People ask why I write. The truthful answer is: I don’t know what else to do. I’ve already been doing it for a decade, and it’s how I make my money. Starting a new vocation doesn’t appeal to me. (I like to avoid high-risk, low-reward effort at all times.)
That’s not to say my writing’s great. It’s better (and more profitable) than my music — but in much the same way that a Mazda can scorch a Hyundai over a quarter-mile.
The first person to ever tell me my writing wasn’t any good — aside from angry Internet comments — was someone very, very close to me. And it cut pretty deep. So I stopped writing, because the idea of doing something that actively turned off someone so close to me is a fate worse than a thousand lashes. That person left my life. When she did, I started writing again. A lot.
I began pouring my every waking thought onto paper, writing about monsters that scare me. And, like the very best monsters in all the most thrilling films, the monsters I fear the most are the demons who hold me under their possession. And after a lot of spilled words and stray thoughts, I was able to reach an uneasy conclusion: I had a disease. I was full of shit. And, then, I looked in the mirror and realized — in no small or uncertain terms — that I was the shit I was full of. I suppose this essay is an atonement. Or a correction. Or an acknowledgment, at the very least. Whatever it is, it’s all I have: Like I said, I don’t know what else to do.
I bring this all up to talk about social media.
For what’s felt like an eternity, I felt a need to be heard. I felt a need to be seen. And for a long time, I quenched this thirst by posting incessantly to social media. 20,000 Facebook posts. 50,000 tweets. I did it because I was lonely, and also because and the idea of talking to people in real life scared me — because in real life I can’t edit or curate myself the way I can on my touch-screen. I could always be clever. I could always be interesting. I could always be liked, adored, envied and admired. But I was sharing too much of myself — the wrong parts of myself — and then I lost my actual sense of self. I became lonely, because I realized that the real me had vanished and fled to unreachable, unknowable depths. I couldn’t even remember my life before I started filtering it through the lens of status updates.
And so I developed an insatiable desire to reconnect with myself, and become closer and more intimate with people close to me. So I made a decision late last year: I wanted to stop posting to Facebook and Twitter. Since January 1, I’ve done exactly that. Instead, I’ve spent 2018 working on becoming more secure in the way I relate to people — and writing about it here at Medium. It’s going pretty well.
Meanwhile, we’re finding out now that the gamification of social media — the likes, the comments, the hearts, the claps, the friends, the followers — makes it dangerously addictive and is destroying the fabric of society. It’s why everyone’s Instagram looks vaguely the same, and why now everyone visits the walls of restaurants instead of the restaurants themselves.
We’ve become distorted, homogenized, airbrushed, photoshopped, Instagrammed approximations of our ideal selves. Our real names and real pictures now stand in as avatars for a certain aesthetic. We’ve all become Human Highlight Films — and the better the highlights, the better the human.
This is not finding beauty in the boring. This is projecting beauty in the boring. This is not finding joy in the everyday, this is broadcasting joy in the everyday. Nobody is as happy as they appear. Nobody is as successful as they are for the five minutes out of the 24 hours each day at which they peak. That 483-like profile picture — the best of the 61 selfies we took in that ten-minute span, washed in filters and in just the right light — is vacuum-sealed validation. This is not a reflection, this is a distortion.
Our friend lists, photo albums and shared links are all carefully curated to represent and reflect ourselves at our most desirable, most likable, most True To Ourselves(TM). Except on occasion, when we post that rare peek behind the curtain in the shape of a black-and-white candid shot of ourselves, with a caption where we explain the virtues of vulnerability, even as those pictures and posts are edited and filtered to death and/or given an unvarnished sheen to reflect the starkness and seriousness with which we wish to be taken.
This obsession with participating in, and lording over our own micro-empires in, the grand Shareable Content Marketplace(TM) has left us all in poverty of spirit, enslaved to our egos, stagnated in our personal growth, and obsessed with our image. It is a sickness, and a deficit of virtue. It’s causing us to become crazed creatures who are either losing or feigning interest in absolutely everyone and everything.
We’re projecting authenticity, while the truth disappears. We’re ravenous for attention, but what we’re really starving for is love. I examine my feelings about it, and wonder what story people are trying to tell the world about themselves. What picture we are trying to paint. But, most importantly, I wonder why we feel the need to paint that picture at all. It’s performance art. Except without the art. I examine my own pathology, and think it’s possible we might all do it to feel a little less lonely, and a little more important.
Our lives are lonely. No one can ever really know the 24×7, underneath-the-skin version of us. Yet the constant wall of content that’s meant to bring us closer to others actually makes us more distant. Our lives are also impermanent, and everything feels more important than it is. Our lives are tiny and random, like bees or sharks. It is through our own deluded sense of self-worth, our ego and our ambitions that we convince ourselves our lives are these grand, big things worthy of parades and newspaper clippings.
By our false belief in our own exceptionalism, we’re burying ourselves in a sea of sameness and monotony, and suddenly it’s impossible to gauge what’s truly big from what’s truly small. It’s all become mediocre basic life dressed up in the trappings of quasi-art, as the Venn diagram between brands and people continue to blur and overlap. We’re trying to become less lonely and more meaningful by creating exponentially more tenuous connections, when what we should really be doing is becoming more secure in ourselves and the connections we already have.
Becoming secure in ourselves and our connections starts with simply being aware of our surroundings. Where are you? Who is with you? How do you feel? How do you feel about them? What do you want to do? Notice these things. Embrace them. This is the opposite of turning our smartphone into a screening app through which we can exhaustively filter, delete, edit and tune out the life we used to see through our own eyes and process in our own hearts.
You can tell we’ve drifted so far from awareness by the way we’ve been talking about it. Somewhere along the way, we stopped telling people to say “thank you,” and started telling people to “practice gratitude.” We stopped telling people to “shut the fuck up” and started telling people to “practice mindfulness.” We’re caught on a mill of making being merely aware feel like more work than it used to be. We don’t need to do this — we can just be. Notice people. Be present for them. Ask follow-up questions. Exchange ideas. And constantly do this for yourself. Observe how you feel. Be present for you. Question your condition. Find solutions to your problems. This is awareness. This is the path to finding truth and peace, and the quickest escape route off the hashtag-living-my-best-life hamster wheel.
Only when we’ve cultivated awareness can we trust what we see. Only when we trust what we see can we become secure in ourselves and connections. And only from security can a healthy, meaningful love truly blossom — and our loneliness can melt away into the sea.
Perhaps I am just lamenting awareness as a dead technology, or thinking that perhaps reality is now just too impermanent and lonely to deal with anymore. I don’t know a lot beyond what the mind watches and what scalds the heart — the things I’m aware of, and the things that I write about.
Since I left social media, I’ve already noticed myself cultivating deeper relationships with the people I care about, and started listening to a softer, sweeter voice in my own head. Most of my writing is still shit, but I have fun making it. I don’t care what it does in the Shareable Content Marketplace. The creation is the beauty itself. The process is the point. Not everything that I do has to be competitive, not everything is a contest to be won or a truckload of likes to be garnered. These are misguided Western values cloaked in capitalism, barbarism and vanity.
The only way we beat back the twin-barreled firing squad of loneliness and impermanence is by staying healthy, and doing things that matter to us, with the people we love. That’s how we live a full, if tiny, life. It all starts with awareness — and from there, the world opens up.
My only life goals are to see the sun often, and drink my coffee black while it’s out. And then to make love under the stars. My happiness is not material. I can’t get it or achieve it, and it’s not exclusive to me. My writing is how I pass the time, and it’s part of how I connect on a deeper level with people. My words will live on long after I’ve gone, because the Internet is for fucking ever. I suppose this is how I will achieve my own trite version of immortality.
I’ll be back on social media in 2019 (probably), and by the very nature of what I do I can’t deactivate my accounts completely, but I promise my data trail won’t become my legacy — my relationships with people will be. I don’t need to always be clever, interesting, liked, adored, envied, admired, seen or heard. I can simply be me, off the grid, and secure. Sharing more by posting less. Being a body instead of a brand. And writing more. I’m not a human highlight film — I’m merely a human. And, goddammit, I intend to stay human. I don’t know what else to do.