Life, the internet and everything

Hi everyone,

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?

Here goes.

 

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5 thoughts on “Life, the internet and everything

  1. Von says:

    Your depression sounds alarmingly similar to mine. I definitely recognise that “become outraged at the world, drink slightly more than you should, quit your job and burn your bridges” cycle…

    “I dimly suspected that I was spending more time talking online about things than actually doing those things though.”

    This is the moment at which we’re lost, isn’t it? He who blogs much does not. He who does much blogs not. There are only so many hours in the day, and the more time we spend reporting, the less time we spend doing.

    “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.”

    *coughSkypecough*

    I guess you’re really showing your age when you forget that the Internet isn’t as ‘texty’ as it used to be, right? 😉

    “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.”

    Perhaps it’s easier to be concerned about goings-on in Sweden when Sweden is on the other side of the North Sea, as opposed to the other side of the planet, and people you’ve met in what I hear they used to call ‘meatspace’ actually live there.

    I know what you mean, though. It’s easy to feel personally accountable for faraway things. The plight of exploited workers in Indian sweatshops is a problem; it’s driven by demand for cheap clothes in (for instance) the UK; I’m IN the UK, so do I have some capacity to influence the demand and therefore, maybe, reduce the problem?

    “… 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.”

    YES. This, this, ten thousand times this.

    I used to think it depended on when you’d first come online. If you’d come up in the Eighties or early Nineties you’d be used to the Internet as this relatively elitist and insular community, where the bulk of the user base were either military or academic types. (I’m taking this on trust from people who were there – I was only born in 1985, for pity’s sake. If we’re doing book recommendations: J C Herz, ‘Surfing on the Internet’. Kind of a travelogue of the early ’90s Net. The more things change…) When domestic Internet access started to become a thing, the first generation of digital immigrants showed up, were clueless, and got the WELCOME TO THE INTERNET sort of response which I remember from the late Nineties (that’s when I came in). Those WELCOME TO THE INTERNET types are the ones who get het up about electronic freedom; the ones who say “if you don’t want harsh responses, don’t post it public, and by the way, everywhere’s public”.

    The generation that came through after that… well, those are the kids who’ve never known a world without Facebook, for whom the Internet is a series of personal profiles, some of which are for Doing Stuff on and some of which are for Sharing Stuff on… but it all starts with a profile. You log into Steam or Battle.Net or whatever to play games – it starts by going into Your Account, with the picture and name you picked and the achievements and messages you want to disclose. It’s a bit different from “bung the CD in and click Play”. There’s an expectation of persona and expression which just… wasn’t there when I were a lad.

    Recently, I’ve noticed a barrier starting to break down. Say I put a comment on a post of Sarah’s. Ben, who doesn’t know Sarah – the only thing he and Sarah have in common is that they both know me – Likes that comment. I didn’t see that happening until quite recently, and I’m wondering why. It worries me somewhat, because I have an instinct to keep my circles controlled and separate. I’m used to doing Real Name stuff and Internet Handle stuff, sometimes Internet Handles Plural because I don’t want the chaos magick getting tangled up in the gaming. I didn’t standardise around ‘kaptainvon’ until it became clear that a brand had been built and, being a chap who earns a living on the Internet, I could either use that or fail to use that. I’m still getting used to people I know from chaos magick stuff being able to see and interact with the people I know from gaming, and Hark’s family being able to see both and OH GOD I HAVE TO LIVE WITH THESE PEOPLE. Keep the magic secret; shame the nerd, hide the nerd. That’s what I’m used to. Everything going through the one profile is slightly scary. Despite that, it feels more honest. These things ARE connected, and interconnect to produce a person. You don’t know that person if they’re hiding huge tracts of themselves from you.

    If I had my time over again I might do everything under my real name and damn the consequences.

    Good post. Obviously I’ve gobbed off about myself instead of saying that. That’s the Internet culture I came into, though. Thousands of people, Expressing Themselves like parallel lines; lunging towards infinity, and never touching.

  2. beat ronin says:

    Oooh I like that “…parallel lines; lunging towards infinity, and never touching.” That’s quality writing that is.

    Thanks for replying. It’s comforting at least to know that I’m not alone in thinking some of these things, though it feels like you’re less bothered than me. Maybe it’s the eight years I have on you, because we joined the net at about the same time. Australia is always ten years or so behind the rest of the Anglosphere when it comes to social change.

    You say it’s slightly scary when the circles collide – well I hate it. And I don’t think it’s unreasonable or old-fashioned of me to hate it. I mean maybe it is; but I also think there’s definitely an argument the other way.

    Not saying you’re wrong that it’s more honest to get the complete picture of all of a person’s sock puppets. But I do worry about the mindset that not knowing every single facet of someone means you don’t really know them. All of us consciously and sub-consciously present ourselves to others in different ways all the time. I like doing that. I like to gauge how to speak to someone so that you get on well. You don’t speak to a child the same way you speak to a cop. It’s not weird that your boss doesn’t know as much about you as your girlfriend. Is it?

    I dunno man. I can’t help feeling we’re all being shepherded into a world where it’s considered odd not to just let it all hang out and Be Yourself all over the place at all times. This would be awesome if it were happening by some sort of moral evolution, i.e. we are maturing as social beings and don’t psychologically want or need privacy of any kind. But it’s not. It’s happening because Zuckerberg etc. want it to happen, because it’s easier for them to know more about more people and use that knowledge to make money. I can’t be arsed looking up the quote right now but I read an address by Zuckerberg a few years back where he explicitly said he wanted to destroy the idea of privacy and create a world where everyone is constantly and openly interconnected. Well my animal brain snarls and takes a swipe at anyone who asks that of me. It’s like a bad 60s SF story where everyone is becoming telepathic, and I’m the one Charlton Heston dude refusing to join the program.

    And yes, I’m old enough that Skype just doesn’t pop into my head when I think of my net buddies 🙂 I’m not even in the habit of switching it on.

    Anyway it’s long past time we Skyped, my friend, and I take full responsibility. Next time my missus is out for drinks and my son’s asleep and I’m just painting at home, I’ll leave my Skype on. And if you notice, aren’t busy, and call me, I’ll answer. I guess it’ll in the morning for you. Hopefully that’ll work hey?

    • thuloid says:

      Hmm. My first big dive into the internet was around age 18. I was aware of it before then, but college was really it for me. Before that, I dialed into some local BBS stuff–and the internet of those days wasn’t so unlike the BBS environment, only larger.

      I got very involved in some message boards, especially a philosophy board where I hung out for quite a long time. It lasted long enough that I’ve even met a few people in RL whom I knew from the board, and am still in contact with several. But I also fell into something of a depression myself (my last major bout, perhaps 15 years ago), and pulled away from that community for a couple years–after it had been six months or so, I was embarrassed to go back, so I’d glance at the board but never log in or post.

      Facebook is so different from all of that. I’ve tried to maintain a certain firewall by having two separate accounts, because there’s something of an expectation in my professional life that congregation members can be your “friends.” (Note: in fact, they largely cannot. The why of it is complicated, and I don’t think it’s absolute, but it’s very weird to spend one’s working life getting personally involved with people who really can’t be your friends).

      Anyhow, Facebook ties together a bunch of things for me that don’t necessarily need tying together–professional networking, joking with friends, keeping up with relatives, local work stuff. I’d be perfectly happy if all those were kept separate, but they aren’t.

      Clearly I’m an old man, because I had no idea people Skyped spontaneously. For me it’s by appointment only.

      • beat ronin says:

        Sorry for the late reply. My computer has been in the shop because it was running really slowly. Turns out it’s not powerful enough to be running the OS that I’m using 😦

        I wonder if we were on the same board at the same time. The one I frequented (for maybe a year or two around 2004-5) was just called Philosophy Forums. I just glanced at it then, the skin is different but I recognise a name or two.

        And I hear you. Facebook wants to be tying everything together. As Von said, people who grew up on the internet have a certain expectation that the basis of your internet presence is some sort of personal profile, and you move out from there. It’s pretty evident that facebook’s aim is to be the default persona that facilitates others. I can count several services I once used without facebook that have since been bought by them or have formed some agreement with them, and now either require a facebook profile to sign up, or have it as an easy option. For example, I’ve Spotify for a couple of years now and recently got logged out while we were moving house. When I went to log back in, it told me my old login details were no longer allowed and that everyone now had to sign in with a facebook profile. It’s virtually ubiquitous, and becoming more so.

        It is interesting that we have evolved quickly into having profiles though. The original internet was quite different from everyday life just because everyone used pseudonyms. It’s only taken a couple of decades and we have a situation where people have a real self (their facebook profile) from which they reach out into other spheres.

        Eh, it is what it is. I could talk about it all day (because I find it fascinating)but I’d probably just come off as being more paranoid than I actually am. I really don’t care who has my data or anything, I have nothing to hide. I’m just some guy.

        I imagine being a clergyman is a lot like being a counsellor or social worker, only with a few extra strings to your bow and a strange sense of being a living link in a chain of tradition. But I reckon counsellors would get that “work with people who can’t be your friends” thing too.

        • thuloid says:

          Not the same board, I think. Mine is defunct, and was more idiosyncratic–most of the folks started out on an old Age of Empires board, I think, and migrated over. Several had serious academic backgrounds, others were enthusiastic amateurs, some were just people who liked to talk.

          Yes, it can be similar to counselors, though I’m not in that kind of a client relationship with everyone–in fact, not with most people. So we’re superficially friendly, but I’m always sort of in reserve as potentially more, if that makes sense. That’s what impedes ordinary friendship– I’m privy to large amounts of sensitive information, and so there’s only so much of my day I can really share with anyone connected to the congregation (the people who would be most interested).

          I also know I’ll need to walk away from that congregation one day, and at that point the people need to stop seeing me as their pastor (because I’m not). Too hard if mixed with friendship in an incautious way.

          By now I have so many profiles, login names, passwords, etc. it’s dizzying.

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