cordray and Nicole McCullough. Cordray envisioned a site where users could rate friends, family, co-workers, and dates on a five-star system, and leave public comments for all to see. This feedback, she believed, would help people improve themselves. Since ratings are useful when it comes to movies, restaurants, and events, why not rate people?
Most people, however, intuitively understand why this idea doesn’t transfer.
Comedian John Oliver on Last Week Tonight called Peeple the “kind of bullsh** mashup that Silicon Valley loves.” But to be fair to Silicon Valley, most ventures purport to meet some kind of market need. Peeple, on the other hand, aims to “start a positivity revolution.”
If people want to post nice comments and engage with one another online, that is harmless enough. Platforms for doing this already exist on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Vine, YouTube, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Pinterest, blogs and Myspace (yes, there’s still Myspace).
But where Cordray and McCullough misstep is in their belief that it’s okay to award a human being 3.5 stars.
Some have wondered whether the whole thing is an elaborate joke, a suspicion heightened by a series of truly bizarre promotional videos that Cordray — who seems to lack any kind of self-awareness — posted to YouTube.
In her eleventh “webisode,” titled “Global and Viral in 24 Hours,” Cordray — unable to distinguish between popularity and infamy — boasts that her app is all over the news and spends seven minutes failing to actually tell us anything about the app.
We watch Cordray, clad in loungey workout wear, putz around in her bathroom, her kitchen, her car, and in a cab, pretty much doing nothing. But she does take the opportunity to prohibit everyone on the planet from criticizing her:
I want to hear how we can be better. But unless you’re in here with me, and you’re building a dream and you’re building a company, and you’re doing your best and you’re showing up as a good person, doing innovative, great things, and you’re living with courage, you’re living with joy and you’re vibrating at a high frequency, and you are spreading love and joy and kindness — if you don’t fall into those categories, I’m sorry but you and I are not a match. And I don’t have time for you.
Peeple comes at a time when many people are sick of the Internet’s lack of positivity.
You’d better be standing on the shoulders of giants before you give an opinion about this app or its creators.
Historically, when people needed love and joy and kindness, they looked to friends and family. These were people who cared about you — or at least didn’t mind hanging out with you. After sharing a meal or a few drinks you didn’t have to worry about getting rated on a scale of one to five and receiving tips for next time.
Peeple comes at a time when many people are sick of the Internet’s lack of positivity. That sentiment is one of the reasons our old friend the e-mail newsletter has been coming around again in recent years. Newsletters are personal, a gift of sorts from the writer to the reader. Their growing popularity shows people are tiring of the adolescent nature of so much of social media. They are hungry for something more substantive and positive. To paraphrase Eleanor Roosevelt, “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss Peeple.”