The following is a transcript from a recent episode of the Jonik Podcast.

Good morning, Jon. At the time of this recording, you are summiting the Half Dome, but given that you just took the MCAT, I’m sure this won’t be much of a challenge for you. In this episode, it’s just me. Like your Jonik episode back in April, I’ll be covering a more recent phrase, one that has its roots in meme culture and attempts to comment on the state of internet culture as a whole. As the title suggests, today, we will discuss the etymology of “being perceived.”

After co-hosting this podcast for over six months now, my biggest concern isn’t that it’ll go down or that the hosting platform will lose our recordings. I’m not afraid of people breaking the things we’ve built or stealing it for themselves. What truly terrifies me is knowing that people actually listen to what we have to say.

In 2013, Tim Kreider wrote “I Know What You Think of Me,” an opinion piece on the dread of hearing other people’s uncensored opinions about you. Kreider, who had recently bought a herd of goats, received an email that wasn’t meant for him that included some snyde remarks about his reckless spending. Personally, I can’t think of a better investment, but to each their own. The essay continues to comment on how the Internet Age makes it incredibly easy to overhear conversations you were never meant to know about. Ultimately, Kreider leaves the reader with this incredibly powerful line: “if we want the rewards of being loved, we have to submit to the mortifying ordeal of being known.”

I never realized how easy it was to hear those uncensored opinions about you until I tried existing online for the first time. About a year ago, I created a website showcasing my projects and a few stories I wanted to share. I had a little visit counter on the page, and I was very proud of my 100 page visits. My sister, being the wonderful person she is, absolutely loved the website and decided more people should see my work. To spread the word, she went to what is historically the warmest, kindest internet platform there is: Reddit. After hitting up a few subreddits promoting my stuff, the comments started rolling in. Hate comment after hate comment, internet troll after internet troll, she just watched in horror. Mind you, I didn’t know any of this was happening. All I saw was in the span of about 15 minutes, my website had 200—300—400 hits. Eventually, the posts were deleted, and her account was banned for self-promotion. She later called me and sent me screenshots of some of the comments, explaining what happened. Reading through the ones she saved, I truly couldn’t fathom how people formed such intense judgements about me so quickly. To the one commenter that said I seemed thoughtful, thanks. I still have that screenshot saved.

Kreider’s “mortifying ordeal of being known” quickly exploded onto meme pages across platforms. Plenty of the memes took the message seriously, including the duality of the rewards of being loved along with the mortifying ordeal of being known. Others focused solely on the mortification. A brief aside, “mortification” comes from the Latin word that means “death,” and I suppose it’s telling that we use it to describe great embarrassment, because on some level, that shame feels like a form of death. In late 2019, the next iteration of the “mortifying ordeal of being known” took over the Internet: being perceived. While “being perceived” is not a direct predecessor of the mortifying ordeal, they share a similar space in terms of meaning. Both comment on others being aware of you, but they differ in response. Heavily shaped by the mass quarantines at the beginning of the pandemic, “being perceived” led to a re-imagining of the self, one where in order to exist socially, you needed an online presence. That online presence took the form of Zoom meetings, Instagram stories, Tweets about toilet paper shortages, and plenty more. Suddenly, the mortifying ordeal of being known was no longer just the price you paid to enjoy the rewards of being loved, it was prerequisite to not living in total isolation.

Jon, around the same time in 2019 that the “being perceived” meme became popular, you and I performed an Evolution of Music medley at our school benefit concert. We wore matching blue suits, and our band poster—along with saying Jonik—had a painting of a duck wearing a tuxedo. I remember grabbing dinner right before, I remember doing a practice run in the debate room, and I remember not being able to see during the performance. Just before we performed, we were off to the side of the stage when the MC announced us to the audience. I grabbed a chair for you to sit in because, well, cellists need chairs. As we reached the center of the stage, I handed you the chair, and I looked out at the audience. By that point, we’d stood before plenty of audiences, but that night, I felt seen in a way I hadn’t felt before. My brain decided, Hey, I’m not really a fan of this. I don’t want to know that I’m being seen, so I stopped. My eyes glazed over, and for the entire performance, I could not see a single thing. I couldn’t see you, I couldn’t see the audience, I could barely see my own hands. There was no real fear or embarrassment associated with performing, I just didn’t want to be perceived. I think we played well.

The memes surrounding “being perceived” characterize it as something that just happens. You have no real control, you just have to be perceived, and that’s how it is. In my experience, that’s not how it actually works. Just like “the mortifying ordeal of being known” is the price you pay for “the rewards of being loved,” “being perceived” is in some ways transactional. Sure, my eyes may have been glazed over, but that night, the Jonik band was still perceived, and in exchange, we had an attentive audience right in front of us. I may have received some hateful comments about my website, but plenty of people actually stopped to read the things I wrote. Even today, as our podcast audience grows, every listener takes time out of their day to listen to what we have to say. Yes, our audience is perceiving us, but more importantly, the people perceiving us have become our audience. Were we never perceived, we wouldn’t have an audience. If you, wonderful listener, didn’t perceive us, this would just be Jonik speaking into the void.

In an age where attention is the most valuable commodity, “being perceived” is the price you pay for an audience. That audience might be a random coworker or an actual auditorium full of people. Either way, make the most of that opportunity. Play some cool music, explain some interesting etymologies, just share something worth sharing. Sure, it’s terrifying, but most good things are at first. In the end, you’ll be grateful that they stopped to listen. I know I am.

Jon, congrats on taking the MCAT. I’ll see you when I see you.


  1. I Know What You Think of Me by Tim Kreider