Backstage, Gwyneth Paltrow said she was a little nervous. She wasn’t sure what she could add to the Code Conference, a high-profile tech event at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif.
Paltrow, who wore a sheer navy top and stilettos, was hanging out next to Google co-founder Sergey Brin, who wore gray Croc sandals and showed her something new on his phone. On her other side was her friend, Kleiner Perkins partner Juliet de Baubigny, who had suggested that Paltrow come to this whole tech conference in the first place. All she could really talk about onstage was anonymous apps and celebrity and stuff, but would people really care about that?
Everyone waiting backstage with her in the greenroom said, almost simultaneously: Yes, people would care.
When her time came, Paltrow furrowed her brow, sighed, put on a mic and stepped onstage. Shifting her frame, she joked about the lack of teleprompter despite all the tech CEOs in the room, and said that she would “nerd out” and hold her paper like it’s 1998. She remarked on the interviews conducted before and after her talk.
“Of all of the men that I’ve been between in my life, Satya [Nadella, Microsoft CEO] and Sergey [Brin] are certainly in their own league for what I’m used to … I didn’t expect to be in the middle of their sandwich.”
She said she had stayed up several nights trying to figure out what she could speak about, and realized she had “nothing.” But then she started to talk — her five-minute allotment turned into 15.
Her topic — which she had talked about with Re/code earlier, as well — was the “objectification and dehumanization” of anonymous Internet comments. Or, she said, how it feels to be “a person in the culture that people want to harm.”
“We can momentarily anesthetize ourselves by focusing on someone else’s life, get a nice hot shot of schadenfreude and keep going, but how does this serve us?”
Below, some interesting bits of Paltrow’s Internet philosophy:
On Facebook and misogyny: “Facebook actually started as a place to judge women on their pulchritude or lack of it. I think it’s kind of fascinating that a company that’s so huge and that would come to define much of the modern Internet was founded on this objectification of human beings.”
On trolls never being punished: “The lack of empathy that is created when people can anonymously opine about the looks or actions of others … It’s where we are in our culture. Yes, it does worry me, for the development of my kids and the next generation, that people can be so cruel without experiencing the consequences of being so cruel face to face.”
On celebrities “deserving” it: “Celebrities, we’ve always gotten stones thrown at us and, you know, for good reason: We’re annoying. Some of us look okay, we look like we have money, our lives seem great. That may or may not be the case … Nevertheless, we get it. Or, at the very least, we expect that it’s part and parcel to what we do. Anyone in any field who has their head rise above a poppy in the field, they get their heads chopped off. It’s our human nature to feel that way, and to do it. … Everybody takes shit, it’s just the way it is.”
On the bright side of having the “scabs from high school” ripped off every day: “I’ve started to see my particular journey through this as one of the more enlightening journeys of my life. … I really see it as a gift I’ve been given. … When you’ve been made fun of and excoriated and dragged through the mud and lied about for 20 years in front of the world … you actually realize it’s not about you. It really can’t be about you. Somebody has to know you for something to be about you. They can think it’s about you because you look a certain way or you’ve expressed an idea, but it can’t be, it’s not possible. You cannot be more than a representation of an internal object that person is carrying. … I’m just there, and people can throw up whatever is going on internally that you are triggering in them.
“It’s very Psych 101,” Paltrow said, adding that it feels like “the scabs from your high school wounds being ripped off on a daily basis.”
On creating an authentic self safe from online vitriol: “The part that grows impervious to negativity from a stranger is the part that has the right value, the value that you are just you. And nothing is going to change that. And the more you you can be, the more you deepen in your authenticity, no matter what anyone says. It’s no accident that as the Internet grows and all the voices grow softer and softer because there are just so many of them, we’re drawn to authenticity.”
On nasty porn and our emotional evolution: “As we think about the effects of all this stuff, our kids having to read horrible things about themselves on whatever social media, and having access to porn that would even freak me out, which says a lot,” she said. “Just kidding.”
“Perhaps the Internet has been brought to us as a test in our emotional evolution. What is growth? What is maturity? It’s being able to experience an external event and creating the space within to contain that experience, to see it through the filter of who you really are, to not be reactive. To see someone in a dress you don’t like, and instead of writing from a username like shitebomber207: ‘Who does this fat bitch think she is,’ or whatever, even though you might feel that way, just stopping and saying to yourself, ‘I wonder what this image represents to me that I feel such a surge of anger?’ To love the Internet for what it provides, but to know it’s not real, and it’s sometimes dangerous for our development.”
On her online lifestyle resource, Goop: “I don’t ever expect my venture Goop.com to contribute and advance the collective code-base or redefine social selling, though don’t count us out,” Paltrow said. “But I expect us to be ourselves no matter what the reaction, to know that it’s okay to be at once irreverent and practical. … And above all, to not give a fuck if the Facebook guys think we’re hot or not.”