There are probably infinite takeaways from Jessica Pressler's excellent piece in The Cut on socialite-ish scammer Anna Delvey, who—despite not having rich person hair—managed to convince a lot of people that she was inordinately wealthy and then scammed both friends and businesses alike out of thousands upon thousands of dollars in cash and meals and hotel rooms, making Delvey an instant cult hero to scammers everywhere. But one of the takeaways is undoubtedly the question: Are we living in the Age of the Scammer?
It seems like… we could be. Maybe we are! Because while, yes, there have been scammers throughout history (let us never forget the iconic hipster grifter), there's probably a good argument about how things like, um, late capitalism and the ubiquity of people who are so wealthy that they launch things into space for the hell of it and, I don't know, the ease of e-banking and maybe even the gig economy has made scammers of us all in a sense—or at least has made more and more of us relate to those grifters who mostly scam unsympathetic targets, like people associated with Purple magazine or hotel owners. And, in fact, the idea that everyone is now a low-key scammer is one of the threads running throughout Pressler's story, as it becomes more and more clear that all the people who could be considered Delvey's "friends" were really just hanging around so that she could buy them dinners and clothes and, sometimes, trips to Morocco.
But not all scams have to do with money, and, actually, it's debatable that Delvey's scamming was strictly money-related. One of the more interesting parts of the piece was the way in which it became clear that money (which Delvey notes is pretty easy to come by as "like, there’s an unlimited amount of capital in the world, you know?") was just an ancillary interest, and what Delvey was really after was having influence and making friends and feeling as if she were being seen as the valuable person she knew herself to be, regardless of her wealth.
Making people think you are talented is, I fully believe, the ultimate scam, and seeing it expressed so plainly made me think about a scam that feels like everyone is pulling right now: synesthesia.
Are you… not familiar with synesthesia? You might be the last person online who isn't. Synesthesia—the phenomenon by which sensory abilities blur so that you can, for example, see letters as having certain colors or hear what the number four sounds like—is everywhere right now, with articles popping up all over the place. It's also been having a moment on Twitter with a fascinating thread by writer Caroline Moss, about how she sees the days of the week as having colors and shapes, having inspired multiple articles, including one on Lifehacker titled "You May Have Synesthesia And Not Know It."
This article is not the greatest, because it diagnoses Moss with synesthesia (and initially called her "honey"), despite Moss having already said she doesn't think she has synesthesia. However, because it emphasizes the fact that synesthesia can kind of be whatever you want it to be, and you could live your whole life not even knowing you have it, what this article did remind me of is this: Synesthesia is the best scam, because, even when it's not a scam and is something you totally and fully experience, it still sort of feels like it could be a scam, since, not only is it all in your head, but also, since there is no singular, right way to experience this specific, neurological, sensory blur, nobody can say you don't have it, which they could do if you try and convince them you have millions of dollars in a Swiss bank account.
Here is what else makes an objectively good scam: You get people to believe cool things about you, which benefits you in ways both intangible and sometimes tangible, and nobody gets hurt. Synesthesia checks off all these boxes, and I know this because, ever since I read an old interview with Vladimir Nabokov about how he and his wife and son all saw letters as having definite colors, but they all associated different colors and letters than one another, I was like, Oh cool, there's something I could pretend I do, too. I was maybe… 14? This is a great age to start to be a scammer, and as it was a victimless scam, I felt totally fine using it and eventually incorporating my synesthesia into my college application essay, because why not? And guess what, I got into the college I wanted to get into, so there's a tangible benefit right there, because maybe my synesthesia was the tipping point? Who knows.
Of course, scamming is always going to be controversial, because it's really just a nice word for lying, and you can't live your life just telling lies; even if you do believe them, they are still lies. But when scamming is done for good reasons, like in order to shed a light on a corrupt society which bends over backward to accommodate people who have tons of money or to get into college, then it's okay, I think.
And so if you really do have synesthesia—or, for that matter, if you really do have millions of dollars in a Swiss bank account—that's all well and good, but if you are also just scamming people about having either of those things, I'm totally supportive of that, too, since, in the words of Delvey, even though there's tons of money floating around in the world, "there’s limited amounts of people who are talented." So be talented. Smell your Tuesdays. Scam a rich person. Just be careful out there, and make sure to get a good blowout so your scam won't get discovered too soon.