I’m that person who comments on every Instagram post, responds to your Snap story, and texts you after I read important posts. You know why? Because too many times I have poured my heart out online only to be met by a few paltry Likes or, worse yet, silence.
I’ve been thinking about what I would call the Spectator Society Phenomenon for a few months now. Most recently, I was reminded of it yet again because I wrote on someone’s wall on Facebook. You remember how common that used to be? What happened? Everyone got a Smartphone, we all started texting or messaging, and decided that any kind of public exchange was Super Uncool. Why?
Part of it, I’m sure, it’s the utter over-saturation of content we consume. If you couldn’t tell, this is a common theme I’ve been stewing over recently. It’s fascinating to me how different our culture is from even ten years ago as a result of the ever-expanding amount of social media platforms, apps, and infinite sources of stimulation. It seems like a chore to exert any kind of effort beyond tapping a button to voice our approval. How am I supposed to keep the endless stream of dopamine flowing if I cease to scroll? We’re just so busy these days, who has time to type out a comment or send a message? Nevermind that communication is easier than it’s ever been in our lives – I’ll send you a text when I want something and otherwise forget you exist. I’m busy keeping up to date on the latest political drama, the dankest memes, the freshest lifehacks. It doesn’t matter that I’ll forget about all of this within a week. It makes me happy. Unless I stop taking my antidepressants. Or skip the gym. Then I’m depressed for some reason. Better get back to Instagram. Cute dog pictures will make me feel better.
If you couldn’t tell, I’m becoming increasingly cynical of modern internet interactions. And really, I’m inside my glass house throwing these stones. I’ve only spent a few days now forcing myself to fall asleep by staring at the inside of my eyelids instead of my Tumblr feed and every night I have to literally fight the urge to grab my phone. The first thing I do when I wake up is check my messages – I don’t even leave bed before I’m bombarded by information. I’m writing all of this on an internet blog! I share my meditation progress on Instagram and I get upset when I lose a Snapchat streak. All of these relatively meaningless things make up the bulk of my life.
What a fucking joke, really. And to make it all worse, as many interactions as I’m capable of making in a day, many are more or less meaningless. Even when I comment “That looks amazing” or message “I love that”, who cares? Is it really so much better than just leaving a thumbs up? Isn’t it good that we’re so much more connected than ever before?
Not only am I inside my glass house, my history of internet dependence is longer than most. One of my first memories is the cow print box of our new Gateway PC, the silly electronic stings of dial-up. At eight, I lurked in a chatroom called “Sex” on the Blizzard servers, pretending I was much, much older than I actually was, panicking when I discovered what “cybering” meant. By 12, I spent almost all of my free time in front of the monitor, MSN Messenger pinging occasionally in the background, my life a series of roleplays, online avatars, and low-level MMO characters. Around 16, I was one of the first people in my friend group to have a flip phone, my handy Alltel Hue accompanying me wherever I went. There has never been a period in my life where I did not have access to a computer with an internet connection. Aside from a year period in my adult life where I consciously tried to rebel against the increasingly common Smartphones, I have had a cellular device for well over ten years. It is only now at approximately 33 years old* that I have finally started to try and back away from what can only be accurately described as a lifelong dependence.
Everything is best in moderation. By no means do I intend to escape into the woods and completely cut myself off from electronic devices. But I am trying to limit how much time I spend staring at my tiny handheld screen. I’m trying to learn some skills that don’t require a computer. And I’m trying to make what interactions I do have online more meaningful.
Because you all deserve more than a double tap. And so do I. So fuck Spectator Society. I see you, and I want you to know it. I refuse to let apathy permeate my personality and render me motionless when I see people in need, doing wrong, being hilarious. I’m going to react and you’re going to see it. That’s a promise.