The Great American (Or Wherever) Social Media Update

“What the Great American Novel relies on as a concept is the notion that there is some unifying experience, some core or set of values, that we as Americans all share. But as our [political] life daily reminds us, this is not the case.” – David L. Ulin
A more unifying experience, a more constant one, would seem instead to be pain. People want to read and experience art about other people in pain, or works created by people in pain.
starry night van gogh
Back in the day, spiritual crises involving disappointment with life’s direction and disassociation from humanity could be held privately, or written in journals, or published as great works. You could suffer in anonymity, become lauded after your time, or maybe crash out on public radio or local TV in more recent decades, but ultimately your pain or discomfort (or idiocy) was mostly your own to do with as you would.
Now, there are differing levels of disconnect, and the dark part of the hole that you fall into, the part where the light no longer reaches and you are alone with whatever is down there, gets longer and deeper with every passing year. The emotional distance, the gulf where meaning and direction disappear from one side to the other, is wider now. This extra gap exists in a newer and somehow bleaker location, wedged between the banal-useless musings of the wi-fi-connected, social media update generation, and the disappointed grumbles of that same generation who recognises the flaws of the world and humanity but can’t reconcile them, especially to themselves. Then the chasm of old is still lurking there after, leading to the constant low point of universal disillusion, but by then you’ve already been in the dark for some time. Your eyes and your soul have gotten used to it.
pit of despair
The blessing and the curse of being able to reach everyone is so new, so fast, that there is barely any time to really think about it. The race to be seen as the person who knows is no longer limited to just the knowledgeable and the tactically loud. Now anyone can scream their garbled message in a digital voice, learn enough to pass for competent and peddle that persona (and its accompanying product) with a confidence that usually wasn’t earned. There’s a quote about how the least qualified to speak usually do so the loudest and longest, whether right or not, while smarter people stay quiet for fear of getting it wrong, but now even quotes are tainted. Hijacked by “the unwashed masses,” packaged on a stock photo and sent out in competition for the most amount of finger presses onto a button, or at least an amount they can be momentarily satisfied with.
bullshit quote
That’s not to say that there weren’t people who existed in the pre-connected days that would also expound their horrendous views and opinions, often labelling them fact. The difference is, they are no longer confined to the limited venues of their local soapboxes, but loosed upon the world via telecommunications.
The internet is a free place of discussion, yes, I know. It’s a good thing that the gatekeepers’ role has been diminished, that the sandbags were cut open, because even a tidal wave or flood can bring water to the desert, and (insert deity here) knows that we needed the mechanisms for an open source of knowledge and discourse. Still, a lot of that water will leave detritus and damage, and your house will stink for a while afterwards, perhaps always.
al sharpton flooding tweet
Even this post is self-serving, another observational complaint to toss on the pile, while secretly I hope that people will read it and agree, validating my call to devalue. I still don’t think that I’m wrong, but I’m obviously biased by being a person who places enough stock in their own thoughts that they believe other people should know about them. Which is unbelievably assuming of me, to give it the old ‘woe is the world’ bit in one paragraph about the horrors of letting every monkey with a keyboard have their say when they’re obviously a pox on human progress, and a few lines later declare how fit I am to be writing and complaining about it in the first place. I have no degree, no certified proof that I am smarter or better equipped to talk about anything than anyone else. What I’ve begun to tell myself now is that if they are doing it, spewing out garbage and believing in its value because other people agree with them, what’s to stop me from spewing out my own?
student drop off land fill
(This is the best reason I can come up with for seeing so little being said with so many words and letters and numbers and symbols. If I limited my internet excursions and interactions to purely peer-reviewed content of a high caliber, I probably would only have to see tripe in the comments section, like a normal person.)
There is a demographical element, as well as the element of choice, involved in artificially creating my disappointment and distaste. I choose to visit certain sites, to be part of certain networks, and be interested in certain topics. My education knowledge level, combined with my age, likes, hobbies, interests, political leanings (which matter, apparently, although maybe they shouldn’t so much) and, perhaps most importantly, my dislikes, paints other people’s contributions to the global discussion in a certain light. This happens to everyone, whether you are aware of it or not. At least, it happens to me, and since I am my own handiest reference for how people work, I project these thought processes onto others. I’ve also read about it.
xkcd duty calls

xkcd – Duty Calls

For example, I will get a dry throat and wet eyes from a combination of a given piece of music and some well-crafted speech, because of my thought process at the time, and I’ll like it for that personal connection, due to my inner narrative and so on. Other people similar to my mental make-up will also like it, for their own personal reasons, and then I and this hypothetical test audience will also enjoy the broader theme that the piece was going for. The other, that person or group that we rail against when we want someone to disagree with, stereotype, objectify, scapegoat or otherwise classify as not-me will not see anything good in the piece, and will tell everyone they know about their opinion and why it is valid. Same as my group did when we were harping on about how good it was.
Basic stuff, right? Intuitively you know this, but you forget it every time you get into an argument with this other side, or dislike something they say, or talk amongst your group (the right group) about how shite and wrong the other is. Then it derails and becomes a pissing contest, and everyone has kidney stones. The conversation is now toxic to anyone else who might have contributed with a sound statement, observation or rational argument, and a possible connection is never made, an insight lost.
Burning of Alexandria

The Library of Alexandria

So to return to my opening statement, people want to read about other people’s pain. Greater artistic work deals with loss and heartache and all the yin elements of our nature. Positive stories seem to always be eclipsed by negative ones, so maybe that’s where the problem lies. The muck that is churned up to the surface of the internet is the seabed of our humanity, deep and ancient, layered over millennia of development and conflict with the waters of time and circumstance, comprised of dust from the oft-broken bones and spilled blood of our ancestors. We are as powerless to stop the social media update tsunami as the Pharaoh was to stop the Red Sea from closing on his army, as Brutus was to stop the murder of Caesar, as that person on Facebook was to not say “Howw bad my dai was, just so scik of (insert other here) people, scienze is stupid, Im not evan in it for the likez (pleaze like).”
attention whores
It comes down to how we’re constructed, and how we view the world and interact with it. The world is experienced through our minds, filtered through all our preconceptions and notions into actionable information. Like the man said, the default setting is to think that it’s all about me, even when we know somewhere in the back of our minds, in a logical sense that it isn’t. Now, these I-centric thought processes are pushed out into the world via the internet, the frustrations of life magnified, briefly analysed and voted upon. There’s no great shift, we still have our tendency to feel lonely with ourselves and disdainful of the other, the stranger, although now we can pretend that we’re connected in our frustration and disappointment. So how can we change the direction of the muddy river of our global consciousness? What do we do? Switch off the unconscious, become aware of our processes, manually remind ourselves to consider more than one angle? Turn off the internet? Force people to become better, more informed humans before they are allowed to speak and brandish their opinions?
Seriously, I’m asking, what do we do?!

[I hate disclaimers, but I just want to make sure that nobody thinks that either a) I am depressed or in pain b) I am belittling depression or similar issues. If you have any problems with that stuff, get it taken care of professionally.]

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About Neil

Neil Rochford is a writer from Ireland and has lived in various places around the world. He loves fiction where bad things happen, is trying to feed himself with his words and he is available for freelance writing gigs and wakes. His book, The Blue Ridge Project, is available NOW on Amazon.