How the Internet Has Created a Swamp of Very Loud Sheep — Ann Sterzinger
If you’re a digital native, you probably have no idea what genuine loneliness is. Before you get off my lawn, let me finesse that (oh, god, Ann, finessing anything on the Internet is always your first mistake): back during the analog age, if you were a freak or a weirdo, you were a freak or a weirdo. Period. That was it. No way out. No online community of equally gothy souls. Even if you went to some big nice suburban high school, you weren’t going to do much better than being Duckie from Pretty in Pink.
The downside of this is that you were sad.
The upside of this is that you learned to live with the various feelings you get when no one else will back up or even understand your thoughts and opinions.
Weirdos got used to being weirdos. And after a while, we liked it. When we finally escaped home and found the other oddballs in a slightly larger town, we tended to cobble punk rock scenes or the like out of whomever happened to be in the immediate area. Which meant that restricting your social life to people with your own politics or taste or thoughts was fucking impossible; you settled for hanging out with anyone who thought anything at all instead of shuffling through life like quiet sheep.
But then everyone slowwwwwly started migrating their social life to the Internet, where anyone in any town can comb forums and blogs till heshit finds his people.
Not the weirdos in general. Not the punk rockers or subculture kids. No, you can find an entire forum of anti-gay, pro-feminist cathars who believe in free healthcare and eugenics and all prefer heels on women over sneakers.
In other words, it’s almost impossible to actually be an outcast. You have to tattoo your entire body purple to even qualify as a weirdo… until you stumble across the purple whole-body-tattoo website and find your herd at last. A perfect tailor-made tribe where everyone is the same character from the Breakfast Club so nothing ever happens. (So we go out and look for another tribe to fight with cause we’re bored.)
Humans are social creatures. We want to fit in. Nobody is going to voluntarily be a loser with no friends. Weirdodom is thrust upon you. Most weirdos begin as involuntary freaks, and learn to embrace that identity because they have to.
Or rather, had to. There’s no such thing as an outcast anymore, unless you’re just an extreme jackass. But as miserable as it is to be a non-jackass weirdo, weirdos had a necessary part to play. There’s got to be someone out there who’s used to disagreeing with everyone and is comfortable with it, because what if we’re all wrong?
But now it’s impossible to be a voice in the wilderness for very long. Pretty soon you find out that there are precious OTHERS out there who like Tabasco sauce on their apple cobbler. So you don’t have to learn to handle the feeling of having an unpopular opinion. It’s always going to be popular somewhere!
Weirdos are no longer grateful to find other weirdos. They’re only happy once every English speaker on the planet has been put through the series of thirty sieves that sorts out everyone who disagrees with them on the slightest thing.
It’s not at all mysterious, therefore, that our political discourse is so angry and fractured. Kids never have to get along with other kids who have different opinions just to have a friend. You can always choose a perfect custom digital social life.
And then the bubble pops: A friend of a friend on Facebook happens to NOT think a conspiracy of white men or Jews is plotting the demise of everyone else! HOW DARE THEY?! EVERYONE I KNOW THINKS THAT! IT’S SELF EVIDENT BECAUSE JUST NOPE! DUMPSTER FIRE!
They’re used to all of their friends agreeing with them, even if what they’re agreeing to is completely insane, so their brains interpret anyone who disagrees as an outsider to the tribe. KILL, says the brain. And the brain has no experience in reining in or even examining that snap reaction.
Instead of civilly talking things out over a case of cheap beer amongst a diverse group of weirdo individuals, in other words, you always get two or more camps of like-minded people all screaming together at the groups they don’t agree with… who are also screaming together.
In other words, we used to have two kinds of people: quiet sheep, and noisy weirdos. Now you have sheep, and then LOUD SHEEP.
Course, if you’re willing to meet the more reasonable and less noisy people from different gangs from all over the world, you can still cobble together a somewhat normal social group with an old-fashioned dynamic.
Then again, half of my friends on Facebook keep calling me a dupe of the Zionist conspiracy, while the other half seem to think I secretly go to KKK meetings in my spare time.
I got some news for those people: I don’t have any “spare time.” I have to oppress whomever I’m going to get oppressed for the day while I’m brushing my teeth.
Even I get bored now if I’m not multitasking.
Kids these days.
Originally published at annsterzinger.com on May 15, 2017.