Viral fame, of the sort that random TikTok users and those who are clever on Twitter achieve, is not something that I’ve ever yearned for. My phone is already a source of mild stress, dinging and booping intermittently throughout the day with notifications, push alerts, and reminders to do things like call my mother and read about the coronavirus vaccine. The idea that any of my piddling social media output would result in viral fame is simply hilarious; I am far too old and not nearly savvy enough to do anything that would go viral and also, my phone is probably not equipped to handle that particular heat. Still, I have the desire to see what it’s like for regular people and famous people who broadcast their lives and their content online when something does go big. Thankfully, I do not have to attempt to pimp out the cat or force one of my many sisters to film me doing something embarrassing and physically dangerous because, god bless, there is an app for that.
Hype Simulator, which the streetwear website Hypebae informs me is #4 on the charts for apps, promises the experience of being a digital influencer for Andy Warhol’s prophetic 15 minutes. Seeing as 15 minutes is the maximum amount of time I could reasonably entertain this scenario, I eagerly downloaded the app, created a fake TikTok profile, and selected “viral fame.”
Within a few minutes, my fake TikTok account, username bimboqueen69, had over 64,000 followers and counting. I stepped away from my phone to fetch a small slice of cake from the kitchen and came back to discover that I was verified. Bots swarmed my inbox with questions, comments, and concerns. “Can you buy me a boat?” asked pau.cabre_fan and e_williams_fan. Unfortunately, I can’t even buy myself a boat, so I did not deign to answer the bots. Shortly after I ignored that, another bot asked the same. Still others told me that they loved me, and begged me for shoutouts. My follower count increased at a breakneck pace, a process that I observed as my phone laid face-up next to my keyboard. If I closed the app, I’d get a notification from the app itself saying that I had more notifications to look at, but because that notification was merely a container for the hundreds of other (fake) notifications I was receiving, I did not experience the dopamine hit I assume is the point of this exercise.
The simulation of that kind of fame as seen through the screen of a phone lacked both the urgency and the unpredictability of actual notifications from social media apps or otherwise. The “thrill” of my friends “liking” a photo I put on Instagram is minimal, but not so small that I’ve deleted the app in the first place. Hype Simulator’s existence presumes that there’s a large swath of people out there who derive pleasure and even self-worth from these notifications; that is clearly their audience, and not me, a 38-year-old woman who is rapidly aging out of social media apps but clings to them for relevancy, entertainment, and professional reasons.
Fifteen minutes of completely fake, bot-generated fame, isn’t enough to feel what it’s actually like to be a famous person or a teen who twerks on camera for hearts. After my fifteen minutes were up, the app urged me to restart and I did, creating a profile, “famous gal”, and selecting the “celebrity” option instead. Honestly, not much changed, except that my followers jumped immediately to 1 million, and I was verified from the start. The bots had names now, and actual photos attached, but their requests were still the same—shoutout requests, people begging for a response, and still, for some reason, a lot of requests about buying boats. I attempted to respond to some of the messages, only to watch my responses disappear into the ether.
Horrifyingly, during this second exercise, I started receiving actual notifications from Twitter. When these notifications came in rapid succession with my fake notifications from the app, I began to feel the same sense of panic I do when I return to my phone after using the restroom and discover that my group chat with my sisters has been blowing up: something was maybe wrong, or there were many small fires that needed to be extinguished at once. About a minute before my time as a famous person was up, a final notification from a bot-fan popped up: “When are you buying me that boat?” The insistent requests surrounding watercraft were too much. I closed the app, then deleted it, happy to have that nuisance out of my life for good.