outfit # 79: all i'm saying is all i'm saying
Think about all the effort we go to separating ourselves from nature – the physical, emotional and mental barriers that keep us from remembering that we are as pivotal to our ecosystem as the rain and sun are.
And then we consider ourselves superior for our ability to live above nature, godlike beings wielding weedwackers and Round Up. We can control the appearance of the natural world, both outside of us and on us. We are more advanced than animal. Earth. Who needs it? Let's colonize the moon.
Helping us separate ourselves from our world is our personal involvement with social media. Siri, what is a human connection? We’ve created an alternate space that exists without the use of nature at all. Except for a cute slow-mo video of snow falling for Instagram. Or an inspirational shot of a silhouette outlined by a Pantone Orange 021C sun.
The line between reality and our digital projection of reality becomes thinner daily. Did I have a good time if I didn't share a cute snapstory of my night?
I recently finished reading I'll Have What She's Having: How Nora Ephron's Three Iconic Films Saved the Romantic Comedy by Erin Carlson. When writing on the pre-production of the final of the three major films discussed, You've Got Mail, Carlson tells how Meg Ryan was trained to learn AOL e-mail and instant messenger. Ryan was disinterested in learning it besides for the role. She didn't see the appeal. The film was distributed in 1998. Twenty years ago you could live without E-Mail.
Our digital lives seem inseparable from our real lives. Among all the things social media does for us as a species these two seem the most dangerous: we feel validated by how others “accept” us (like, retweet etc) and it offers the ability to feel in control. Our self-worth becomes dependent on the interactions we have with others online. We forget that we are as in control as a falling leaf.
(Maybe you want an analogy that takes longer. Why can’t the leaf float down a long winding river? Why can’t our lives be candles with incredibly, and really, unreasonably long wicks that burn and burn until they crescendo and climax to a gentle soft fade to nothing? Because that’s not how it works. We are falling leaves. This is my blog post and I won’t cater to your comfort. This one I find most effective because it doesn’t disillusion you into thinking there is an incredible amount of time to get things right, to learn, to love, to see the world. You will not get all things right, learn everything you want to learn, love everyone you want to love or see the deep corners of the world you want to explore. And you’re end won’t be a gentle crescendo into blackness. I mean, it probably won’t.)
Tavi Gevinson wrote an incredible Editor’s Letter this month that spiraled out of the nearly nonexistent line between our digital lives and I-have-an-actual-heartbeat-and-that’s-validation-enough lives. She too mirrored the Allegory of the Cave. She talks about a lot of things. You should read it.
In the letter, she describes how click bait articles have advanced to a new level of stupid, my wording – not hers, and it is a ghastly insult to writing/expression/experience in general. Again, my opinion, not hers. It is an epidemic that distracts us from our own heartbeats and the soft breath of the people around us.
When I arrive in Hell, the Devil will sound like a 2017 headline: hyperbolic, #relatable, manipulating its audience with the false intimacy of chattiness combined with moral righteousness and absolutism and authority, with nothing to actually offer but a screenshot of a celebrity tweet followed by other people’s angry tweets in response, look at all these tweets, let’s just keep clicking and scrolling and watching until we’ve become even more complicit in the deaths of our neighbors, our country, our planet.
People shouldn’t get separation anxiety from their Twitter accounts. (brb turning off notifications for Instagram) We shouldn’t be dependent on it to connect with people either. I use it to connect with people. But I like to believe I could maintain my friendships without it. I also like to believe that the projection of myself that I share online is an accurate reflection of my actual self. But is that even possible?
Gevinson writes, “We’re born with fears and anxieties, they’re stoked by life experience, and we don’t always get to choose when we’re acting out of a desire to be liked and when our intentions are pure.”
Intention. What is a pure intention, and how is anything we post online pure? It’s all shared in the desire to be liked, to create for ourselves a certain kind of person not for ourselves, but for others to admire, appreciate, accept, debate, hate etc.
In David Foster Wallace’s short story Good Old Neon, he writes “I experienced everything in terms of how it affected people’s view of me and what I needed to do to create the impression of me I wanted them to have.” (145)
The short story is about a man who knows he is a fraud and the efforts he goes through to recognize and hopefully change his facade. (Spoiler: he doesn’t.) But I think the descriptions are true to our online experience. Is it authentic? Is it natural?
The character ruminates on paradoxes throughout the story. For instance, “the fraudulence paradox was that the more time and effort you put into trying to appear impressive or attractive to other people, the less impressive or attractive you felt inside — you were a fraud” (147) and “A corollary to the fraudulence paradox is that you simultaneously want to fool everyone you meet and yet also somehow always hope that you’ll come across someone who is your match or equal and can’t be fooled.” (155)
In this way, social media is a paradox. The more you interact on it, the more connected you feel, the more validated you feel, when your connections are mirage relationships in comparison to touch, sound, warmth, watching your date watch a movie, just to see their face up close, their experience, and recognizing fully how you are on the outside and this moment like all moments, will pass. But wasn’t it great, in the infinite present, to appreciate it?
The character in Good Old Neon is imagining what it would look like when he drove his car into an abutment. This is his final solution to being an inescapable fraud. He frets that the boom, pow of his car crashing would look intentionally dramatic. When he wasn’t being intentionally dramatic. He wanted to be effective and unnoticed so he wouldn’t spend the last few moments of his life thinking how it might be perceived by someone else.
He writes, “This is the sort of shit we waste our lives thinking about.” (177)