I’ve had a headache every day this week. To be honest, I’ve had a headache since 5th grade (chronic headaches are just a thing that I’ve learned to live with) but this last week, it’s been far more pronounced as it’s crawled behind my eyeballs and squeezed with its little talons. There are so many reasons why my headache leaves its default state of dull roar and makes itself noticed, environmental fluctuations, intense noises, stress, anxiety, and sometimes it’s the amount that I stare at screens. I don’t know that this is the reason for my exacerbated headache this week, but the internet of things has been on my mind, so I’m going to talk about it.
I’ve been thinking about the flow of information and that word: feed. At what point did our ingestion of information take on that terminology? I mean, I’m sure if I dug in a bit and did some research I could trace it to a fixed point and time. But I suppose at this moment, I’m not interested in the when but rather what it means for us now. I imagine that it has something to do with television, plugging in and getting a broadcast signal. That signal is now multiplied. And we’re taking it all in at once. Our Facebook walls and Twitter streams, they are our feeds (and when you scrape past the thin facade of branding, they’re acknowledged as such on the websites). We’re constantly pouring all of this content (there’s another internet of things term, calling all things from news to artistic creations “content” generalizing all things into a uniform product that doesn’t take into account quality or merit or importance as long as it is constant and new and plentiful) into our eyes and brains. Feed seems appropriate because we’re gluttons for it now and the fencing off of the various echo chambers seems to be a way of choosing the flavor of the thing that we’re overstuffing ourselves with.
It feels like the thing that we need to do most is disconnect from it. De-stimulate ourselves a bit and reconnect to our inner self and the humans around us. But at the same time, disconnecting makes us miss things that makes us feel isolated. I envy people who never joined the various social network groups, they never adapted to the new normal so they don’t ever have to suffer the separation. But when you’re in, you have to figure out how you’re managing your own feed so that it doesn’t overwhelm and steamroll you. The world is fucking terrifying right now. I’m of the liberal/ progressive bent, so watching this rising fascism and authoritarianism is definitely causing me some distress. And with all of our social networks, this stuff just pours in all day, every day. How much of that is useful? How much is actually keeping us informed? With so much stuff that is being pushed out there that is simply not true (ranging from deliberate propaganda to sensationalized spins on news story fragments to made up fictions that are designed to drive clicks and ad revenue) how much are we actively polluting our brains and stimulating our rage centers to the point that things that should be triggering us to react just don’t anymore. When a scary movie throws jump scare after jump scare at you, or overwhelms with the fake gore, you hit a point where it just doesn’t effect you any longer. You need to up the dose to have a reaction. To need to do something more drastic to feel something.
I’ve been unsettled for years now. I feel like I’m constantly tense, waiting for the worst. And it’s not just the way that the news information is presented. It’s personal life stuff too. Watching that one “friend’s” feed, you know the one, you connected because you’re friends with some of the same people or you went to college together or you were just socially connected enough through some work function that you connected via Facebook. You don’t really talk, so you’re only ever interacting with each other’s life through your feed. And maybe you guys shouldn’t be connected, because everything that they post irritates you–the way they comment, or the things they share–and now every time you check Facebook you’re a little bit on edge because there might be that little thing that sets you off. A family member’s political post. A vague-booking status update that solicits good vibes. An ex’s post of a fun endeavor (or worse, a photo of them with someone who may, or may not, be a new significant other).
At one point is it too much? At what point do we cut the feed. And how do we feel once it’s gone?
I’ve followed Warren Ellis online for years. I’ve loved the fiction that he’s created, but just as much, I’ve enjoyed the way he’s engaged with/ investigated/ reported from/ journeyed into our digital future. I began to interact with his blog, so I missed out on his forum years. Now, I get my field reports from his newsletter, as he’s gradually withdrawn from most other social media engagements. He reports on the usefulness of the various digital habitats, he pokes and prods the new ones to see how they’ll respond, he envisions mad futures and deconstructed present day scenarios. I won’t go so far as to say I model my online engagements after him, but I definitely see him as a guide into the digital utopias and the wastelands and swamps that also pepper the landscape.
I’m interested in the futurism of it all (it’s nice to imagine a future these days) but I’m also interested in how to manage the present. My life feels simultaneously full and empty. I love ordered systems and relative chaos. Uncertainty breeds both imagination and anxiety, order cultivates both tranquility and confinement. And trying to process all of the things and do my day job and also try to live my creative life … it’s a lot. I want to be open to it all, but I’m starting to think that I need to further curate my feeds.
Is this entry a little scattered? I’m still processing what this means in a general sense and in a personal sense. I’m sure I’ll revisit this subject again, try to force order to my thoughts. Anyway, I’ve stared at this screen for too long again and even with the screen brightness significantly dimmed I can feel the claws scrapping my skull and gouging my eyes. Time to shut down.
More later …