Something seems to be slipping away. What is it? I forget. Most days the feeling is persistent: Where is it? What am I looking for? I can’t remember, so I sit on my side of the couch and put the computer on my lap, idly. Maybe if I see what everyone else is doing, I’ll remember what I’m supposed to be doing.
When I’m on the Internet, I’m reading constantly. A couple times a day I’ll read all of an article, but more often than not I’m reading 2 to 20 words at a time. Tiny, bite-sized chunks – little snacks all day. And the words are so small, physically. I realized recently (for the first time since getting an iPhone a few months ago) how much smaller the text is on a device than in a book or magazine. The difference is this thing is small and in your palm so it’s easy to just pull it really close to your face without thinking about it. I think it’s hurting my eyes, but I’ve only gotten a few headaches so far.
WHAT IS IT?
I know what one of the fading things is: my handwriting. I just had to re-write the word “handwriting” because I made an egregious, illegible cursive mistake. The thing I write most is my signature on debit card receipts, which increasingly looks like this:
(I may think mine is bad, but have you seen the handwriting of a high-schooler recently? I hate to generalize, knowing only a handful of teenagers, but their handwriting seems to be much worse.) I’ll inevitably type this up to transmit it [just dotted a “T”], because if it’s not typed, you can’t google the words in it.
CHECK MY EMAIL.
A few weeks ago, I had a paranoid freak-out and deleted all the personal information on my Facebook page – my gender, age, job, marital status, likes, etc. When it came to deleting my family members (Facebook has an area where you can designate who is in your family and what their relationship is to you), I hesitated. Didn’t delete those. Maybe it is because some of these relationships “happen,” in a practical sense, more often on Facebook than in real life. Mostly what went through my mind was, “I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.”
I think the purge was inspired around the time when Facebook’s stock went public [just misspelled “when”]. There was a quote circulating at that time that said something to the effect of, “Facebook is not a service. It does not seek to benefit you, it only seeks to sell you. You are the only product Facebook has ever had.” That resonated with me, but a variety of justifications prevented me from deleting my account altogether. What about the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements? Weren’t those enabled by the presence of social networks? And I’ve read a lot of interesting articles shared by my friends educating me about the world and its discontents [just misspelled “about” and “misspelled”]. I’ve been able to stay in the lives of people I rarely see who mean a lot to me and keep up with their doings. As a musician, I also have booked shows, entire tours, since increasingly I don’t have people’s email addresses or phone numbers.
So I haven’t deleted my Facebook account like my husband did (though I know he secretly logs onto my account just to “see what’s up”). Apart from all the ad revenue I generate just being on there, at least I don’t click on the ads, or choose to “like” Target or Purina Puppy Chow, or click on those new articles that you can only read with a social reader, whatever that is. I like to think [just misspelled “like”] that if I am discriminating about how I spend my time on Facebook, I am not part of the problem.
This is how I do spend my time: clicking through pictures of people I know and don’t know (each click brings up more ads); looking at meme pictures with incendiary captions or helpful how-tos; listening to friends’ bands; watching videos of things that are funny, cute, weird or scary; looking at pictures of small children and cats; learning about the upcoming events in my town and sometimes in other towns; getting worked up about this or that. Et cetera.
Sometimes, and this happened more at the outset, I spend an inordinate amount of time managing my own profile. I’ll have benders of self-obsession where I try to click through my own profile as if I were a stranger, thinking, “If I were a stranger, what would I think of me?” Click, click, click. I’ll edit a little bit. This picture, this post – those aren’t me. Delete! This picture, this is particularly me – a profile picture. Or there are the times when, post-post, I constantly reload. How many likes? Who liked it? What have they posted recently? How many likes now? Click, click, click, ad nauseum.
And then there’s the time spent not on the Internet when I’m going about the everyday business of my life but approaching it, mentally, as if it were happening on the Internet. I’ll be doing the most mundane, or humiliating, or whatever personal, dirty thing, and I’ll feel shame. Not because I am specifically averse to whatever it is I am privately doing, or because anyone is watching. I am so used to having the details of my life shared on the Internet that I have internalized the gaze and will start wanting to censor my private behavior. I’ll start being disgusted by myself to save everyone else the trouble.
The opposite is also true. If I do something particularly creative or special, I will self-aggrandize, imagining (and indeed regarding as inevitable) a viral positive response.
There is only one system of punishment and reward, and it applies to everything now, apparently.
It was this type of behavior I was trying to curb on my recent purge, thinking that I needed to disrupt these patterns in whatever ways I could. The words I had read were also reverberating: “You are the only product Facebook has ever had.” I realized it is true for me. My profile is my nutritional information, my baseball card stats. I am the product, and it’s easy for everyone because I sell myself to all the people I love and who trust me. I groom my own life to make it consumable and interesting, a series of Instragrammable, Tweetable moments.
The stuff new to Facebook since it went public, the “featured likes,” the “trending articles,” the photos and comments of friends-of-friends that we don’t even know – whatever nonsense that shows up in our news feeds now without our consent – I am grateful for this stuff. It lays bare what was sort of hidden before with the artless ham-handedness of capitalism, as subtle as a billboard on a freeway: This is making money for someone. The thread of your attention is being manipulated by something, and the thing tugging at the other end is not your friend or your relative, or really a person at all. I guess it’s the Shareholders, but I don’t really know who that is.
Discussing this is, in many ways, embarrassing. It feels like admitting to being a bed-wetter – an adult that is not able to manage things in an grown-up way. For all I know, everyone else is able to incorporate digital connectivity into their lives without feeling unhealthy or addicted. I am confessing here that I am not able to do this, and that I need help in order to stop.
I am also not overly prone to tirades or paranoia, though this subject is one of the two I am most likely to be vocal about (the other one being the Environment). Maybe it seems like only wingnuts criticize the Internet on the Internet, or anywhere else. Ubiquitous as it is, fighting against it is apparently tantamount to people resisting electric lights in the 19th century, or cars in the 20th century, or whatever other stuff that one meme about technology resistance said. In any case, being a luddite, or at least talking about supposedly being a luddite on the Internet, is clearly passé.
What I’m saying is, I went to see a therapist recently and she told me that she doesn’t think I have adult-onset ADD like I had self-diagnosed after searching symptoms on Web MD. She thinks how I feel is normal given my cultural environment, but it doesn’t feel normal. Something is missing. What is it?
Is there a prescription? For me, I think the big revelation, and the one that is going to inspire a change in my behavior, is that there is no place in my life for personal investment on Facebook. It is not a place for my idle time. It may be a place for work, for peddling and consuming creative pursuits, for sharing ideas to inspire social change. I just need to cut back. I can quit anytime. Dear everyone: please forgive me if I start to pull my real self out of the digital world.
I don’t really want to lose this sense of connectivity that is so pacifying, but maybe my brain is not big enough or fast enough to maintain all these connections [just misspelled “brain”]. In the past, when you moved away from somewhere or otherwise transitioned from one stage of life to the next, the people in that place gradually stopped appearing in your life. The best ones, the ones with whom you shared the most real and lasting relationships, those ones might maintain their place in the cast over time, but all those other ones, the extras, they faded away to make room for new cast members. Now, everyone stays.
Everyone I meet, I say “Have we met?” because I literally can never remember. Words are halting out of my mouth. My spelling has become atrocious. My brain is out of room and it feels like it wants to shut down.
I’ll keep looking for an alternative, but as of now the choices seem to be social networking or obscurity. I choose the former for the moment, because as of now all I can think about at the conclusion of this treatise, the only compulsion I have left, is