This is going to be one of those long, intense posts that barely touches on gaming, so you have been warned. It’s also maybe the most personal thing I’ve ever posted so yeah… let’s see how that turns out shall we?
I’ve had almost a complete break from facebook for about three months now, and I have to say, it feels like eternity. It gets easier, but not much. Before I get back to that though, I want to write some background as to how I’ve been for the last bit. Basically I’ve been tangling with some powerful and elusive thoughts for almost a year, and now I feel as though things are slowly clicking back into place. The thing that has been hardest for me to figure out is my relationship with the internet and my friends thereon, both local and international (I’ve decided to use the term “local” in lieu of “real life” or something, as Von has often pointed out to me that the internet is real life). So I thought I’d try to work things out a bit by writing it all down and seeing if that helps.
In November last year I was diagnosed with recurring depression, which was a bit of a surprise. In retrospect it made a lot of sense, given the trajectory my life has taken. The funny thing is it took me decades to seek a diagnosis, and even to realise that something was off, generally. Over such a long period patterns emerge slowly. I suppose every time I’d had a bout of depression in the past (and I reckon, looking back, that the first one was at about age 17) I just felt as though it was normal, and related to current life events. Which of course it was, because these feelings have triggers. It’s just that my feelings didn’t go away when the triggers were resolved; they faded slowly over months, and they didn’t seem like what I thought depression was, in my limited understanding. Generally I would become very outward-focused and righteous, concerned with broad injustices in the world, and also drink a bit too much and slowly drop out of whatever job or study I was doing at the time. I’d also often (but not always) extricate myself from whatever online community I was calling home at that time. So I would be sort of reclusive yet outward-looking, worrying about the environment or evil corporations or whatever instead of looking after my own self. Then one day I’d wake up and feel like I needed to get a proper job, or study more, and the cycle would start all over again. Jammed into the cracks at all stages would be various creative pursuits, whether they be writing, painting models or blogging.
So most of you reading this probably know that mid-last year I started painting pictures and drawing a lot. This has been a life-saver for me, and gave me some sort of strange perspective. I was able to step outside myself a bit and realise that there was something not right, and that it hadn’t been right for a long time. Having a boy I am responsible for helped too. I guess you could say the art was my insight and my son was my motivation.
But I still felt unhappy with the internet, or more precisely, my relationship to it. Like many of us I felt compelled to check facebook etc. all the time, and didn’t like that feeling. I’d look at my phone every five minutes. I’d spend an hour – at least – per day in or reading discussions online, and I didn’t like that either. It doesn’t make you feel good when your son is pulling at your sleeve asking you to get him some breakfast and you just want to tell him to shut up and let you finish reading two Americans argue about micro-aggressions on college campuses.
What I’m saying is, my return to painting and my diagnosis were both positive things. I felt as though my life and sense of self had sort of exploded – I had to re-imagine my self as a person with depressive tendencies, something I had denied for a long time. But I also had to re-imagine myself in other ways. And this is where I’m having trouble. Spending too much time socialising and reading bullshit click-bait on the internet makes me feel… thin. Like I’m physically spread over both cyberspace and the real world, and there’s not enough of me to meet the demands of either.
The internet didn’t exist when I was a boy. I was not culturally or socially prepared for it. I grew up in a world where the only way to access faraway places and people was to either physically go there, or watch or read something that a professional had made to show you. What we would call a “curated experience” in today’s hideous corporatized parlance. My mind was blown when I was in first-year university and a girl at my college showed me a chatroom. I ended up talking to a gay discordian chaos-magician in the US somewhere. He was very pretentious.
Now at this point; so far so good. I’m a young man, I’m curious about the world, the internet fucking rocks. Over the next few years I had a LiveJournal that achieved a modest readership, I was a big cheese on a couple of gaming forums (over 1000 rep points, chumps!) and was well-respected on a board for amateur philosophers. I dimly suspected that I was spending more time talking online about things than actually doing those things though.
So I dropped out of all of them, and I made Warp Signal. This was, I think, the best thing I have offered the internet community. I thought deeply about the posts, I worked hard on them, I put in a huge effort to be empathetic and polite with people of all walks of life in the name of civilized discussion and investigating the fascinating games we play. I made lots of friends. And I completely forgot who and where I actually was.
This is the crux of my bad feelings about the net. When I said before that I feel as though my life exploded and I have an opportunity to reform it, I realised that to do that I needed to go on an internet fast. The net is fine for me as a giant library, the way it was when I first used it around age 16. But put in a social component, and I go too deep, man. I make these friendships with people in far-away places where we know way more about each other’s thoughts than friends normally do, and way less about each other’s authentic feelings and everyday life. With internet friends, you can’t see for yourself how someone is going. You can’t look at their face and see that they’re sad, or giddy with excitement. You have to take their word for it. You know only what they tell you. And even someone with honest intentions can easily be utterly wrong about themselves, as I can tell you from personal experience!
I needed to reset, so I stopped going on facebook because it was the worst. I don’t watch the news or any of that bullshit either. I sometimes (with a critical eye) read a newspaper if someone leaves one lying around at work or whatever. And a curious thing has happened: I’ve become way more Australian. The rest of the world has receded. I realised that I’d grown this weird, unexamined idea that we’re all in this together. This is not the case. It’s a nice idea, but the brute fact of the matter is that I am in Australia and whatever happens in the US or Scandinavia or Turkey hardly matters to me at all. It will not affect me in the slightest, or only insofar as it affects anyone who is thousands of kilometres away immersed in a different culture. I read a book recently called The War of Art by the American writer Steven Pressfield. It’s a great read if you’re interested in creative pursuits. In one section he argues that artists are territorial people, not hierarchical. Most of the world works within hierarchies. Artists work by finding their territory and mastering it, learning everything about it like an animal does its own patch. I think there’s some truth in this. As I’ve disengaged from international concerns and conversations about them, I’ve become more Australian, and my art (and life) has become more authentic for it. In a strange way I know this equips me better to interact with foreigners than trying to downplay my sense of cultural identity and meet them more than halfway, as I used to.
So here we are. This huge rambling did help me think after all. Perhaps to have good relationships with friends, you need a shared context. A real one. On the net you don’t automatically share a cultural, local context. Which is why I suppose discussion boards normally have a topic, at least nominally, and you can always disengage from or ignore things not meant for your ears and return to topic with someone else. Not every conversation has to include everyone.
See, I read a book recently about the social media lives of adolescents, because I’m not too proud to admit that I’m not – by a whole generation – a true digital native, and I thought I might learn something from the way kids born to social media use it. You know what they generally do that people my age don’t? They ignore things they see on social media that are not meant for them. This is why older people think that kids always over-share. They write personal-seeming things publicly because they feel safe that the peers who that particular message is meant for will respond, and everyone else will politely ignore. And they generally do, cyber-bullying notwithstanding. Contrast this with older people (I’m close to 40), and you often see this attitude that everything someone puts on facebook is public, and therefore fair game for comment. Really old people, like baby boomers, comment on everything.
So I guess all of this is leading here: I love my international mates on the internet. I love them way more than most of the people I went to school with who are also my “friends” on social media. But I don’t want to see or talk about their real lives all the time. My American friend the great SinSynn once said, after we had words on facebook, that I was too nice to be exposed to him on a daily basis. I think he was almost right. It’s not good for me to be unnecessarily exposed to the interior lives of other people in general. I lose sight of my own territory and I feel lost. So my plan is to stay away from facebook until I feel like coming back. Which could be never. And I’m coming back here, to my territory. Sometimes. Not too much.
I’m going to leave this post with a music video I’ve always liked, by the Sydney band the Presets. Not only is it beautifully shot and a great song, but the stylized teenagers dancing around a fire really evokes for me memories I have of my own teenage years, drinking and messing around a fire at parties. It’s also the only music video I can think of that features warhammer models, funnily enough.
And now I’ve got that feeling in my guts, should I press post or not?