This longing to wean myself away from the web started about a year ago when I realized that there was a disparity between a friend I had in real life and the way he portrayed himself on Twitter. This gap between the observed and the objective was not even the biggest problem, it was my reaction to it that sent off the flares. It was never anything personally offensive, just disingenuous and in order to insure that my perception did not run the risk of impinging on my knowledge, I told another friend that I was going to unfollow him. I guess I expected him to respond in the way a family member might when you tell them that you will not be attending the funeral of a grandparent because you want your last memories to be pleasant, so when he replied “he’ll be so bummed out”, it was jarring. It should have been simple. I was unimpressed at the airs being put on to his less informed followers and, like I do when I can find no emotional attachment to a character in a book, I opted to put the book down and find something that interested me more. If it was a fabrication, how could someone take it personally when there was nothing personal about it? And since when have we as autonomous, remote observers ever had to account for the personal feelings of the observed? The very benefit of being so distanced is that there is no real exchange, just an internalized private reaction to a voluntary and broad-spectrum display. The statement “he would be so bummed out” meant to me that a dynamic had instantaneously been created and destroyed. Firstly, the postings were not done with me in mind, yet my reaction to them had to sensitively consider the source. Secondly, if the source was expecting any sort of social contract to exist between speaker and audience in a virtual world, then fuck the source.
There are obviously some that are of the mind “don’t follow if you don’t care” which, remember, is all I intended to do. I was not going to insult him or humiliate him in the same way that I would never tell him that, say, his haircut blows if I saw him in public. I am aware of social mores almost to a fault, and just because I have an opinion doesn’t mean I have to express it. I simply wanted to relegate our friendship to the natural world where he (or she, depending on which one of the biggest offenders jump into my head while writing) wasn’t so much of a shit head. Apparently, this was considered gauche. Luckily, the “Mute” option would be introduced not long after that, presumably because I was not the only person that felt cornered by the sententious nature of the people in their feeds, but why should we be forced to kowtow to the sensibilities of such megalomaniacs? When they RT a compliment (or worse, RT someone who has RT’d them) or talk about how many followers they have or refer to their “fans” yet are not in any area of entertainment as a career, or incessantly ramble on, spreading one thought over numerous tweets, they are in no way considering how it might appear to others. And while I am not attempting to truncate anyones efforts to “just be themselves”, I am saying that in some cases, “yourself” is a desperate, trite and superficial person and shouldn’t be allowed to have access to the internet until you’ve resolved some mommy issues. I am also saying that your disregard for how genuine- though perhaps less attractive and far more diffident- people might be effected by your boastful and oft times offensive “panoply” in a public forum as seen against how willing and able you are to cry foul when someone like them unfollows you makes you a deluded narcissist in every sense of the term. So while it may not be “polite” to remove myself from your inexorable stream of self dick-suckery, if you’re that offended you can bring it up in conversation. Unless we don’t have any, because we’re not really friends.
A more recent impetus was borne from a conversation with my parents which started off jokingly but continued to weigh on me for the week that followed leading up to my extrication from the grid. A story was told about a specific online post having real life consequences and, in a different color of the same beast mentioned above, the offender was OFFENDED that someone took their online remark personal, citing “you should know me better than to think that it was about you." This, I have found, is the go-to rebuttal when the subliminal, passive “button pushing” was not done as discreetly as one had thought. When the button pusher has been so lost in a haze of self-congratulation that they assume, mistakenly, that they are clever. Being clever is not something you pick up in life in the same way that “precocious” is never used to describe an adult. If you’re not clever from the beginning, twitter and facebook does not a clever person make. This tactic moves responsibility away from the offender and attributes a character flaw to their target, thereby bringing the offended party down yet another notch while giving the malefactor a right to claim "poor ME" which is like a new car on your 16th birthday to an egomaniac. But, much like my other reason, the distasteful part was not in the particulars of the post, but the larger inferences you could draw from the fact that it was said at all, and this is, admittedly, where my own mania and general distrust of certain people begins to creep into the picture (which I take with the camera + app, no filters) so take it how you will. To keep it simple, I’ll just say that the comment was posted to brag about succeeding where a mutual friend had failed, though a multitude of other scenarios you’ve undoubtedly encountered could represent the same value. It was made publicly, obviously meant to be seen by third parties aware of both the prior failure and hardships endured after, though included no specifics as to not be held liable if ever confronted. What this person forgot to consider while making this act of passive aggression in some petty emotional war, is that not everyone is a reader of a feed like they are viewers of a commercial, despite the detachment twitter has acclimated us to. There are preconceived notions, prior experiences, even inchoate (unfortunately) opinions that will shape what type of relationship manifests off of the digital plain and one cannot simply deny all responsibility once their “voice” has been dispatched into the ether. So while the all too familiar Blanche Dubois-esque incredulity makes me want to fucking strangle people on a daily basis, the button pushing is a symptom of a diseased heart that exists on and off the internet, so closing down an account will not ameliorate that problem.
What bothered me most this time was a question of just how much of this persons life was lived in order to relay it to others; certain things done and shared as a way to boost their sense of self worth against those less fortunate, less privileged, less beautiful, less proud. What sincere interest did this person have in doing the things that their friends or followers would eventually read about? Did they honestly care about success, or only insomuch as it meant that others were forced to first, acknowledge their own failure, then having done so, assess where they rank comparatively? Were they so solicitous of approval from strangers that their actions and reactions were dictated by an imagined response in the form of disembodied text on a screen? If this sounds too much like some Brave New World fear of a dystopian society, I assure you its not. I am very much excited about what people like Ray Kurzweil predict concerning nanotechnology being fully integrated into our being within my lifetime. I think its going to be fucking awesome to be able download the memories of others (though imagine the Minority Report type havoc this will reek on our society) or be convinced by your senses that you’re honkin’ some d-cups in a hot tub on the moon while sitting alone on your couch. What I’m concerned with is losing myself NOW to the expectations of others. Think of how many posts you have read on FB heralding the bullshit “accomplishment” of a little kid who brought their proud mom a cheerio they found behind the fridge. Thousands? Yet how many times have you read a post from a kid you went to high school with whose wife is leaving him because he’s been emotionally unavailable since his mother died? Hopefully none, and the reason for the drastic difference in numbers is because there is still a part of us that instinctually values our personal experiences and desperately clings to our privacy amongst a social order which almost demands we share everything. We are forced out into the open because people (myself included) think that if we don’t have anything to share, then we must not have anything at all and we ignore the fact that our darkest moments are actually our most human. So in troubled times, twitter isn’t where I went to cheer up by reading other peoples jokes, it was where I found myself feeling terrible that I was too depressed to be funny. Why don’t people who have had miscarriages comment truthfully on the pictures of the smiling children around the dog, saying how sad they are that they almost had that picture of their own? Why doesn’t everyone who would lead you to believe that they’re naturally or spontaneously funny post first drafts of their jokes they only posted after rewriting 5 or 6 times until they had under 140 characters? Because Facebook and Twitter is only us at our best, and though that word means something different to everyone that uses it (do a google image search of “emo kid” and tell me these dickholes haven’t found true “Happiness in Slavery”, as my man Nine Inch Nail once said) its where we go to be wonderful.
So what happens when we don’t feel like being wonderful? My guess is that we fake it, but I’m not expecting anyone to cop to that and risk tumbling the vast empire you’ve built founded on your infallible wit and natural beauty. So, having only sound wit and some completely unnatural attractiveness (im actually bald and I have 3 inch lifts in my shoes), I’ll own it. I absolutely and unfortunately found myself doing things with the sole purpose of saying out loud that I did it, positioning the thought “I wonder what people will think” firmly between myself and the actual experience like so many Instagram filters. Gratification is addicting, but instant gratification is crippling. It renders you wholly unable to immerse yourself in the present. The fact that a stranger across the country could like what was in front of me meant, essentially, that they could have a similar experience independent of where their life had stationed them at any given moment. I was seeing the mountains of Banff, the temples of Thailand, the one legged homeless ladies of Texas through a machine that framed them for me, and allowed me to frame them for other people. Thousands of people were hanging out in the same room. They were hearing highlights of the same conversations. I was a volunteer paparazzi of my own life.
Cancelling my Instagram account partly stemmed from my inability and yet overwhelming desire to reclaim things as inherently “mine”. This is not a selfish approach to life, nor one of childish possessiveness, but one that recognizes the particulars of human experience. I cant count how many times at shows I’ve implored people in the crowd to stop watching us with their viewfinders and come back to the moment with us. To make it “theirs”; something they could talk about in a real conversation with real friends at a later date, embellishing in the details and captivating the listener. Be able to say “I was there” before that term loses all importance. It seemed hypocritical now that I now was doing the same thing I had tried to disabuse others of. It wasn’t creepy to me that strangers know the name and breed of my dog or what decorum I have in my living room because those were things I had put on display without compunction and the responses were expected and warranted. It was disheartening, however, to realize that part of a life I shared with other people was a race to the showroom floor and that approval was again dictating behavior, a scenario that took the first 18 years of my life hostage and one I was not eagerly willing to return to.
I don’t take necessarily beautiful pictures and I had never learned about photography prior to having an iphone, so what was my intention in signing up for a website that makes public what I used to keep somewhat private, save for friends and family? It wasn’t to take suggestions as to how to better my craft. It wasn’t to educate anyone, unless someone somewhere is majoring in “my uncles dogs balls”. Was it to paint a picture of what I want people to assume my life is like? To assemble a strictly monitored compendium of “candid glimpses” into my life that you might develop (through a sort of trickery and manipulation) an opinion concerning who I am? The phrase “Thou dost protest too much” is used to imply that those who deny their guilt the loudest are usually the guiltiest ones, but “thou doth present too much” is far more applicable to certain people on Instagram. I understand that you love your significant other or your children or your pets or the view from your window but aggressively showcasing your happiness from different angles and through different filters is the surest sign something is lacking. I smell that rat, and it became so pungent I was forced to leave the room.
So, my objective and my involvement in and with social networking was mainly to entertain, as it is for most people I know. That is the part of it I miss the most; entertaining and being entertained by people whose goals were not self oriented. The ones who shared their lives because it would be beneficial to other people, not their own egos. The tweets and the facebook posts written from a healthy and happy mental state read differently to me. I hear them in my head dictated with a different voice. I don’t picture a sneer or a self-congratulatory smirk. I don’t hear them in a Dr.Seuss type cadence as I do when I picture them thinking that they’re being clever and trying to convince other people that they’re funny as well as the hundreds of other things they tell you they are. What I do hear passion and assuredness and sincerity and it is unrelated to what the topic is. As Kerouac said, “It aint whacha write, it’s the way atcha write it” and the way things were written gave me a distaste for the medium for quite some time. Say I’m over sensitive, say I’m paranoid or hyper analytical, but everyone reading this knows exactly what I’m talking about because you’re guilty of it, whether or not anyone can ever prove by its context who your target was or what your ulterior motives may have been. Hell, I’ve been doing that the entire time I’ve been writing this. If you don’t think I’ve had the same handful of faces in my head throughout, you’re nuts. Chances are a certain person popped up in yours once you began reading. There’s also a chance they’re the same person. It happens. People get angry and are enlisted involuntarily into menial battles all the time and in the grand scheme of things it’s insignificant but why tolerate what you can vanquish? Why learn to work around that purposeless limb when it can be removed?
I’m not suggesting that we all delete our accounts in order to return to the task of finding inner peace, but try to keep in mind that there is an inherent difference between what looks real and what is. In a time so saturated with information, we tend to lose our willingness or ability to keep the two separate in lieu of just letting the loudest speaker tell us what we need to know. Who really wants to investigate whether or not some person we follow or “befriend” is as happy or rich or beautiful or funny or original as they tell you they are? It would be a tiresome chore to treat life like that, so we simply smile, open the gates, and let them in wearing whatever costume they want. However, I had done that for so long that eventually I became careless towards the people I used to value the most. I stopped calling friends because I knew about their day through twitter. I stopped writing because every thought I had, I published in a feed. I didn’t take the pictures I had developed over to my grandfathers house because I had already undergone the act of sharing them. Online. Maybe he saw them somehow. It wasn’t important. What a tragic misappropriation of priorities.
Signing off that first day was rough. It was like the first day of the master cleanse diet. All I wanted to do was read updates and I couldn’t. My sustenance was gone. News, music interests, gossip, etc. I had a physical withdrawl. When I had an idea, how was I to be rewarded for it?? Who would assure me it was likeable?? I paced. I tried to read but habitually I would pick up my phone and stare at it expecting to see something I didn’t know before, but without the apps I had no reason to even pick it up. Remember when the only time we picked up the phone was because someone was calling to talk? That doesn’t happen anymore. I realized that the first day, acknowledged how much I would allow the phone to distract me from the moment I was in. As soon as I accepted that, my first thought was “I wish I could twitter that revelation”. To make matters worse, I was watching Law and Order and the producer was named “Speed Weed”. I took a picture of it and couldn’t post it. I had to send it personally to those who might appreciate it most. I think I fell asleep shaking. The next day when I woke up I couldn’t see what I had missed out on in my sleep. I began to feel like all of my friends were running a race and I was losing by miles. As someone who has made “I think my friends are having fun without me” a personal mantra over the last 32 years, this feeling was extremely difficult to adapt to. What new music would I not be able to talk about next time I was out with friends? What jokes was I missing? I began to jot down would-be tweet ideas I had as a way to console myself. “Don’t worry cooter”, (I call myself cooter in my head) I thought, “when you get back into the twitter game, you’ll come out of the gate hard and hot.” I felt better with that mentality in place. I wasn’t in jail, I was just on a vacation. Now I had to get down to the heart of why I had done it in the first place. After all, it wasn’t to punish myself. It was, first and foremost, an attempt to move away from the things I was still doing, not 48 hours into the process. I needed- as I would explain to Doug Spangenberg 13 twitterless days later- to stop thinking in terms of twitter.
I appreciate brevity and precision in language and twitter has definitely helped me exercise that facet of being a writer, but in my head there was infinite room for thought aggrandizing. Why then was I responding to life quickly and briefly? Why do my lyrics on the new record never indulge themselves in wavering, winding and vaulting mannerisms? Is it because subconsciously, I wanted them to be able to be tweeted, or had I always appreciated succinctness and therefore when I found twitter it was as if my love of writing now found its perfect forum? My writing (outside of lyrics) began to slow until it grinded to a halt altogether, and I started to understand that it was because I was terrified of using a wrong word. My writing was now indelibly tied to public opinion, no matter that I wasn’t posting it. I didn’t want anyone to ever find out that I wrote something bad. I didn’t want that on my permanent record, in my twitter history. I couldn’t work through my thoughts on Microsoft word because printed text meant public text, so I was forced to hide in my head until an unfledged idea had matured and was ready to take the stage that twitter provided. That was also hard to accept, because it meant that I was just as mindful of approval as I feared, or as the people who drove me offline in the first place. But it was true, and in a way it had always been even before the internet (how fucked is it that our generation can say that??). I cant remember the words to songs on NJA, but I can vividly tell you what absolutely horrible lyrics I wrote for songs on LNIT which luckily I never used. They will never come to light (hopefully) but knowing I’m capable of having low points is dreadful to me. My twitter and facebook never let me have real low points (that weren’t staged or used to reinforce a personality type) because I was monitoring it closely. Now without them, I had to come back to myself and realize that I was faulty. It was nearly impossible. It always will be.
In the days that followed I texted friends I had previously relied on contacting only through twitter where other people could see. Unless he tweeted about it, it was a reference that only he and I might remember. I didn’t have a phone to interrupt my meals (until I started playing Tiny Towers) and I started tasting things again instead of taking a picture of it and ingesting it while I looked at how many likes it was getting. I didn’t need a high def camera, it was in front of me. The ultimate def. I talked to my wife about actual events and we shared jokes that only her and I will ever have which actually makes it SPECIAL. I saw some really cool dog balls and when I think about it I can laugh to myself and be ok with that. Nobody knows when I wrote lyrics and recorded a song with friends that I’ve been wanting to work with for a while, but when the time is right, they will. I saw a terrible movie, read one of the best biographies I’ve ever read, compiled and edited old shit I had written for what I hope to be in a book, began building the idea behind what could turn into another full book, finished a music video for ETID and the only approval I got was from REAL friends who texted or called saying they liked it. It was cool to find out who those were, because some I haven’t seen in months. I’m in Brazil right now on tour for the first time in my life and we already almost had the cops called on us for “assaulting a member of the hotel staff” in an episode that one day I’ll probably write about in full detail, not merely elude to it in a tweet and then get a bit weirded out when it comes up in an interview. I made a concerted effort to be more attentive to things in general and since then I’ve found things happening in my favor instead of against it. But above all, I got inspired. I think I’m beginning to trust myself again. I’m not always worried that what other people are doing is necessarily better than what I am. I like my life, and it may not be the most exciting or unique but without being in the presence of other people bragging or posturing, I don’t feel like it has to be. There is no race to the moment anymore because as long as I am present in it, I’m the only one who can get there.
Now if you'll excuse me, I have to post this on twitter.