By now, you might have heard of the ill-fated Fyre Festival. It was advertised in 2017 as a luxury music festival held on ‘Pablo Escobar’s Island’, marketed with a slick promotional video featuring some of the world’s most recognisable influencers — Bella Hadid, Kendall Jenner, Emily Ratajkowski, Hailey Bieber, et al. — frolicking on a private island. Instagram come to life. But as the festival unfolded in catastrophic real-time on Twitter and other social media platforms, people soon realised that the reality was far from the carefully-constructed narrative on social media.
Instead of luxurious villas on the beach, guests were given mattresses and emergency tents leftover from Hurricane Matthew. The promised ‘gourmet caterer’ churned out cheese sandwiches in styrofoam boxes. Fyre Festival was, in actuality, a modern-day Lord of the Flies with electronic music blaring in the background.
Earlier this year, Netflix released a tell-all documentary chronicling how it all went wrong. There were many players involved in Fyre: The Greatest Party That Never Happened, each with varying levels of culpability: There were people who knew that the festival was in shambles, but still went along with it, while others fought hard to get the founders to shut it all down.
Music festival consultant Marc Weinstein was part of the latter camp. He was brought on just a month shy of the festival’s opening weekend, and saw firsthand the catastrophe that Fyre was spiralling into.
“I knew going in that Fyre would be a mess — I just didn’t realise how bad,” he says. “There were a few times I said to myself, ‘There is no way this is going to happen. It will definitely be cancelled’.”
But despite the struggles the festival was undergoing, its marketing team continued to post envy-worthy pictures of beachside parties and other bacchanalia. Weinstein himself — in retrospect — realised that during that tumultuous period of time, when the Fyre team was struggling to even string the festival together, he, too, was posting upbeat Instagrams of himself making merry in the Bahamas.
“I’ve personally struggled with bad habits around social media use, but Fyre was definitely a turning point for me,” he says.
Recently, Weinstein was in Bali to take part in Open Circles, a retreat that brought together thought leaders from around the world to discuss social issues of the day. Weinstein spoke about the need for mindful entrepreneurism and the need to tackle modern social issues such as toxic social media use — the two biggest bugbears that enabled Fyre Festival to get to the catastrophic point that it did.
Weinstein has also been running his own podcast series, the aptly entitled ‘Look Up!’, which explores our relationship with modern tech. Even though we’ve never been more ‘connected’, opines Weinstein, people have never felt lonelier and more depressed. And he thinks that its largely in part due to our relationship with social media.
“We’re constantly bombarded with images of what we ‘should have’, or being reminded of what we ‘lack’,” he says. Why else would Fyre Festival have sold as many tickets as it did, based on nothing more than a slick, three-minute video filled with gorgeous people on a beach?
He also believes that ‘entrepreneurship worship’ is a growing fad amongst people, where toxic start-up culture and unhealthy work habits are enshrined as the surest route to success. “We’ve heard of so many stories of CEOs ‘faking it until they make it’ – but we need to ask if that culture has become toxic or not,” he says.
“We’ve moved into a period where the American Dream has become perverse. Where money is no longer just a tool to achieve that lifestyle, but it’s become the end in of itself.”
Now, two years on from Fyre, Weinstein tries to advocate for a healthier approach to social media through his podcast and with speaking engagements like the one at Open Circles.
In one of his earlier podcast episodes, he makes a comparison of the current generation’s use of social media with the generational attitudes of smoking in the mid 20th century.
“Decades ago, our grandparents were pushed advertisements of doctors smoking cigarettes that said things like, ‘Cigarettes can reduce stress’,” he says. “Its just like social media – they’re both addicting and just as potentially harmful.”
“There’s more research coming out today that shows the negatives of social media use, and I think our grandchildren will look back and ask why we didn’t realise how unhealthy it is.”
That’s not to say that Weinstein has totally sworn off Instagram ever since 2017. His feed looks much like any other nomadic yogi’s: Feathered Peacock poses in front of a stunning beachside sunset, loved-up couple pictures on a mountaintop, and the like. But he’s not picketing Facebook and lobbying for people to delete their socials – he just wants people to adopt a more conscious and measured approach to technology.
“I believe that awareness is the first step towards making positive change,” he says. “I’ve realised how social media was affecting me personally, and I hope by shining a light on these issues, others will know they are not alone.”