I ran across an article that summarized all the technological changes of the internet the last ten years. It got me thinking about all the other changes -- both on the internet, and in my life as well.
I think the feeling is pretty universal, and has been with middle-aged folk for as long as we’ve all been medically, socially, and physically able to consider our 40’s “middle aged.” It’s a tough beat for all people to start coming to terms with their mortality. For most, they do it around this age. Me? I’ve literally been dead before (4 times), so the idea that I’m going to die doesn’t really bother me.
Now, the idea that what time I have here is going to be wasted, ruined, or otherwise disrupted in ways I am not okay with, by people I cannot stop? That idea bothers me. It’s happening right now, as I type this. And it’s happening in a way that I truly believe is unique in history. It’s happening en masse, globally, and pretty nearly invisibly — even to the most self-aware.
I believe humankind possess at a very bare minimum a level of self awareness to know when they’re in the middle of a permanent change, even if they can’t explain or understand it. The currents of culture flow a different direction, and the riptide is something you feel dragging you into this new reality. It happens to each of us individually in life, as we pass through the trials and tribulations of living. Divorce is a big one for some; the death of a close relative or loved one for others. Fundamental moments where the ground beneath you opens up and you are swallowed by a new reality, where whatever you knew as a day to day reality is simply no longer possible.
This feeling I’m feeling is that, but collectively. It’s different than my divorce, or my breakdown, or my car crash, or the deaths of any of my friends. It’s not a single stab to any one of us which bleeds. It’s sand in the winds of change, tearing at our faces. Painful and abrasive, but on a far more abstract and surface level. It doesn’t hurt as much as it simply stings.
I don’t need to get into details. I think we all know the score right now, at this particular moment in history. In fact, I want to really focus on the abstractions, because they’re the place where Ten Years Ago feels like yesterday, and so far away.
It was only yesterday that I could connect with a total stranger on a big social media platform and be genuinely shocked when that person — one of, say, a thousand or ten thousand in my little circle I’d formed — behaved badly. Any of the following offenses would not only shock me, but be grounds for permanent deletion from my sphere:
They shouted their opinions, which of course were right and yours are wrong.
They used a racial slur.
They were sexist.
They were dismissive of your right to an opinion, insisting their right to an opinion also guaranteed them the right to have the opinion that you are wrong forever.
They dehumanized you.
They were literal fucking nazis.
These days… those things are all table stakes on every single connected platform on the planet. These people are not only here, and not only here in big numbers. In some ways, even the most innocent of us have had to adopt their strategies just to exist among them.
We have Nazi filter plugins for every major browser. We have plugins that shield us from news including terms we don’t like to see or hear. We have become intolerant of intolerance. We have felt the need to do violence against those who have committed violence against others (who did nothing beside exist). We are angry. We are hostile.
Sure, we (I fucking hope) don’t get all racist and sexist and trolly for fun. But we do use slurs against them:
“Fucking little teenage bastard whose dad lets him call you “cunt” on Xbox Live, but if you dare retaliate, he threatens to call a SWAT team to your house.” (Or, simply “SWATTER”).
Even the most high minded and open of us must admit that we have reduced our version of “the other” to cartoonish, glaring, pus-filled boils on our social rear-parts, only good for irritation and a bit of bleeding.
We have to. We are human. Besides, to empathize with these dickheads is to give them more room to breathe, which they will use to shout yet another epithet at us. So we have to act like them, because they act like them, and there’s more of them now than there are of us (or so we feel, because they’re that fucking loud).
And in that process… They create more of them, by making us like them. And they’re everywhere, all the time, connected to every little thing we have and own, because every little thing we have and own is now connected to the internet. The only way to escape it is to ignore it. We build digital walls and keep them on the other side, as much as we can. But they always find new ways to sneak by… If not directly in your friend feeds, DMs, PMs, forums, or other channels, then in the mainstream news, which they’ve become adept at playing like a fiddle. So you get it when you breeze through the headlines, simply trying to keep up with the events of the current era. Seeing them triggers within you all the memories of all the interactions prior to your building your wall.
We are all in the middle of a fundamental, unavoidable, permanent shift in our collective consciousness. No, it’s not the end of the world. It’s simply the end of the world you used to think was how things are going to be forever.
So, When I think of ten years ago, for some reason, I can’t help but picture some abstract moment in the 90’s. Of course, the absolute latest moment of the 90’s was 19 years ago. That’s almost twenty. And that’s almost a lifetime. In fact, it would feel like forever ago, if it didn’t feel like only yesterday. And I find myself yearning for those days to be now (or at least the feeling of those days), literally every single day.
That sounds like gibberish, mainly cause it is. But it’s how I’m feeling right now, so… Yeah. This is what you’re getting today.
Maybe that constant nostalgic feeling which keeps me remembering “Ten years ago” as both yesterday and forever ago is what also keeps me coming back to the internet, day after day, specifically looking for experiences that either a) remind me of how it felt when I first got on the internet, or b) are completely brand new.
Both types of experiences are feeling like they are starting to run out. But they’ve been starting to run out for, oh, ten years or so.
I find myself reaching for loves of my past: Animation. Comics. Pro Wrestling. Working out. Video games. When I dive into the nostalgia of it, I end up digging through the internet for more information, because hey, it’s there — and the internet is by far the easiest, most vast, and quickest way to keep exploring those avenues.
I sit in my cool little office, with my cool desk and cool chair and cool knick-knacks on shelves, lit in color-changing LEDs that cycle between pink and blue because those are the official colors of cyberpunk for some reason. And I browse these cool things that I’m loving, and reading all I can, and seeing a Youtube video of it here and there, and really geeking out on discovery again the way I was nostalgic for that feeling of discovery.
And then it happens. I read a comment. Or I click a bad link. And boom, I’m reminded that my lightbulbs are connected to a cesspool of Chinese and Russian hackers, all pretending to be white supremacists to get real white supremacists stirred up.
The viel is pierced, and through a deep connection with literally everyone on the planet, I feel more disconnected than ever before. It all ends up feeling like I’m living in this video (which is well worth the 20 minute runtime, especially if you’re a gamer, a YouTube or Twitch fan, or just bored enough to watch 20 minutes of absurdity):
You can’t ever go back. I know this. And really, I don’t want to go back. What I want more than anything is for reality to realign itself so that we can all keep feeling the way I felt back then, when things were new and exciting and not ruined by literal Nazis. That craving isn’t ending anytime soon; after 41 years I’ve realized it will only die when I die. But more and more, I’m feeling the tools I used to achieve those feelings become more and more dangerous, as the fun is watered down to trace levels while the risk factors of enjoying them ceaselessly encroach.
So more and more, I find joy in things that aren’t online. And the more I share those disconnected experiences in an attempt to be a part of the larger conversation, the more distant I feel from the larger conversation — much like real-life conversations — as I babble on and on about how great this thing I experienced was, and no one can really relate… Much like trying to talk about Pro Wrestling in almost any social setting.
I only have one answer to all of this, which itself isn’t even a question — but it needs an answer all the same:
Keep going, no matter what.
Whatever this new reality is, the rules are very clearly not set. Everything has abruptly and completely shifted these last ten years, and will continue to do so. That chaos is not forever, and it’s not even a bad thing. It’s just chaos. The answer is to create order within it, starting with me.
I’ve returned my days to the things which have gotten me through times of personal upheaval in the past, namely Working, Writing, and Working out. I am getting my body back in shape, which is keeping my mind focused. I am writing every day again. I am doing the work before me, in order, despite not feeling like it.
I will keep writing my books. I will keep my body and mind healthy. I will sustain an income so I can keep eating food and having a roof over my head.
The rest of the winds of change will blow where they will, and they may even take me along with them. But that’s really it’s own form of discovery, isn’t it? Life may take us all to uncharted territory, where we don’t know where we are or what we are doing there. I believe that by knowing, deeply and unshakably, who I am, I can survive that. And that means I can survive anything.
I have the past ten years, and the past ten years before that. I’ve survived a lot. This is just more of that, on a much larger and much more distributed scale. The sand in the winds of change might sting, but it also exfoliates. The dead thinking sheds away, and we’re all forced to learn new ways to think.
It may be hard, but I think we’re up to the task. I guess we’ll see in ten years.
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