the medium and the messages

Astute friend Gordon said something that’s stuck in my head for weeks about the pitfalls of web presences: how they rewire some bits of our brains we might most want to use to have creative ideas. The lab-rat-like endorphin hit I get when I refresh Twitter and Tumblr (and I do it more than I’d like) is a different thing from the much more difficult work of being alone with my thoughts and writing. It’s more certain, for one: there will always be some new GIF or witticism online to entertain me; there won’t always be a new poem or whatever poking itself through into my consciousness. But it’s treacherous if it’s making it harder for me to entertain myself, to imagine, to get bored and get curious and explore and play. It’s so much easier to be complacent with being liked, even a little, by other people online than it is to find nuanced things to say about being in the world.

And I think liking is often ignored as a potent part of this mix: I find myself tailoring my thoughts to a certain Twitter house style, a way of expressing a thought that makes it more likable, or not writing if it can’t be written that way. I narrate my experiences to myself, tweet-sized, and then opt out of sharing them most times.

That’s the treachery: as we write to be liked and shared and reblogged, we’re writing less to figure out each other in all our contradictions. We’re shifting ourselves to fit the form. And when we’re narrating ourselves to ourselves, we’re becoming less aware of who we really are in relation to everything else that is or could be. Or it feels that way to me.

When I read Infinite Jest for the first time I remember writing down a line that now seems like a bit of a platitude (as I’m sure it was sincerely meant) but was fresh and necessary to me like a decade ago. It was something along the lines of: you’ll stop worrying about what others think of you when you realize how little they do. Writing online makes it really easy to hold two competing and contrary illusions: that you’re an invisible drop in a big crappy ocean, or that your following is constantly attentive, keen to engage with your personal brand. (Which is a whole other set of things that sort of disgust me, the way that the medium makes people behave more like businesses, selling ways to spend your time.)

The medium we’re using to communicate is never neutral. This isn’t always a flaw (it’s obviously not lost on me that I’m publishing this using popular social media website and terrible longform reading experience platform Tumblr), but it’s a difficult, sometimes paralyzing, thing to stay aware of in the stream.

For me, if it’s hard to choose how and where to write, and who to be when I’m writing (because holy cow are we ever all playacting some personas when we are our online selves), it’s harder to write to begin with. It’s harder to know what there is to say, and why. And that is why I’m largely quiet here, and why I’m torn about it.

And I know I’m likely speaking to all kinds of choirs, but those are things I’ve been considering lately.