I’ve been considering, over the last few years of neglecting to journal at all, what it was that caused me to move away from writing. It definitely wasn’t a conscious choice, and it wasn’t a writer’s block situation where I was trying to write and just couldn’t come up with anything- it was more of a completely apathy when it came to the idea of exploring ideas or expressing creativity through the written word. I don’t think there’s any one explanation for it- my falling-off point neatly coincides with several life changes that could easily have influenced my move away from blogworld- but one thing that I keep coming back to is, as Facebook and Twitter really took off, how irritatingly transparent I was finding online communications.
While normally I wouldn’t find transparency in communication a bad thing, it wasn’t the actual content of our ever-shortened dispatches that bothered me so much as their subtext. I wasn’t seeing the words for what they were, but rather what the writer intended to communicate about themselves. It was all self-absorption and the chance to invoke some condescension, and my interpretation of the whole thing took on a very meta bent. Talking about the local band you saw last night wasn’t about sharing music with friends: it was about being able to say “I saw them first.” Posting inside jokes was really “I have friends!” (or, if you don’t get the joke, “aren’t you jealous you weren’t there?”) Talking about how awesome some obscure documentarian/string theorist/horticulturalist is really seeks to convey how awesome the poster is- extra points for portraying oneself as so familiar with the figure that no context is provided that acknowledges many people perhaps (if you’re doing this right, probably) don’t know who you’re talking about (what, you haven’t heard of her??? For shame!) Political commentary was the worst; these opinions are so loaded that too often they just become “I’m smarter than you.” Really, that’s what all of these have in common- they’re just trying to communicate that the poster is better than everyone else in some manner, whether it’s smarter, hipper, more zen, happier. It’s about bolstering your own perceived importance by self-defining a matter from which others are excluded.
And I found myself doing it too, which made me feel obnoxious and insecure: why else does someone post a one-sentence commentary on Facebook on the use of drug testing for welfare recipients than to feel superior to those who were coming out in favor of it? These 140-character posts have become the bumper stickers of our time, conveying our opinions in concise, pithy statements that have no room for nuance or background. Yes, they may spawn conversations, but the impetus for those conversations is this foul little contrived text-byte that was originally designed to essentially market the poster’s brand to everyone reading. It wasn’t about connecting or informing- just self-promoting.
So I needed to move away from that for awhile. I quit looking at Facebook altogether, because I’d completely lost the ability to take the posts there at face value- everything was subtext, and all the subtext was rooted in insecurity, and I was sick of watching people engage in that. (Incidentally, I don’t know how much of this altered interpretation has to do with beginning my education in therapy, because I was getting sick of it before I went back to school, but it’s hard to deny that writing papers about underlying psychological issues has an influence here.)
Is it wrong for communication to happen this way? Nah. There’s always been a deeper meaning to what we actually say in words. In person, body language is part of that. Online, we lose the body language, and we compensate by it becoming about managing how others perceive you. I’ve come to terms with that a bit and accepted that it’s possible there’s no form of human communication that doesn’t carry subtext (news stories on NPR, maybe?), my own communications included. This post, for example, is really me saying that I’m self-aware enough to examine my own motivation for engaging in a specific creative pursuit, and aren’t I, as a deep-thinking long-form blog user, more evolved than all those fools who continue to baldly work out their insecurity issues in tweets?
Answer: not hardly, but that won’t stop me from being annoyed at the next person who posts “Damn, can’t make it to the <band that says something about your personality> show next week! Grrr!”