My old friend Charles sent the link to this beautifully written, crystal clear manifesto of our modern world. Normally I would say, yeah, well this only pertains to those lucky enough to have the luxury of thinking about the modern world but now I feel like all Americans, rich or poor, educated or not, are sucked into the same machine. So it isn’t just about white privilege sitting back in their armchairs and pondering – but it is everyone – it’s the utilized/rejected Hispanics, the homeless teenagers, kids in foster care – we are all connected now because of the internet. That connectivity has given us common ground and that is why I think Ellis’ piece is so important. One can read any snooty piece of criticism that talks about how worthless all culture has become – haven’t people been writing the end of sophistication and civility each time there was a new invention for decades? But there is something more going on, something I think Ellis hits exactly right with his piece on zenarchery.com, “Everyone I know is Broken Hearted.” Please don’t bother reading any further if you haven’t read his piece. If you don’t wake up every day thinking “ugh, more of this” you probably shouldn’t bother reading this either – you’re lucky. You are not afflicted with hyper sensitivity. If Facebook is really just a fun place for you to hang out, and not representative of a parallel avatar where you are your best self or you don’t have to force yourself OFF of Twitter everyday because you can’t stand it anymore – very likely, Ellis’ piece will never strike a chord with you. But this is for that small percentage of people who feel as Ellis does, who are hurting and broken hearted.
A response. For what it’s worth.
The first problem: Ellis, and I, have spent too much of our time online. The more people spend online the worse life is going to be for them for a variety of reasons. You see, our brain is so big, so hungry for activity, we know that a few clicks, a lit up computer screen, is going to give us what we crave: information, connection with others, a chance to show off and hide at the same time. The internet in 1999 was a different place. Facebook, blogging software allowing comments, Twitter — these things have ruined the internet. But for more on that, read Ellis’ piece. My only point here is this: the less time spent online the better.
Best reason why: you lose time.
I’ve spent over twenty years online and though I have had the time of my life in many ways – I also realize that what I’ll probably miss more once I’m too old to experience it? Real world stuff. Outside. Dirt. Night skies. Sunshine. Beaches. Mountains. Creeks. Small towns. People. People. People.
Disconnecting HERE but connecting THERE is the problem. Avatar life vs. real life. You will be sitting in a room with ten people but you won’t be together with those ten people because you will be off living your avatar life, and so will they. I don’t know if there is any changing that back – probably not. But again, that problem can’t be solved because human beings like avatar life. It feeds our egos, it helps us control the who, what, where of our lives. Who wants to be this person walking into a Starbucks looking up at the menu when they can be THAT person, checking their Facebook as they instagram a photo of something cute and clever at Starbucks then wait for the likes.
For most of you, again, no problem. Avatar living is SO fun who would ever want to go back to the mundane? So why does it make some of us feel so dirty/shitty afterwards? Why does that parallel online dimension of who I am make me feel so sick of myself? One big reason: I am not, WE are not, what we buy.
For about three generations now, we’ve been raised on very smart Mad Men who have sold us various American ideals. It started in the 1940s and 1950s, conceptually anyway. But it really took off in the 1960s, 1970s, 1980s. These decades all had their successful campaigns. The key to really successful advertising is targeting as many people as possible at once. Before television became something we did instead doing other things – even listening to the radio gives you the option of moving around the room and doing other things. But TV is a visual medium. So we sat there and we watched. The more eyeballs became glued to the screen the more people advertisers could reach at once, the more communal the branding became. Full disclosure: advertising is how I make my income every year – so I know first hand that it’s about as many eyeballs as possible.
I grew up on television back in the 1970s. We didn’t have remote controls back then, nor did we have cable, so we sat there and watched television along with all of the commercials. I grew up thinking that there was this parallel happy life I could have if I just had the right kind of house, the right kind of car and clothing. I had been fully branded on some unattainable American ideal before I came of age. I remember being in my mid to late twenties and realizing, suddenly, how soon it would be before I died — and I also realized that the parallel world I thought I wanted did not exist.
Here’s a quote:
Before 1947 the number of U.S. homes with television sets could be measured in the thousands. By the late 1990s, 98 percent of U.S. homes had at least one television set, and those sets were on for an average of more than seven hours a day. The typical American spends (depending on the survey and the time of year) from two-and-a-half to almost five hours a day watching television. It is significant not only that this time is being spent with television but that it is not being spent engaging in other activities, such as reading or going out or socializing.
Television advertising was bad enough when I was growing up. Now it is unbearable. It is so bad for me that I don’t watch much commercial TV unless I can fast-forward the commercials and even then, they’ve figured out how to distract you to keep your eyeballs on the advertising.
When the internet really happened in the mid 90s and into Y2K, no one believed it was a viable money maker. Remember the dot bomb? But there was a shift in thinking, there came Amazon, Paypal, Ebay and soon, there was much money to be made online with advertising to popular sites. Popular sites like Huffington Post drew more eyeballs than any other by having a mix of politics and click bait. That paradigm would lead to a really detrimental trend parodied on the ultimate Onion offshoot Clickhole.com.
The internet, other than being a place of connectivity, information getting and sharing, is one big corral for consumers to all be in one place to sell shit to. Now we go online and it’s a daily battle not to buy something, sign up for something, have our email recorded somewhere. We are not just being watched by our government, we are watched by corporations – our habits, desires, needs, frivolities studied, then matched. We ARE WHAT WE BUY. We are WHAT BRANDS US.
That ultimately leads to emptiness. It can’t possibly lead to its ultimate goal – happiness – because the idea behind advertising is to create and perpetuate that endless need. As written so eloquently by Josh Ellis, we simply contribute to our own branding every day on Instagram and Facebook and Twitter. We are telling companies more than they need to know about us and it’s all in order to get every last possible dollar.
So if you’re asking me what the problem is, I say corporate dominance, corporate branding and a severely dumbed down populace that CAN GO FROM look at video footage of children being ripped apart in Gaza and then flip around 30 seconds later to take a selfie at lunch time for that jolt of feel goodness. We are not getting the payback from the shitty product we are convinced to buy and that will always lead to feelings of dissatisfaction.
Advertising also leads to false perception of self, delusions of grandeur we are conditioned with AT BIRTH – you are special, you are powerful, you can have whatever you want in life – a pretty girlfriend, a handsome prince, a nice home. You deserve it ALL. But what happens when that doesn’t happen, which it hardly ever does? Happiness does not come from getting the dream spoon fed to you – it comes from tiny and grand achievements, usually to better humanity or nature or animals.
You can’t buy that shit from Amazon.
So we’re fucked. Human beings will eventually destroy their habitat – in 15 years we’ll feel the full effects of global warming, which is one of the biggest concerns facing us – and yet, what do we do? Does anyone care? NO is the answer. Because we’re so in love with ourselves we can’t pull ourselves away from that magic mirror the internet provides. We are under the spell of narcissism delivered to us by people who want us to buy shit in hopes of making our lives better.
Believe me, it’s as bad as it could possibly be. MMost don’t want to know so they just plunge fully into this American life as sold to us by the advertisers who have us by the balls.
So here’s the good news: even still, these social networks and the internet do exist for good. Think about: that 19 year-old who developed a fix-it for that giant blob of plastic. That idea going viral is a good thing. All of the pet adoptions and petitions to help animals is one of the things the internet does best. Think about what kind of power we could have if we could REALLY get on the same page.
I don’t pull myself away because I think ultimately the internet — and television for that matter — can still be used for good. How else would I have found this great piece by Josh Ellis?
The things that make life worth living are still many, so many that your heart can burst because of them. For me, it’s watching my kid grow up. It’s growing tomatoes, picking them then making Marinara sauce. It’s the natural world, which still exists in places. The beauty of it all is STILL OUT THERE. It just isn’t so much IN HERE.
I got a life online in 1994. But in the last few years I’ve checked out. I still am addicted to the internet, of course, but I fight every day to get off of it, to feel my minutes as they pass in real time. To walk OUTSIDE. To see the world. To drink really great wine, to have sex, cook.
In the end, it is all so crushingly beautiful that it’s a privilege to be alive, to be here writing this, even to complain about the life I have here. I never want any of it to end. Not ever.
There are so many terrible things but there are so many great things.
Portlandia is a great thing.
Music sucks now – it does. But there is also Allo’ Darlin.
And look at this:
Movies SUCK mostly. But check out this one coming up called Mommy:
I believe in Josh Ellis’ solution for this hideous conundrum we find ourselves in. I don’t know if anyone will ever care – but all it’s going to take to break the spell is awareness. I hope Josh Ellis WRITES A WHOLE BOOK about it.