Confessions from My Feed: An Interview or Something, Part 2
This post is a continuation of an earlier excerpt. Start at the beginning by reading the first post here.
3. Do you think it’s possible to be honest, online?
Only to the same extent we’re honest in real life. So I guess what this question really asks is if it’s possible to be honest. And though I’m optimistic about human interaction in general, I do think it’s impossible to be truly honest, perhaps even to one’s self, simply due to the futility of language. Words will never accurately convey what people want to express, so in that sense, because you can never communicate what you really mean, you can never be truly “honest.” The whole Addie Bundren chapter in As I Lay Dying sums the impossibility of honesty pretty well: “That was when I learned that words are no good; that words dont ever fit even what they are trying to say at.”
4. To what extent do you feel that the online shallowness you refer to (“such a good salad … the dark green is super photogenic”) has changed the way that we operate offline?
It’s hard for me to personally say the way things have changed, since I’ve never known a world without the internet. My personal identity has always been partially determined by my online identity. So if this shallowness really did change the way people operate offline, I wouldn’t know.
Even within my own lifetime, though, I think there’s been changes to the way people communicate with each other, the level they do it on. This is probably due partially to advances in technology and partially to simply growing older.
It’s hard to share and discuss super long form content now, which is what I tried to get at with the part about PDF and the Tinder messages. Since it’s been normal for applications to radically limit word or character counts, we’ve accustomed users to short content. And by radical limiting, I mean making it difficult to post more than one or two paragraphs — which, when I write it, sounds like a lot, but seriously? We’ve begun to see even one or two paragraphs as too long; we expect a TL;DR at the end. By limiting the length of content, we often limit depth, as well.
People have got all these feelings they want to share, but if they want to write a paragraph to their friend about those feelings over Facebook Messenger, it suddenly comes across as a gargantuan deal, since even a short paragraph looks like it’s the length of the Bible when displayed via restrained textboxes of Messenger. It’s uncool. So people wait for someone else to make a meme that speaks to how they feel, or for an insightful opinion piece in a popular newspaper or magazine to touch on it, and then they’ll share that. The easy ability to attach other people’s work to your own online personas makes it less likely for someone to think of posting a status with primarily their own words.
The speaker of the poem does this herself, to a certain extent, except she tries to break the mold by attaching something functionally inaccessible to her online persona. (Sure, people can technically share PDFs via email or whatever, but email is for old people; have you ever tried to share a PDF on Facebook before? It’s so difficult someone could write a poem about it.) But trying to do something as simple as get her friends to read a story is impossible because long PDFs are (a) long and (b) PDFs.
So all she can do is hope to meet a stranger who has already read the story. But she has to be ‘cool’ about it, and sarcasm is cool, so she makes a sarcastic reference to it in her profile description. But the images of her totally distract from anything she says or feels, and even when someone addresses, they do so in a joking manner. Sharing this story, which means so much to her, would require her Tinder match to ask about it in a sincere manner, find the PDF, read the long story, and finally, reply in a sincere manner. All of these actions are lovely, but they are all things we have been habituated not to do.
5. Do you feel that we’ve become smarter or dumber as a cause of this? Or do you find that we’re smart about this shallowness, as in we indulge in these shallow activities because of troubles we might have offline?
While many of the shallow activities people partake in online, such as sharing memes or making long pun threads, seem ‘dumb,’ I think these activities tend to be ‘dumb’ veneers for what are truly worthwhile insights. Take, for example, this meme my friend showed me the other day:
It’s short, it’s shallow, and it’s fucking hilarious. When my friend showed it to me, we couldn’t stop laughing for probably a solid minute, simply because it hits so close to home. It touches on some really deep and hard-to-talk-about issues: worrying you might be a failure, the repetitive mundanity of daily life, the feeling that we’re wasting our lives and money, insecurity, anxiety. But because it’s presented with such a shallow veneer, it turns these secret 3 A.M. fears into something normal, something other people have experienced, something you can talk about.
Memes carry the same value all forms of comedy do; by expressing something so deeply personal in such a shallow way, my friend and I could express the fact that we’re both genuinely struggling with these issues, while still keeping the conversation lighthearted. Even if we don’t talk about the joke after, the fact that she shared it with me means it was something she wanted to talk to someone about, but talking about those sorts of things is intimidating. Making them seem like something ‘dumb’ makes it approachable, conquerable. Furthermore, the popularity and virality of that meme, and of similar content in general, shows that it’s not just us two — such struggles are experienced all across society; sometimes just knowing that you’re not alone in that struggle helps.