Nowhere feels comfortable online. Surfing the web is like being trapped in a labyrinthine house party where every room you go in has a strange atmosphere, when the group is ‘off’ somehow, the dynamic is wrong, someone lurking in the room is a wildcard just about to start a fight or piss everyone off by sticking on some techno, turn on the lights or persistently inappropriately hit on someone. This is how I’ve started to see everything, its disorienting and I cant remember how it was before.
Talking with colleagues at the bookshop in January about Charlie Hebdo, we agreed we felt the publications take on satire was culturally very ‘French’ and not one that we identified with. I was against stocking to next issue in the shop. I’d probably still say its true that it’s particular type of satire is not mine, but I’d now wonder if we were trying to excuse ourselves from the events, and any interaction with it; to ‘opt out’. Ive been thinking about ‘opting out’ today. I feel like its happening all around me, and that I constantly do it. This makes me feel powerless and isolated. It makes me feel confused and angry at my impotence. I realise I am completely ignorant and living in a bubble of privilege that allows me to choose to what extent I engage with world events.
‘Opting out’ comes in different forms. Social media allows us to opt out of action, by trying to say the right thing at the right time. To send condolences, to share links that point out that there have been attacks in other cities outside our bubble that have had less coverage. Its a way of informing others how informed you are. There is no right way to react when you are in shock. Am I just a terrible cynic? I think I am, and I want to work on it. The fact is that platforms like Facebook and Twitter are far from neutral, they are spaces we use to carefully sculpt our identity to a hybrid group of friends/family/colleagues and prospective employers or collaborators. We want to show how informed and political we are. We want to share and connect. I do it, we all do it and we all behave differently in these ‘public’ and ‘private’ digital realms.
I sent a Whatsapp to K earlier that read;
everyone i know on social media feels like they are competing to have the ‘best’ reaction or sentiment. our generation is fucked. totally lost in a vacuum with no way out. we are mediating everything we experience through non physical space with no bodily/embodied consequences and we are so used to sculpting our personas for our own gain there is literally no space to be earnest – we have no spaces to be vulnerable with each other, people trying to clasp hands that don’t exist – our children will laugh at our complete ineptitude to use tech to mobilise. I feel so fucking useless today.
ISIS use the encrypted messenger Telegram to communicate and plot attacks, people use Facebook to mourn and organise memorials, twitter becomes a source for news outlets, I use Whatsapp to tell my friends I feel helpless and to moan. Maybe my great great grandchildren will be able to recover digital fossils of my opinion, tastes, amazon purchases and status updates… like jewels and cracked pots found in ancient burial grounds. Will they think they know me?
I want to understand better, to be able to get outside of myself, ask questions and listen to the answers without spewing out soundbites of opinion. I want to embody my empathy and turn it into something useful, and I want to claim physical space where I can actually connect and communicate with people in a vulnerable and earnest way. I turn to writing as my first response rather than to the streets or to the houses of friends, if I did actually meet and connect with people I wouldn’t know what to say or what I’d want to do – or if and how I wanted to act. If The Place – is in fact – online then I want to let go of this bullshit personal mediation, self promotion and the psychosis of millennial competition. Even if its just a lens I am seeing other peoples actions through, it is still harmful that I have internalised it so deeply. I get irritated with peoples online responses, Im irritated with my own responce and by my absorption of horror via sites built for advertising, selling data and propagating our idealised selves. Irritation is not useful and it is not empathy. I don’t want to watch people dying online. I don’t want to read their last tweet. It makes sense that news be shared by the fastest means, its not by design as such, but it causes clumsy and upsetting moments when death gets sandwiched between funny memes and self promoting art events. It is debased. It is uncivilized. It leaves no space for compassion, decency or dignity. What are our collective digital ethics and how do we enforce them? Im also left wondering, if repetition is ‘prayer’, what our collective rituals have now become and if they are fit to process loss and disaster; do I need to create my own forms of ritual/’prayer’ just to help me understand.
I’m a hypocrite and a hypocrite by birth. I know peace comes at others expense, atrocities are the rule not the exception. Peace is the exception, and we are in a privileged moment that has been hard fought for, to experience it. Its not a given, and its not a birth-right. These stories coming from the speakers of my smart phone, eyewitness accounts of terror, from various places and people all over – are so far out of my realm of experience I don’t feel like I can react. I can conjure with a swipe the most mind bending, shattering accounts of total horror on the same device I use to laugh and joke with my friends and family. What are you supposed to do with this information? Mine is the first generation brought up with the internet and 24 hour news. I don’t know what to do with it. We are machines for taking in and spewing out information – Twitter crashes – France closes its borders – Germanwings volunteers were at the stadium – my friends tag themselves as safe on Facebook – France’s National Front gets airtime on state TV – Poland states it will no longer accept refugees. So much information causes a kind of paralysis and a pervasive sense of powerlessness. But this is our reality now, so what do we do with it?
I know there are histories of torture, oppression and a continual failing to extend the cultural and economic wealth amassed in Europe to others, but I have allowed myself to stay ignorant to the specifics. The UN is treated as an advisory board rather than a law enforcer, and economic strength is the only power that protects a country when the shit hits the fan. I know my education omitted the UK’s history of colonisation, and that I have a very poor understanding of other European countries colonial past, including the Netherlands where I currently live. I don’t understand the trade of oil and its history and repercussions. I have sat at dinner parties in houses gifted by parents and listened to contemporaries say that they ‘don’t like to get involved in politics.’ I have skipped lectures and classes and exhibitions and symposiums for feeling that they were for ‘other people’ about ‘other peoples issues’ and that they would take me ‘off track.’
Today I’ve resolved to not be afraid of being earnest in ‘public’ and admitting how clueless I am. I’ve resolved to think again, and harder about a responsible way to live, the impact of that life on the earth, the people within it, and the forces that outlast us beyond our digital footprint – learning, meaning, compassion, empathy, integrity, love, compassion and activism.