Under the Influence – Stuck in Customs

How do you reduce your own internal suffering?

People suffer for all sorts of reasons. And now, there is a new reason, and, often, it’s the principle cause: Online Social Media Anxiety.

I really explored this topic in depth in the new book, but here are some more quick thoughts for you on the subject matter.

Early on, I developed a Very Thick skin on social media because I had so much negativity and hate about the nature of my photos. I learned to develop this amazing skill: I’m AMAZING at ignoring people. Especially idiots.

Now, this combined with all my studying of mindfulness and consciousness has given me a perfect set of tools to still engage in social media and not be affected by any negativity.

Here’s a little tip for you. A mind vitamin. Notice the next time something bothers you on Social Media. The mere act of noticing you are bothered is a good step. Who is the one noticing? Is it the one that is bothered or the one that is noticing the one be bothered? A thought-shift, you see? Step 2 is to understand that things that bother you are things that do not agree with the egoic-story you are telling yourself. It’s an assault on your constructed identity. If you fight back, it’s not really you, it’s just your ego reinforcing its own story in defense mode. Your story may not be true at all! In fact, it’s possible for you to exist as a human being without having a complex set of stories that have to constantly defend. These constant battles. This endless war of defending your stories. This is what causes suffering and anxiety.

Social media amplifies this anxiety because they WANT you to be engaged in the public defense of your ideas or the attacking of others (this is really the same thing). Never before have you been able to engage in a nonstop constant public defense of your egoic stories. Your ego secretly loves it and feeds off it, starving you of mindfulness.

So, just notice, that before social media came along, you didn’t have this particular type of suffering in your life. It’s manufactured, amplified, and presented to you on a glass screen all day long. Take tiny steps… aim low… and try to engage a little less every day in the public defense of yourself.

Real Instagram handles and names are used throughout as examples. I provide my personal opinion on what may constitute fraudulent behavior on social media, based on the evidence and data available to me. The reader is welcome to draw their own conclusions.

Facebook Group

If you want to join the discussion about my new book, we have a Facebook Group active with interesting tidbits and updates.

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Interview about How to Stay Zen on Social Media at Google

The new book is still doing great on Amazon so thanks for that! If you don’t have your copy yet, now is a great time to grab it! Or even get one for a friend!

When I was out in San Francisco a few weeks ago, I was invited to do an interview about the topics in the book with Bradley Horowitz. It was a really fun conversation, and I bring it to you thusly!

Behind the Scenes of my New Book – Part 2

Here’s a behind-the-scenes video about the making of the book. As with most projects, they are way more involved than I can anticipate. I always KNOW this going into a project… that it will be a lot more work than I think, but it never ceases to surprise me when I think I am 90% done, but I’m only 50% done!

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How Many of the Most Popular Influencers Are Faking It?

That’s the big question.

A lot.

In the book, I’ve given you some publicly available tools to check and the methods to see if their apparent influence stacks up. I believe that at least 99% of real humans that use Instagram are not buying followers, comments, and likes. But then again, only the top 1% of the most followed people on Instagram (the last stat I saw was people with over 150,000 followers), are the ones that have any monetary incentive to fake it. Some people in bottom 99% may want to get to the top 1% so they can get cash and free stuff by representing brands, and the surest way to do that is to buy your way in by purchasing non-human bots that appear to be real.

And the answer can be in the grey zone. Some people buy close to 100% of their followers, likes, and comments. Some around 70%, some less than 10%. Also, some purchase services that use the follow/unfollow method of gaining random followers that is similarly against Instagram’s T&C’s. And maybe that follow/unfollow has helped them get most or just a few of their followers. It’s a sliding scale. Others use small pods or mega pods to pad their numbers. I think most people can agree that almost any percentage easily passes the Rubicon into the unethical.


On a side note, it may seem as though I am crying foul because this entire enterprise is financially damaging to me. I do indeed make money from some Influencer deals, but it accounts for less than 5% of my small art company’s overall income. The vast majority is from fine art sales. I simply ended up figuring all this stuff out because I ended up on some gigs with some fraudsters, and I realized what a mess the whole industry has become. Very few people seem to be talking about it openly, and I think mine is the first book that does a deep dive on the subject matter and its overall societal impact both economically and sociologically.

As far as how many users are real, I doubt Instagram will ever officially say because I honestly don’t think even they can figure it out. Or, if they actually can figure it out and are letting them continue to create a counterfeit economy, well then that speaks to a larger corporate issue about inflating numbers. However, I believe the former is true: the bots and scripts (and burgeoning AI) out there are too clever for Instagram to discern what is fake and what is real.

For example, you’d think an account that looks real and posts stories every day must be real, right? Well, I’ve found several bots that post tons of daily stories, all of which are fake (scraped from other accounts so as to appear real). It takes a while for a human to figure out if an account is real or not, via methods described in the book, and it is not clear Instagram has mastered an automated way to do this.

Personally, I believe they are undermining the online economy in which too many people trust. If people don’t trust in an economy (ala Venezuela), it can cause extreme unrest amongst its citizens. Yuval Noah Harari has a great concept in his books illustrating that humans are the only animal on Earth that can cooperate with strangers because we all can believe in fictions. For example, the meter, hour, and dollar don’t physically exist, but we all agree on the story of these, so we can make agreements with strangers. New constructs have now emerged as the follower, like, and comment. If these fundamentals cannot be trusted, the entire framework can fall apart. I believe this is why it’s in Instagram’s best interest to clean it up.

Real Instagram handles and names are used throughout as examples. I provide my personal opinion on what may constitute fraudulent behavior on social media, based on the evidence and data available to me. The reader is welcome to draw their own conclusions.

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Maybe I Should Not Have Published This Book?

This is one of many stream-of-consciousness polemics about the new book. I know the book is controversial; I don’t expect these posts to be less so.

Many people warned me not to publish this book including my COO, my wife, my accountant, and @miss.everywhere. In a rather exaggerated state of solipsism, I decided to publish it anyway.

One person you will not see in the enumerated list above is my attorney. In a phone call before we published, she affirmatively acquiesced, “It’s not libel if it’s true.” That provided me a bit of vim to my vigor and I doubled down with the data analysis. Under her direction, as she parried my social pariah predilection, prefaced the book with the proper wording to ensure that the public could make up their own minds based on the data.

I must admit that I did awaken some mornings, between that dream state of sleep and wake, in worry. Maybe I shouldn’t pull back the curtain to show the wizard? Maybe everyone knows it’s a silly game? The literati certainly know we’re in a simulation, but perhaps the others are willingly playing the game, too dull to rise above it. That one seemed a bit nihilistic. Thoughts of this nature danced around with no end.



As with many things in life, it boils down to living a life without fear. The crux of the book, for those of you that have made it to the later chapters, know the book is more about how to stay zen on the Internet, live life without fear and without ego. The book certainly airstrikes egoistic fraudsters with unapologetic napalm. But let that act as a counterpoint, an alternative, to living your life in a way to uncover and share your true self. When you see people “acting out” on social media, understand this is their fear-instinct acting to protect its own egoic construct. If it repels you, recoil into your true self. You may not know that true self, but be open to letting it develop without any need to share it online.

If you want to give the book a read and decide for yourself go buy a Kindle or physical copy on Amazon.

I started a conversation (please share your thoughts) about this artificial world into which we’ve been thrust here on Facebook. Yes, I see the irony of that link.

-T-

Real Instagram handles and names are used throughout as examples. I provide my personal opinion on what may constitute fraudulent behavior on social media, based on the evidence and data available to me. The reader is welcome to draw their own conclusions.

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Tribal Boy in Papua New Guinea

The Kevin Rose Show

Hey everyone! Here’s a really fun podcast I did on the Kevin Rose Show. We talk about all sorts of things like fine art, the new book, Japan, Burning Man, psychedelics, and more!

Here’s a list of timestamps:

EPISODE NOTES
00:13 — Kevin talks natural UVB supplementation
00:39 — Who is Trey Ratcliff?
00:53 — Trey’s short film, Life From Above, and Beyond, with words from Alan Watts
00:59 — Who is Alan Watts?
01:30 — Intro to Trey
03:23 — Kevin on Trey’s 360 Podcast
03:27 — Interview begins
04:12 — Trey’s 360 Podcast
04:37 — Insta 360 One X
05:43 — Trey’s podcast topics & release info
06:11 — Walking & talking
06:28 — Nature & calm
07:00 — Forest bathing
07:30 — Japan, wind chime garden
07:51 — Japan, puppet town
08:41 — Japan, fishy ice skating rink
09:22 — Travel in extremes, embracing new experiences, travel & connection
11:07 — Trey’s family move to New Zealand & travel ‘round the world
11:35 — Trey’s family tour of world religions
13:21 — Trey’s professional roots, finding photography as an adult
15:07 — Trey’s “moment” with nature photography & digging in
16:15 — Coding for better photos
17:16 — Retinex
17:28 — Trey’s blog
17:49 — Trey on Creative Commons, free tutorials
19:13 — Trey’s evolution – passion into business
20:13 — Collectors & limited edition prints
21:13 — Book, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark
21:38 — “…people want what is rare…”
22:18 — Pricing collectible art, swapping art, & smaller collector prints
26:21 — Trey’s new book, Under the Influence – How To Fake Your Way Into Getting Rich on Instagram: Influencer Fraud, Selfies, Anxiety, Ego and Mass Delusional Behavior
29:27 — Brand-building from a place of authenticity
31:25 — Buying followers, influencer marketing fraud, & fake account anecdotes
35:08 — Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, by Yuval Noah Harari
36:12 — “Maybe this is the year of fake followers…”
37:42 — Kevin Kelly, Wired
39:23 — Legitimate tactics & tools to grow a following
40:20 — Stephen Tobolowsky, EG Conference
40:25 — Storytelling, anxiety, mass delusional behavior, Dunbar’s 150
42:28 — “Podding” on Instagram
46:04 — Instagram security, pod detection, Digg security anecdote
49:22 — Practical jokes, buying followers, custom comments
50:19 — Back to the book, how to differentiate & build a following
51:30 — Trey’s best advice on life – true self, storytelling, honesty
53:58 — Exploring life, finding what’s exciting, childlike mindset
56:12 — Psychedelics & sense of self, creativity
57:35 — Alcohol & drugs, Trey’s family
59:17 — Burning Man, mushrooms, removing filters & intellectual stimulation
1:00:55 — Trey on what psychedelics & hallucinogens do for him, meditation practice
1:05:11 — Sharing consciousness with others
1:06:12 — “I think it’s up to artists & creatives to save the world.”
1:06:23 — Clinical trials, benefits, & uses of mushrooms; childlike wonder
1:10:46 — Michael Pollan on The Kevin Rose Show, How To Change Your Mind, by Michael Pollan
1:11:52 — Institutional anxiety about psychedelics & resurgence in intellectual community
1:13:39 — Opioid, benzo addiction & natural compound psychedelic treatments
1:15:14 — Psychedelic work with reputable counselor, family anecdote
1:16:20 — Closing & Trey’s hope for his work going forward

Daily Photo – Tribal Boy in Papua New Guinea

Check out this little badass! I think he probably could have killed me with his bow and arrow if he wanted to. However, he seemed to like me. After I took the photo I showed it to him and he gave me some sign like a thumbs up. It also could have been a fuck you, but I didn’t get that vibe.

Tribal Boy in Papua New Guinea

Photo Information

  • Date Taken2015-10-13 12:16:16
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/3200
  • Aperture
  • ISO640
  • Focal Length
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramManual
  • Exposure Bias

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Awesome Tokyo

Interview on USA Today about the New Book!

I was just interviewed by USA Today about the new book. Here it is for ya! This was a fun interview and I hope it helps to ease some of the undue anxiety out there on social media! You can find the audio below and here’s a link to the book.

Daily Photo – Awesome Tokyo

I feel like I jump on here every week and talk about how awesome Japan is. It reminds me a little bit of Austin in a strange way… in that, in Austin, everyone sits around coffee shops and talks about how awesome Austin is. It’s sort of a strange thing, and quite the existential self-compliment. But, I do the same thing in Japan when I meet another English speaker. It’s always the same conversation: “Can you believe how awesome Japan is?” then they say, “Yes, how about the Japanese people?!?” then I say, “Yeah, like totes.”

Awesome Tokyo

Photo Information

  • Date Taken2017-11-03 00:43:32
  • CameraX1D
  • Camera MakeHasselblad
  • Exposure Time1/15
  • Aperture3.5
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length30.0 mm
  • Flash
  • Exposure ProgramManual
  • Exposure Bias

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How many people believe in the idealized lives they see online?

Even though my new book is called “Under the Influence – How to Fake Your Way into Getting Rich on Instagram: Influencer Fraud, Selfies, Anxiety, Ego, and Mass Delusional Behavior” it’s not just those engaged with fraudulent behavior that portray an idealized life. It makes sense that those that fake their followings, comments, and likes would, of course, take photos that make them have a perfect life because of a purse, an outfit, a vacation, or a myriad of other materialistic things. Obviously, they want you to think that having more stuff or more glamourous vacations makes them a better person, and you too can be a better person if you just get these products and services they mention. Most of that is out of reach for people, so it naturally depresses them and causes anxiety. To me, this is a second crime against the public, as not only are they portraying a nearly impossible lifestyle, but they faked their numbers to get these products and opportunities. The public thinks it’s all real, and it causes undue anguish on a pandemic level.

So, let’s stop talking about those sorts of people for a moment (the ones committing fraudulent activity), and instead talk about all the other people out there who portray a perfect lifestyle. No doubt many of them are emulating those above, but there’s a huge Venn diagram overlap with basic ego tied any or all of the following: body image, materialism (bags or cars), special events, vacations, and this sort of thing. I’m not saying that every one of those posts is ego fuelled. For example, sometimes people just like to show off a new outfit without conceit. But, the more harmful ones are the type where they are either subtly (via a humble-brag) or overtly illustrating that their lives are incredible and they really want you to know about it. Because, in their twisted logic, only if you KNOW about it, then it must be true.

Some of these are paid posts from sponsors, where people may get paid a few thousand dollars to talk about anything from a teeth whitening product to a special sort of tea. They usually have special directives from marketing to explain a few talking points about their product. They are puppets telling you that if you had XXXX, your life would be better.


This kind of Influencer marketing is especially insidious because it sounds so authentic coming from a person you think you know. We all see ads on TV that tell you your life would be better with a certain car or your babies would be happier with a certain diaper. But we have grown numb to most of those as that’s what we expect with commercials. But when you hear about something from TV personality you respect, it has a different effect on your mind. It’s almost as good as a recommendation from a friend.

I believe the vast majority of “showing off” posts are not paid posts, but instead, people emulating the paid posts (of both authentic and inauthentic Influencers). As we all know and lament, there is a dirge of originality in the world, which means at least 90% of human behavior is merely a copy. I’m being generous and saying 10% of the 8 billion people on Earth create something entirely new that is interesting enough to be copied. Everything else is either a copy or an obvious derivation.

Remember too that it may not be the photo so much as the description that they copy to try to induce engagement. They may ask, “What is your favorite dessert?” or “If you could be in a jacuzzi in any country in the world, which one would it be?” or “What is your guilty pleasure?” Keep in mind this is a method they copy from other Influencers to get you to respond. The important thing to remember is: they don’t care about your actual response; they only care about a lot of comments.

Because some of the most-followed accounts are the ones that get the paid endorsements, less-followed accounts that aspire to that lifestyle end up copying the style, mood, and contents of their photos. And this is why your feed is full of such vapid, relatively uninspired content. But when you see dozens or hundreds of posts of people living the perfect life (90% of which are copies of paid posts), it will end up having an effect on your psyche.

Again, if you’re having an awesome experience or you feel great about the way you look today, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with sharing it online, as long as you’re not subtly or overtly making yourself sound superior to your followers.

How to get around this anxiety? Well, I talk a lot about this in the book. In fact, the whole second half of the book is dedicated to this topic of self-preservation in the online world. I could have called the book “How to Stay Zen on the Internet,” but I like the more clickbaity title. Besides the ideas in the book, here are some additional suggestions. If you notice one Influencer in particular that you follow causes you to continually feel bad about your life, just unfollow them. There have been studies that show people rarely unfollow after they choose to follow, but you can be the exception to this rule. It’s fun to cull! Another idea is to seek out accounts that make truly original, funny, or interesting content that inspires you and improves your mind or your life.

Consider this is your friendly weekly reminder that you shouldn’t believe everything you see on Instagram, especially if it feels too good to be true.

Real Instagram handles and names are used throughout as examples. I provide my personal opinion on what may constitute fraudulent behavior on social media, based on the evidence and data available to me. The reader is welcome to draw their own conclusions.

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Behind the Scenes of my New Book

Inside info in the new book… The Making Of…

Now, this may have NO interest to you at all… because it’s not even about photography… it’s about the creation process of a book. My new book, actually… so, today, for you Passport members, you get to see my towards the end-cycle of a random creative endeavor!

Passport – Book Behind the Scenes Part 1

And now for something COMPLETELY different. I’m always trying new things… I think this is very important to keep the brain plastic and always learning. I’ve never written a book of this nature before, so here is some of the behind-the-scenes stuff of the things I was working through with the book. Enjoy!

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White Sand Beaches in Florida

I’m Behind This Book

It’s kind of fun to check Amazon Best Seller Rankings for my new book. We are #1 in a few categories, but definitely not OVERALL Kindle rankings, which are full of some Rather Silly Sounding romance books. For example, my book is many slots behind, “The Benefits of Bad Decisions,” which has the following description:


After a bad decision lands me a role on a reality show, I expect it to be my big break as a TV star. Despite getting kicked off the first night, I land on my feet again when a talent agent who saw the show offers me an audition as back-up dancer for a popular rock band.

Knowing this could be my stepping stone is exciting, but the real thrill is watching Brody bang on his drums every night. It’s a bad idea for a dancer to hook up with a band member, but after he kisses me, I can’t stay away.

Facing the consequences was inevitable, and it only takes one scandalous mistake from my past to cause our complete destruction.

Bad decision or not, I always manage to come out on top… until I don’t.

Woman that Can Smell Parkinson’s

Not 100% of my time on reddit is wasted. It’s more like 99%, with this very interesting article as the 1% exception.

Daily Photo – White Sand Beaches in Florida

I didn’t know Florida had white sand beaches! I don’t know why it’s that surprising, I suppose… I just had never heard of it. I can’t imagine how many millions of years it takes for the ocean to beat down quartz rocks into this fine, powdery sand. Can anyone guess exactly what beach this is?

White Sand Beaches in Florida

Photo Information

  • Date Taken2018-01-21 09:18:06
  • CameraILCE-7RM3
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/500
  • Aperture9
  • ISO400
  • Focal Length43.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramManual
  • Exposure Bias

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I have a new book! Come grab it now exclusively on Amazon!

I almost called the book “How to Stay Zen on Social Media,” because that’s one of the main points! However, I decided to go with the more click-baity name of “Under the Influence – How to Fake Your Way Into Getting Rich on Instagram: Influencer fraud, Selfies, Anxiety, Ego, and Mass Delusional Behavior” … Catchy eh?

I see quite a bit of suffering out there on social media, and that’s why I wrote this book. I hope it is a fun way to open the door, if even just a little, to have people become more mindful in their daily activities. Social Media, if used wrongly, can really add to a lot of undue suffering.

Another source of suffering is some of these Instagram Influencer charlatans are using completely unscrupulous tricks to gain a big following and engagement to trick brands into giving them the seemingly ideal lifestyle that is perfectly Instagrammable. So, a lot of people suffer anxiety when they see this stuff online because they feel like losers. But that is all based on a lie, so there is zero need for you to have any internal suffering by comparing yourself to a crook.

I’ve accidentally become an expert in all these subject matters just because of the way I live my life. 90% of my income here at my company comes from fine art sales. A minority is from Influencer gigs and that is where I discovered this unfortunate underbelly of the Instagram world. I’m not writing this book because I feel like these people are taking anything away from me. They’re not.

These fraudsters have created what I call Mass Delusional Behavior. I get into that in the sections about selfies and the ego. You’ll find the book to be quite philosophical in an approachable way. You’ll see some of the traps a regular person can fall into that can lead to an empty life where you only feed the ego instead of becoming your true self. It shows there’s another path!

Whelp, I hope you love the book and find it interesting … it’s quite a little adventure! Grab it now on Amazon! 🙂 And, you can join the conversation in our new Facebook group at https://www.facebook.com/groups/UnderTheInfluenceBook/

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