This is a tale of how the modern world brain-broke me.
I’ve spent way too much of my life staring at a screen and browsing the internet. To the point that I now consider my humanity a carcass, a casualty. So alienated have I become from this digitally poisoned dead-self, that I wish to submit it for study for the advancement of science.
I would like to take the opportunity to dissect my digital dead-self as if it were on an operating table. You-of course-have no reason to care about what I have to say, especially considering that it’s a lot. Like most of what your eyes come across online, your best bet is to keep scrolling, relegating the bulk of online ramblings to obscurity where they belong. Indeed you have every reason to believe that what you may read below will be a profound waste of time that actively makes you stupider. Of all the countless, contextless fragments of human expression the internet surfaces daily at face value my words have no justification for standing out from that tide of irrelevance. Like all voices of the internet, my words will vanish irretrievably, just as a single rain drop falling into the ocean dissolves into it and is gone forever.
I do not wish to make myself the focus object of this piece. Rather, I wish my experience to serve as a medical example. Because the internet a homogenizing force that reduces all human variation and culture to the same screen-monotony and screen-deadness, my experience of the internet is inevitably emblematic of others. The part is an image of the whole. Similarly, unless there is some unique disease a cadaver is meant to display, there is nothing special about the condition of any given cadaver undergoing dissection. The lesson is evident not in the distinctness of the viscera exhibited but in how the scalpel reveals what is typical of all bodies.
Why on earth am I doing this? Why bother with a tell all, when I am sure what is true of me is true of most? Besides what I must confess is the simple dirty pleasure of intellectual masturbation, this degenerate need to tell all is itself a product of digital forces acting upon my psyche. The internet is designed to elicit disclosure. It wants your data. The powers behind it are the most successful peeping toms of all time, capitalistic voyeurs. The web’s machinery of corruption coaxes everything out of you, to render all secrets public, to distill human formulas . I am merely doing what I have been conditioned to do.
There is a further, dare I say humanitarian, reason for me to render the blasted and scoured contents of my digitalized psyche for general perusal. This is the desire to reach others who are also victims of digital mind-rape, especially young zoomers whose vulnerable condition genuinely makes me fear for the future of humanity. For anyone who takes the subject of the internet’s psychosocial consequences seriously, and we all should, may what follows be of some value.
The internet exerts a profoundly disturbing, silent influence on the quality and integrity of the human mind. So inured to it have we become, that we don’t even recognize our devolution.
You have been warned that my own libidinal rages will play a big role here. For the internet’s effect on the psyche, in essence, is to capture and aggravate stifled desire. Its filters promote selfishness. Here is primarily a work of cavernous, vacant lust and seething hatred, of pathetic resentment and bitter helplessness. But through it all it seeks truth. And what in these times could be more precious than truth?
So why should you do the literary equivalent of watch me jerk off on live cam? For one thing, it’s an internet pastime. Don’t act as though you are committed to dedicating your time to nobler aims as you browse digital landscapes of shit. An astute reader may understand what I am driving at with this thought exercise on a deeper level. Indirectly, by electing to read this I am recruiting you as a participant in something of an experiment. That is because the authenticity of this text depends on anonymous, unsympathetic, selfish readers who properly want to hate it and deride its author to achieve its full effect. In other words, it is a work for denizens of the net by a denizen of the net. To the degree that I flop out the-already heavily surveilled and screenshotted—contents of my digital psyche, the more genuine the result. This essay should have a comments section properly so that it can attract the invective and commentary that befits it.
So what follows in broad outline will be a kind of philosophical exercise in phenomenological self- analysis that expands into a general treatise on the digital culture, i.e, modern life. The phenomenon described is mainly a process of spiritual consumption. As such its structure in faithfulness to its subject, will be free flowing and disjointed. Basically, it’s going to be incoherent, a reflection of what the internet has done to my brain. Your brain. Our brains. The brain.
You will be tempted to call me a bugman, a symptom of masculine degeneration. But mine is a common disease. I document a condition for posterity. Pathetic though it may sound, I am a victim of the internet. Most likely you are too. The ways it has bothered you are probably the same, because it instills the same behavioral formats in all. No one can escape its domination save for the last uncontacted tribes of remote jungles and islands. Even they will tote smartphones sooner rather than later.
I can only hope to scratch the surface of the many ways the internet has scrambled reality. Realistically this is a book length project. For the sake of brevity I will prioritize what I feel are the highlights.
My Descent Into Digital Chaos
First let me qualify what follows by stating that I am a 30 yo millennial boomer. Nothing to be proud of, but a relevant narrative detail for our story. As an effete millennial I have the most generationally complete experience of the full arc of the internet, from the early days of shitty dial-up modems and AOL to the shitty days of early social media to the current shitty days of tiktok, NFTs, AI, the totalistic subordination of modern society and its economy to the technocratic world-order. I’ve seen how the internet has reshaped the world directly from the beginning at the same time that it reshaped my experience with respect to the world it changed as a consequence of reshaping everyone like it did me. So I know intimately well how the internet is both a kind of cybernetic culture-fuck/mind-fuck monkey trap feedback loop because I have memories to contrast with how it was then in my childhood with how it is now while having it be the definitive technology of my adulthood. But I as also the a ginny pig for the technological social engineering experiments big tech has gotten away with applying to hundreds of millions of people unwittingly and without their consent. As a millennial I can claim the internet as my profane heritage.
Enter the Nexus of False Control
Within my bubble of false control, my digital world is ordered. My world is stable. I can summon forth exactly what I want when I want. I spout my opinions and those who agree cheer me, and I feel like some world-historical rabble rouser. In reality I sit and rot eyes strained and soul drained, purposeless in my illusion of action.
Thus one distinctly insidious property of the surrogate activities of screen life is the illusion of control it gives. “Ha! Watch me send this text! That’ll show them!” Snugly ensconced within our shell of consoles, buttons and feeds, we feel as though everything obeys our commands. Yet the levers we reach for are revealed to be made of air once grasped. Entrapped within this capitalistic machine of instant gratification delivery mechanism there is no hope of a memory.
We each order a shell of preferred content around us locking us out from reaching common ground. This fact has obvious political implications, but because this treatise is mainly interested in the personal dimension of digital phenomenology I will presently overlook this. I can’t seem to fathom what is other than me without touching grass. For in this realm I call forth the facets of my mind as they are externalized and imprinted in a receptive technological medium. The phone I carry in my pocket, the laptop I type this into, ultimately reflect the contents of my mind. Once let loose in such a manner, I am then scattered, but at the same time constrained. For my matter is given form via the digital structure, I am suddenly bestowed a limit. For it is a two way street, a bivalent pipeline. All my contents are then fed into a relational system of analytics and mechanisms until only I receive contents that reinforce my preconception. I am never exposed to any authentic diversity, denied anything in other words, that expands my mind. This shelling of my information diet plays a big part in making me stupider. It deprives me of spontaneity and chance discovery, the kind of fluid and unscheduled openness to experience which happens when one lives according to ancestral biological specifications.
A Graveyard of Memory
As should be abundantly clear by now, online experience is characterized by its emptiness and immateriality. Anything one remembers of one’s time online pales in significance compared to a real experience. A human being is made of memories. Memory is identity. Memory is the core psychic substance which thought transforms into its myriad shapes and which supplies the soul with its contents.
If I had to calculate how much of my lifetime I have spent in front of a computer and staring at a screen. it would be reasonable to estimate it at around a half. When I look back at my life I therefore see vast deserts scoured of any distinguishing images pocked by the occasional oasis of real life. For the house of memory is built out of distinctions. To remember an event it must be separable from some else. Hyperbole it is not to say that prisoners are amnesiacs. For them the corridors of the past are eternal recurrences of a hell of mediocrity. Every day blends into the next. Undifferentiated sameness spreads across the phenomenal horizon. One inhabits a flavorless ruin of banality.
Factor in also that there are no joys, thrills, tragedies or meaningful moments to be genuinely found in screen existence, only cheap, consumable stimuli. Think of the millions who unwittingly endure a vacuous vicarious existence , cheering hollow victories and mourning invisible defeats.
This is the existence which techno-capitalism seeks to make of the human thing. We have allowed ourselves to become mere data generation batteries. Even to resist this oppression is an act of patheticness. What good is such an absurd struggle when the sun is shining and grass is growing just outside. The real world, of sun and grass, becomes an alien object, a thing to be feared, perhaps even reviled.
By erasing memory by destroying distinction, digital existence therefore enforces a spiritual and conscious incompleteness as a matter of course.
The Monitored Monitor
One of the ways the internet has screwed me up is that it has conditioned me to self-monitor and to be perpetually aware that my traffic and activities are detectable and inspectable by indifferent machineries. Academic phrases like the “digital panopticon” or “surveillance capitalism” or “co- veillance” lack the phenomenological vividness to evoke what it is like living without the expectation of privacy. What’s it like? It’s demeaning and paranoia inducing, at least for me.
What feels mind-rapey about the norm of privacy violation is that, as a teenager growing up, I was already getting locked into habits and signed up for accounts where this was already happening without my understanding and therefore without my genuine consent. Later, I would get educated about cybersecurity and the complex, exhausting, borderline obsessive compulsive steps one has to take to obscure one’s digital footprint such as VPNs, tracker blockers, cookie wiping, onion routing and all that cool stuff. For a while I indulged my paranoia and followed these best practices. But doing so made me feel like a obsessive compulsive germaphobe who washes their hands obsessively for 30 minutes after touching a speck of dirt. Now I just let it all hang out.
The internet already induces paranoia in me enough, so caring too much about cobbling together some semblance of privacy was more damaging than the humiliation of being forced naked in public alone. So instead I have just kind of embraced being a whore about my internet activities and raw dog the web. I am well aware that nobody cares, that there are billions of others doing the same to drown me out, and that a lot of the data effluvia I shed only gets compiled and scanned by bots. Still, somewhere in the bowels of the internet is some abominable, terrifying searchlight of an All-Seeing Evil Eye, whose fearsome ire by sheer bad luck or personal indiscretion, it is possible for anyone to attract. In any case in a perverse way I find the thought of PRISM’s interest in me almost flattering. Almost as much as I find it terrifying and dehumanizing, that is.
On the Subtle Psychological Tortures of Anti-Social Media
Social media has compounded the horrors of co-veillance. My social media footprint is token at best and this gives me a good vantage point from which to assess it objectively, at a remove. Resentment breeds scrutiny.
So let me just get out with it: Social media is an exploitation scheme that forces people to surrender to the demands of capital to pass as human in society while reducing that humanity to a nihilistic level. A far more accurate name for it is anti-social media.
I had to decide between being that guy with no social media profiles, in which case anyone I interacted with would not believe I am a real person or a loser with no friends . “Got an insta?” is the sterotypical request. If I said no, I would be seen as a bot or a catfish or an outcast. I could choose to engage in an activity which I inherently resent and intuitively knew to be mentally unhealthy and shallow and that would morph me into a fake person. So really anti-social media left me with two choices: to be a nonexistent person or to be a fake person. Authenticity means sacrificing any kind of visibility online. To participate in this fake society , which is now its only form, I had to play a very stupid game. My mental health was the price I had to pay for entry.
How many people, I wonder, believe that their lives do not matter because their social media presence is just not happening? For every e-thot who posts some triviality and gets hundreds of thousands of likes, shares, and comments, there is a thousand thoughtful, witty posts (and let’s be fair a million objectively worthless posts from people who should be doing something else), or just posts by ugly, or camera-shy, or unsavy people, that go unnoticed. I always felt the weight of my obscurity on anti-social media and perceived it as concerted collective conspiracy of judgement leveled against me. Admittedly, I did not want to play the game, so my disengagement directly correlates with this lack of attention which, in the framework of ant-social media, makes one feel like a nonperson. But as soon as I tried to cultivate my anti-social media facade my first impulse was to feel my every action was being judged by some invisible, critical observer.
I was never one to crave attention before the internet took over society. But the reasons for wanting it now are socioeconomically different. Attention is a raw resource that can be leveraged and wielded for personal gain. Attention is money and power. For a sperg such as I, it’s distressing that this attention capital is the fundamental basis of the new postmodern bullshit economy, a system which effectively I am locked out of participating in. Essentially, this anti-social media culture format stigmatizes and alienates the basic lifestyle which allows me to be comfortable in my own skin.
Sometimes I entertain a fantasy going against the grain of my innate disposition and trying to build my online presence and “personal brand”. What that would entail in terms of what I’d do with my hypothetical life as a “content creator” or worse, “influencer” is irrelevant . Maybe I would lead some countercultural revolution, or get my ideas out and win over scores of disciples. Most likely, it would end up nowhere but with me stewing with deep feelings of inferiority.
What this fantasy require is me to overcome two palpable sources of paranoia and insecurity: identifiability and fear of failure. As one’s publicly visible digital surface expands, the greater the odds the Hostile Observing Other comes across you. And who knows what sort of freak might try to intrude on your life. Especially if what you do is anything political, and in today’s world everything is obnoxiously political in no small part thanks to the internet. And everything political is so stupid these days that sometimes I yearn to signal boost my opinions in an organized and produced way in an effort to cut down and hack apart the unyielding tide of ignorance. I want to get stuck in, to destroy lesser opinions, though this is a fools errand. Like everyone else I am seduced by the idea of generating my own propaganda.
Cancel culture has some influence on my paranoid complex which prevents me from embarking on this fantasy campaign of anti-social media conquest , because anything worth saying on the topic of politics must make hamburger of sacred cows or be in some way transgressive or provocative. But truly what keeps me back is loser freak culture, asshole idiot culture. The thick smog of ignorance polluting the internet that spills out from all the stupid people that infest its platforms chokes and blinds me. People have been deceived into thinking that to post is to have power, that to have following means you are exerting some kind of influence on real politics rather than some simulated monkey trap surrogate activity replacement of political engagement.
Of course the odds are stacked against me that anyone will take notice of anything I try to accomplish in my quixotic effort to build a social network empire, which brings me to the second phobia the web has exacerbated, insecurity. Again, because whenever I see a lack of engagement with any content I do put out there personally, the thought of me putting energy into my digital presence only to be teased and mocked by my own insecurities, or by actual dissenters or random haters, dissuades me from taking the pursuit seriously. Maybe this is cowardice. Maybe this says more about my own self-esteem than it does social media’s psychosocially abusive design principles and the brutality of online politics. Yet the my insecurity and the nastiness of social media are inseparably entwined considering how involuntarily intrusive and overshadowing social media is in modern life. The reason my self-esteem feels so violated is because of anti-social media. Lowering self-esteem is a feature not a bug. Clearly, not everyone is made to thrive in this wack-ass cultural climate, so anti-social media is inherently inegalitarian and discriminatory in its very nature and essence. To those who say “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”: go be normie elsewhere.
On a more philosophical note, the net result of anti-social media’s psychosocial impact is nihilistic leveling, the flattening and reduction of human beings into one-dimensional empty shells pantomiming a falsified performance of their life. It transforms people into consumer products bereft of individuating qualities or authentic meaning. I think this is one reason why anti-social media makes everyone hate everybody else. It turns people into contemptible objects stripped of all their distinguishing substance while teaching them they are all unique stars of their own show. If that’s what you grow up believing that’s all people are, then the outcome must be horrifying. This is why I worry for zoomers.
Now everyone knows that anti-social media makes everyone bitter, narcissistic and rude and that it is a machine for turning personalities into garbage and tanks their self-esteem. I feel vindicated now that the truth is now getting out.
True social media should be about making connections, not straining them. It should be about making friends, not enemies. Anti-social media, which is what we do have, is a parody of humanity.
Online Dating is Online Hating
Now for a few words on the inhuman travesty that is online dating.
I will refrain from now going on an incel screed. Even though incelism is undoubtably another malignant byproduct of internet culture, both in its causes and effects, and is worthy of its own separate analysis another time. I am not interested in this whole cursed subject of “sexual market value” and Pareto principles. What sours me most on online dating is a kind of aesthetic disgust.
Some human rituals, courtship among them, if not sacred, have a certain mystique about them which is best left untouched. “How we met”, the story that all couples are expected to remember, has been robbed of all its spontaneity and excitement by online dating. This inorganic, mass- produced assembly line dating turns the preliminaries of romantic adventure into a dispiriting soulless mechanical chore. We all want finding love to have an air of magic about it, for it to feel fated, as if the “stars were aligning”, as if some hidden hand conspired to nudge two distant, longing souls from far-flung corners through all the trials of life, at once strangers but now unexpectedly, miraculously, improbably, brought together. The algorithmic reduction of love to a list of preferences and try-hard profile pics vacuum dries courtship of any of serendipity. In doing so it impoverishes an important area of human experience.
This arrangement has brought me many a disappointments and turned me cold . How many times I would “match” with someone—i.e briefly glance at their pics and find them vaguely attractive—only to never hear from them when I message? How many times I’ve been ghosted, catfished, led along. Or even when I did reach the point of meeting someone in person, all the initial excitement instantly vaporized when I realized that in person we had no chemistry.
It’s wrong for innocent desire for companionship to be so abused.
Not My Proudest Fap: The Digital System Image as the Exfoliation of Frustrated Desire
The reality of the internet is that, looked at objectively, it’s more accurate to say it’s a delivery mechanism for porn with some unrelated communication features added. As opposed to say, a communications technology decorated with some porn around the edges. Estimating the exact amount of internet traffic dedicated to porn is a bit fuzzy, but a large proportion of it is no doubt devoted to the timeless human hobby of fucking each other. It is, admittedly, a sticky question.
Some have proffered that up to 30% of traffic is porn related, with others even saying 70% according to some website I won’t bother to cite. If, in addition to the standard visual pornographic fodder, one factors in all that comes to the same point: sexting, horny-posting, dating app usage, the pining for the airbrushed, photoshopped , unobtainable desirables on display on anti-social media, sex-dedicated online traffic easily approaches half of all activity probably. The reasoning is crystal clear, most people spend at least a quarter of their time being horny IRL, so this would naturally translate into cyberspace given that the web is just an electronically inscribed projection of collective desire.
As a human male you might be surprised to learn that I jerk off to internet porn. This fascinating revelation is worthy of exploration in itself, but I’d rather do it alone. In all seriousness the disturbance of male sexuality caused by internet porn is an issue over which psychologists are genuinely concerned. Time and again I have saddled up sadly to the meat buffet, resentfully and self-disgustedly cranking away while watching random bodies slap together. Or, and this is surreal if you stop to think about it, I’m watching people recording themselves also masturbating. The goal of this ritual is not to get off so as to temporarily nullify my life, to extinguish self-awareness. Internet porn is effectively narcotic in function.
The daily regularity with which I wank to internet porn does not paint me for a coomer any more than post-pubescent males my age or younger in general are coomers by design. Something about the male sex drive is aroused by some primal darkness, by the association of the sex act with destruction and aggression. The one-sided nature of masturbation in relation to internet porn, and the disconnected, random, indirect involvement of those I am watching who are mere meat for my delectation, creates ideal conditions where the testosterone-laced brutality latent in male sexuality can be freely disinhibited. Internet porn is not good for boys because they do not learn to associate sex with any sort of tenderness. They learn to view it as a visceral glandular mechanical action rather than sensual communication. It’s something they do to someone else—or watch someone else do to someone else, rather— not something they participate in together.
When I first discovered internet porn in the tender years of adolescence it was as a euphoric wonderland. How could it not be? The newly installed horniness module in the reward centers of my adolescent brain were absolutely spoiled by it. I clicked that one fateful link and before my eyes opened up a multidimensional, practically infinite grid of people doing that amazing , mythical thing called sex. So it is with any teenage boy destined to be ensnared in its clutches. Over time this allure lost its luster, and I have become wretchedly cynical and resentful of this reflexive routine. The dead space it carves into my life is not necessarily time I can’t afford to do without. I am even less concerned about sexual dysfunction it may have induced.
Fortunately, there was a time when I first underwent puberty where I could masturbate solely to the sexual fantasies of my imagination. I’ve heard this helps make the wiring around sex less dependent on electronic stimulation (Younger generations of males may not be so lucky.) What’s frustrating about porn is the defeat of willpower. Sexual stimulation used to be a reward, an affirmation you received for showing your excellence as a specimen which made someone want to give it up to you. Now the male brain has been tricked into thinking these rules don’t apply. So their motivational circuitry goes haywire.
Another dimension in which digital sexualization has affected me negatively is sexting. It’s a basic fact of human physiology that your frontal lobe shuts off while horny. It’s also a basic fact of internet psychology that it’s distracting. Without the internet tools to get into all sorts of mischief while in this essentially intoxicated, hyper-stimulated state there is only so much trouble you can get yourself into. With those tools in hand, it’s easy to forge a trail of shame and regret paved by embarrassing texts and impulsive dick pics.
A critic might say: well if you have a problem with all of it exert some willpower. Few see the inherent futile absurdity of the presumption of willpower in the no fap “movement”. I ought to have not been put in a position by society where I must feel responsible to use my willpower on such a trivial but energetically dissipating habit which is so encouraged by my environmental conditioning. If something is happening to millions of people, willpower has little to do with it. The same goes for obesity. Rather than to be freed up to direct my energies and willpower to more profound and important goals that draw from my highest aspirations, I have to navigate though a minefield of technological temptations. The very notion of temptation as a concept implies that the object of desire itself exerts some pull. It draws you to it, calls out. It is a temptation because it is enticing; it tugs at and frays the strands of willpower until it weakens and gives in. Therefore the presence of temptations in the environment is objective and to resist temptation is to tax willpower. What happens then when the digital media hyper-object presents an environment with countless temptations? The answer is that it overwhelms the dopamine centers, nullifies free will. The fact that “how do I jerk off less?” has become something men seriously (sometimes urgently) discuss online in niche communities is humiliating for the male gender.
This brings me to a much wider cultural issue about sex, which internet porn only exacerbates—the question of its meaning. Porn says sex is meaningless, but what it’s actually doing is amplifying a background cultural message that equates the value of sex with pleasure. Here’s where the digital nihilism comes into play. Even just biologically speaking, the pleasure of sex is merely a means to an end, which is mainly reproduction but also to facilitate pair bonding between mates. Without the pair bonding aspect of sex, there’s something vacuous about it which makes it unhealthy if disconnected from that function for too long . Much as this may come off as prudish, porn and also internet enabled hookup culture in the long term not only makes sex become less enjoyable— because it becomes less meaningful— but also more depressing and machinelike. No matter how delicious the presentation of food is on the table without tastebuds no matter how much is eaten no bite will satisfy. An increase in abundance does not always mean an increase in satisfaction.
So among the many things the internet has ruined, it has ruined sex.
In the last it’s most accurate to say the central function of the internet is not to push porn per se, but that internet porn is just the most blunt and concentrated surface manifestation of how the internet sucks up desire and fixes it in agitated, quivering stasis. It’s a suspended photoelectric b of lust and agony just as human existence is a spatiotemporal tapestry of lust and agony. The true purpose of the internet is imprison and inflame unsatisfied yearnings of every kind. It is the representation of desire, of “tfw”. Seeing that the advertisement industry, which seeks to scientifically perfect techniques for evoking desire, is integral to the modern internet I find this claim to be rock solid.
Stewing in the Cauldron of Political Insanity
While porn is a gross topic to write about, what really makes my lip curl in disgust is internet politics. There can be no better example of a spectacle that showcases the worthlessness of humanity in the eyes of whatever gods are watching than the infantile shitshow that is online political discussion. This barbaric festival of willful ignorance is garish in the extreme and quite demoralizing to behold, let alone get involved in. You might say that what I just described is simply politics itself. No. The internet has made it much cruder.
Like all things internet I was nevertheless drawn into participating in the cannibalistic blood orgy that is internet politics against my will. It just seemed like what everyone was doing and that made it feel normal. (An important theme I might add.)
The basic unit of internet political discourse is a Half-Baked Opinion (HBO for short). HBOs tend to glom together into cliquish, pestilent clusters, not unlike an outbreak of hives. People form savage tribes based on whatever simplistic, emotive knee-jerk signal activates their lizard brain. And since the internet makes it hard to pay attention and think, the ability to form a consciousness of advanced ideas is blunted. So the political ideas that come out are always thin and watery. The epitome of thin and watery politics is twitter. The prominence of Twitter as a cultural institution almost makes it feasible to equate a tweet with an HBO and in truth a tweet is sort of the textbook epitomization of one.
Twitter is where careers go to die. Repeatedly I see figures whose viewpoints I once respected before they started tweeting lower themselves to the lowest common denominator and become babyish, impulsive whiners. Meanwhile I have seen utter mediocrities ascend into prominence as hordes of halfwits flock to the their banner.
Nothing is so pathetic as a political tweet . One can only gawk in quiet amusement when coming across a self-righteous tweeter confidently declaiming the most miserably banal of takes as though it were a proclamation to shake the foundations of the globe. These wretched ants bandy together online and form sneering mobs so as to dissolve the mediocrity and insignificance of their individual selves by merging into an undifferentiated mass which then wields itself as a club to bash whatever bugbear they have conjured out of their own collective fear and ignorance.
Apparently someone thought it was a good idea to give everybody a soapbox. Many people are horrifyingly stupid, however, and should never have been allowed to speak to matters they do not comprehend. It stands to reason that if someone is too stupid to comprehend and issue, and too ignorant to educate themselves about it, then nothing they say about it can lend any clarity or cogency to the matter whatsoever. It can only bring the discussion down to their level. Their participation is a net negative. In a nutshell idiocracy is why online politics is so grotesque.
Society was more stable when it was harder to tell what other people believed. This encouraged people to pick their battles carefully and only say what they mean to someone’s face. More importantly, it required that they actually found out what the person believes which requires either research or asking them in a real human conversation.
I used to get involved in internet politics using accounts that identified me by my real name. This is dangerously foolish in addition to being a profound waste of time. So instead I settled on posting my opinions anonymously, having concluded that if I am so intent on wasting my time, it’s best to do so in a way that minimizes exposure and threat to my reputation. Anonymous posting gives one the power of the unvarnished truth. It is also a perverse invitation to utter horrible blasphemies I don’t truly believe just for my own puerile amusement. A side effect of this anonymized disinhibition effect is that, drowning in my own irony and the facetiousness unleashed by it, I can no longer identify where I stand in terms of my political values. I became a vacuous semantic hole, a null entity, as I suspended judgement and larped as every possible political character online. I pretended to be a communist. I pretended to be a nazi, a racist, a liberal. In an effort to transcend all political categories I assumed all flippantly, as if by embodying a contradiction I would explode all oppositions and reveal the truth obscured by the false mirrors of ideology.
I know there are some things I simply cannot tolerate IRL, and I know there are definite wrongs that should be righted. It’s proof that nothing matters and nothing is accomplished by online politics rather than increasing the sum of misunderstanding and resentment. When the chips are down my instincts know what’s right. Still, thanks to the ironic, unserious, sarcastic meme-driven nature of online discussion in which nothing is taken too seriously, I find myself able to entertain multiple conflicting points almost simultaneously. And in the moment, I feel the weight of each opinion’s impulse.
So I believe everything and believe nothing. I suspect this may have to do with the fact that exposure to fragmentary and contradictory online discourse gives you access to multiple conflicting points in rapid succession, and so the mechanism of associative learning unconsciously jumbles together an inconsistent rats nest of unrelated connections.
In a way this multiple political personalities syndrome is a superpower, an advantage, like an author splitting various shards of themselves into characters in a novel and viewing the scene from many perspectives. Mostly, however, I feel that it undermines my integrity. I have been exposed to so many varieties and flavors of bullshit I am unable to reach a consensus as to whether there is anything that isn’t bullshit. A mind in chaos is no mind. A mind must have order. The internet is a a blender of mental order. The great disintegrator.
In itself the rejection of the political spectrum is philosophically unproblematic. If you’re not satisfied by mere belief you’re forced to think. Thinking is better than embracing an unexamined opinion which is likely to be wrong anyway. At the same time it’s disorienting and brutalizing to see myself lose a moral compass and gorge myself on misanthropy, which is what the internet wants.
While the online right is unhinged and cruel, it’s the online left which owing to the current political situation is most empowered and pushy. The online left has its own evils because it aligns itself with the digital dark powers. Because of algorithmic advantages it benefits from given to it by sympathetic technocrats, the left plunges into depravity at a different rate online. The circuit amplifies rather than dampens their signals. Radical liberalism is more palatable to the mawkish, anodyne corporate values of “diversity and inclusion” that’s cynically propped up by the platform owners in their effort to market their products to a global audience. So liberals spew their garbage from a secure perch on the major monopoly networks. The online right may or may not be justifiably accused of racism, sexism, and every other political sin, but either by necessity or insight it is correct to look upon the powers behind the internet with suspicion and disdain.
My participation in the whole sloppy ordeal of online politics (i.e useless bickering with strangers over nothing) unfolded in two phases, a fake, self-identifying phase, and an honest, anonymous phase. In the early phase, I presented myself as a liberal posting under my named accounts. I realized, however, that as with all things internet what I was saying came from an inauthentic self- monitoring place that was governed by the Maoistic whims of the mob. Anonymity was more liberating, and while it did give me freedom to say what I truly thought for better or worse, it also had the aforementioned dissociative effect that resulted in ideological ambivalence. It did make me more comfortable considering certain conservative truths which were labeled forbidden. By permitting me the freedom to entertain the politically incorrect in a way it expanded my mind. In either case I ended up with cognitive dissonance. A lot of that going around it seems.
If you don’t believe what you are saying, it’s impossible to say your very best, to speak from the heart and with truth. Because I am so drilled into unconsciously monitoring what I say online there is no way for me to say anything meaningful about politics without feeling suppressed. Everything stated publicly online of a political nature must blend into the homogenous band of bland acceptable opinion. Anything that deviates from this average is crushed down by the average. In sum , then, online political discourse (this word is far too dignified to describe the shit-flinging contest it truly is) is unable to actually be productive in any way whatsoever because it happens online.
What a sad existence it is that so many have been reduced to: wasting their time in some digital backwater, fuming pointlessly about political issues that they are only aware of and therefore mad about, because they are in that very hole. I have been deep in that hole, simmering in both left and right wing forums, hating all, learning to complain and shake my fists rather than do anything productive with my time. Thankfully, I am only capable of being radicalized in thought, not in action.
Better, perhaps, that the angry mobs rove around cyberspace poking each other with virtual pitchforks rather than enter the actual streets to spill blood. Yet the two expressions of political activity are not disconnected. It’s not the least bit controversial that the violent tendencies and malice of internet politics and rhetoric flows out into the real world. In fact, if anything, most of the political demons entering our world today are summoned first from this hellish portal.
We Are Anonymous, Sorta
Online anonymity, or the presumption thereof at least, is a theme throughout this blogpost so it serves to say a few words about it directly. True online anonymity is a tenuous possibility. The best one can hope for is for less immediately obvious “nymity”, direct identification. My online relationship to anonymity began with the chans. Grotesque as they might be, these peripheral sites also do something precious and necessary which is allow people to speak their minds truthfully: it lets them say nigger, spic, chink, faggot, kike, dyke, ham-planet, roastie.
Why is that a good thing? The reasons are several. In anonymity all hate is equalized, unified, homogenized, and therefore nullified. There can be no discrimination when discrimination is indiscriminate. The excessive use of hateful speech leads to “gestalt decomposition”, desensitization of semantic meaning. A slur hurts only insofar as it is used in targeted isolation, with precision intent to cause harm. Secondly, it gives a place for people to say it where it can cause the least harm. All the truest nastiness posted online concentrates in this dank corners rather than being distributed elsewhere, where the degenerates who wallow in it can smear themselves in filth to their hearts content. Finally, people want to say these words. Let us not live in a false reality where people do not think ill of each other. Truth is better than delusion.
While some bleeding hearts may disagree with this conception of hate speech, relegating it to obscure anonymous forums provides an important social function. It furnishes a sample of people’s darkest thoughts, spotlights bleak truths . In summary, hate speech is a good thing. Let it all out. Shit. Bleed. Puke.
These hands have typed every slur in the English language. I would never use these slurs in real life, directed at real people, because I do not believe in the words or feel the hatred they supposedly symbolize in my heart. This does not make me for a bigoted person. Indeed, it allowed me to desensitizing me to these words. The harsh, offensive culture of the chans was an anti-venom to bigotry.
Few know this wisdom. In each larp I perceived some fragment of the shattered truth.
The Existential Angst of the Frozen Digital Past
An obvious source of angst with the internet is its long memory and the existentially crushing determinism of the digital track record. The accessibility of the record of one’s past foolishness and youthful indiscretions , combined with the way the internet turns people into pitiless, shitty mockeries of human beings and flattens their dimensionality, means that one is never able to escape one’s mistakes. How uncharitable it is to hold someone to something they said ten years ago without taking care to account for how they are today to see if they have grown as persons.
I’ve had my fair share of missteps online . Thanks to the precious masks of anonymity and pseudonymity, everything interesting I have to say is veiled. Nevertheless everything is offensive to someone online, weakness is the norm, and even the most well-intended comments can trigger. Because of the flattening effect of online presencing, people never see you, they see a caricature of their own prejudices and knee-jerk impressions. If you can be misunderstood, bet that you will be.
What I put into the internet is mostly all that is not me, an excrescence of irony, impulse, and flippancy; but to others and the algorithms it is all that defines me. Apparently credit agencies use search histories to calculate credit scores.
Every sloppy drunk text I have ever sent, every dick pic, every digital misstep I have ever taken crowds around me , misrepresents me, can be used against me as kompromat, boxes me in, manifests my descent into perdition.
Memetic Thought Destruction
I was a clever boy. In adolescence I had gotten into classic literature, had my own ideas about scientific theories. I mused recreationally on political-economy, kept notebooks with my own, admittedly amateurish, philosophies. My relationship to the internet when I was 18 was much different from what it was today. Wikipedia, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, and other information sources both fringe and mainstream were my main focus. I consumed it all in a vast feast of curiosity. Most of all I read books. I had not been sucked into the chans, a bad habit which, contrary to the usual pattern, I developed later in life, mostly because it let me get away with being mean online. At that earlier time the internet’s intended purpose as an instrument of enlightenment showed itself. I did not then as I do now have a whole browser dedicated to just watching porn, or have my ability to concentrate snuffed out by habitually having 50+ tabs open in every browser window. Slowly, the internet as a device for aiding in the construction of my ideas became a machine for demolishing them.
While I still learn from the good parts of the internet, the bad parts have steadily become a distraction more than anything else. I am drawn to conspiracies and fringe thinking, not because I believe it, but out of morbid fascination. Of course in these threads I post earnestly as I am wont to do, pretending as if I believed and giving cogent arguments for the most inconsistent and controversial of ideologies. I’ve turned to information junk food. More tragically, I no longer keep notebooks in my spare time. I write less. The time I would spend reading 700 page books I now spend shit-posting. My love of reading has been harmed grievously. I can never seem to finish anything I start. Again, maybe I should just take responsibility. Sip some willpower juice. How can I if I do not experience the internet as something I do, but something done to me? Why must such a major force in modern society be such an obstacle in the way of me being my best self? Why must it corrupt everything it touches? Why must it bring me to its level?
I’ve noticed how—against my will— I have adopted memes as building blocks of my thinking online. When I am thinking seriously I never frame concepts in terms of memes. But whenever I engage in online discourse I feel impelled to frame ideas using the simplistic, thought-killing vocabulary of memes. I resent the trash I have accumulated in my brain while going on web surfing joy rides, drunk on cheap stimulation. Such is the fate of all minds the more exposure they have online. They are liquified into pulp. I’ll get dementia from this.
When you think in memes you don’t think much at all. You have lost intellectual autonomy. Your thoughts are not really your own. You can contribute no insight because all you do is convey a replica of the meme. Memes themselves, as emergent condensations of collective libidinal agitation, never encode the most valuable insights, only what is most transmissible— they communicate at the nihilistic level. Memes that spread most vigorously do so because they can easily, which means memes that lack nuance and complexity prevail.
So I owe a reduction in the quality of my mind to the internet.
Work: Screen. Fun: Screen. Everything screens. I work on one screen, and when I’m done, my pixel- addled wandering brain seeks stimulation in another. I reach for my phone like a ghoul might a piece of human bone.
Screens have become the gateways through which all the entries and exits of modern life pass. If you are young try this challenge. Pick something you would normally do with a screen and try to explain how you’d do it without one. How would you find a job? How would you look up and apply to colleges? How would you keep up with your friends? Navigate an unfamiliar neighborhood? Find someone to have sex with?
You see, I do computer shit for work. It’s the only way I know how to make money. The internet is, for all intents and purposes, my master, my god. I am so dependent on it that it is emasculating to type this. Some days I will get off my work computer and go onto my fun computer and that will be my whole day.
I lost my virginity thanks to an app and I’d probably still be a virgin without one. I find introducing myself on apps more comfortable than in person. It sucks terribly, and I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve been ghosted, catfished, flaked on, vexed, slighted, misunderstood, and basically just subjected to abject social disappointment. At least it means I meet people, but I must believe that if I lived in a sane society I would have experienced fewer frustrating superficial social nonstarters. The connections I tried to make would be more substantial, if rarer.
“Then go outside and talk to people, freak” I can hear someone saying. It’s more complicated than that. This is a culture that is very socially atomized (thanks to the internet). Everyone seems to stay in their own lane, as if separated by the thinnest sheet of ice. Trust is low, and there’s just too many people to sort through and not enough overlap between various circles, or fixed, physical locations where kindred spirits can meet. Everyone seems to fear each other, anticipate the worst from each other.
Many an empty day I have passed glued to my screens. An indictment, perhaps, of unlucky circumstances, or of the poverty of my social life and my personal failures to nurture it, but also testament to the effectiveness of the internet as an escapist deathtrap for snaring the idle, depressed and listless. The internet doesn’t kill time, it genocides it.
When I am strapped into the rapid info-stream, and the flood of fleeting stimuli washes over me, my painful self-consciousness fades away. I disintegrate and meld into the data flows. I’m immersed in surrogate activities. I am other than who I am. I am other than where I am. I become screen. A false transcendence, no doubt, a forgetting of the flesh rather than a triumph over it. Far from an apotheosis though it may be, such digital self-erasure still has its charms.
Pathetic it is to type this. How many nights have I squandered gazing blankly at my feeds and favored sites, how much good sleep and a better quality of life, how much splendor of experience, was sacrificed for the sake of this mindless habit?
Like all surrogate activities, interneting is a cheap substitute for real experiences. And like any addiction, what it replaces—health, well being, true living— is never as good as what it was given up for in exchange. The slut is wont to be dissuaded from slutting by the argument that love is more fulfilling; nor does appealing to the rationality of the druggie guarantee that they will succeed in overpowering their dope-hungry neurons through sheer willpower. I am sucked in by my screens. It is magnet and I am dumb iron.
Captological Entrapment: A Mind Prison of Our Own Creation
My experience of the internet is one of confinement, stifled moods, confusion, grueling disappointment, indescribable bordom, laziness, ennervation, fruitless endeavors, anger at the world and silent madness. It occurred to me that this description could also apply to prisons. And that’s precisely what we have built for ourselves. A mind prison.
I could not unplug even if I wanted to, and like any good hostage, I embrace my Stockholm syndrome dutifully. I am wedded to my captor. If I were to unplug, I’d lose the basic ability to transact with the modern world. Even if you’re not a fan of the modern world, you have to concede that living outside of it brings a whole new array of challenges. At least every nerve and fiber of my being is adapted to the modern order of things. Putting aside the practical difficulties of reimagining life outside of the internet, walking away from it after having gotten used to it is sort of like giving someone their first taste of ice-cream and then telling them they can never have it again. The same principle applies to drug addictions. One always wants to return to a lost pleasure. It’s easier to do without if you never did with. Better to never do than to try and then have to quit, forever fighting against your now tampered and self-defeating hedonic wiring. I would be acutely sensitive of the severing of functionality brought about by ripping out my connection to my digital exo-cortex and swearing off all my data and systems. I’d crave it, sweating sleepless in the night.
Whatever the internet has robbed me of it must have stolen and replaced a critical component with a homologous but inferior element. If I don’t know how to regrow or relearn this component organically then I cannot function without the artificial substitute that replaces it either.
The unavoidable monumentality of the internet way of life is perhaps the most terrible thing of all. We cannot argue with it. To relinquish it comes at the cost of disengaging in society . Just like the idea of free markets which at closer glance are not so free because you are forced to participate in them at great penalty, so too is the internet not the liberator it was made out to be. In both markets and networks, you are free in so far as your relation to it is privileged. In no way are you permitted to exit the framework. You must engage, but how you do so is up to you. No one who must work to survive is free to leave the labor market unless they want to be free of being alive also. But they are free to pick what job they choose—so long, that is, there is a demand for it. So too with the internet. To be a member of society you must be a member of the internet. What do you call something you cannot escape from, don’t want to be in, and which limits your freedom? A prison.
Touching Grass: A Way Out
Those words come to me from a voice originating somewhere primordial within me like a whisper carried on a breeze. The internet has changed humankind’s general relationship to being outdoors. The system framework demands screen time, which demands more or less being indoors. Its captological reinforcement loops are sticky and grabbing and so strengthen sedentary habits.
Doing anything “inside”, in fact the whole construct of “insideness” is denaturing. Before industrial civilization there was only being-in-nature, until socioeconomic evolutions created the most stark yet subtle ontological division universal to all cultures: the distinction between being inside and being outside. In the earliest times even shelter was part of nature, the cave or the tree canopy and for much of history existing within shelter was expected only when the elements necessitated it as with storms or in winter. It was not only normal, but economically necessary to be always under the sun with no floor but green of the earth and no roof but the blue of the sky. Mostly everyone worked outside, or households were designed with large inner courtyards and built openly to let in sun. Only with the further development of industrial society did “being inside”, in the factory or domicile or office become the norm.
Being online is a leap beyond this first step toward unnatural domesticity. It is domesticity not of just the body, but of the mind, a kind of pathological parochialism that narrows consciousness to the dimensions of a screen. Being online fools us into thinking we are plugged into a many-eyed observatory of the world. In reality it shrinks us down to a point without width, depth, or size. To be online in cyberspace means to be offline in meatspace. This has consequences.
A Message to Zoomers
If you are a zoomer and happen to have gotten this far reading this, heed my words. You are in danger.
It’s customary for younger people generally in all times and zoomers specifically in our times to roll their eyes at the preachy advice of older generations. For good reason. They’re used to being browbeat by those older than they who pretend they “know better” when the society of their design falls to pieces and their own affairs are in shambles. No generation can understand itself better than itself. Zoomers have had their trust violated and have been bequeathed a truly dysfunctional culture. The problem is not you. It’s what’s being done to you.
Through it all you are the most beleaguered by the internet’s ill effects. The most damaged, the most depressed, the most mutated by it. The sorry state of your mental health as a generation is now well-documented. Its causes are no mystery.
For you being online is the default mode of existence. Your method for navigating the world is through a system of apps which are programmed to drain you of willpower and turn you into habitual users. You can scarcely conceive of getting around in without this app framework, as has also become the case for me. But you were born into it. The methods tested on me have been perfected on you. Anti-social media is, tragically, your primary means for socializing. So you understandably have a reputation for being a bit anti-social. Because your knowledge of others has been so drastically deformed by anti-social media, I fear that all you see of others are the misanthropic digital caricatures I have spoken of.
A common, and of course unfair, stereotype of gen z is that you are amoral zombies. You don’t care about anything and are generally hedonistic nihilists without clear values. You don’t know what to believe. Your attention spans are shot. You live in chaos. You crave meaning, fulfillment, authenticity, but can’t conceive of what it might look like. So you are attracted to radical politics because they know something about society is broken but there are no mainstream narratives to make sense of it all.
To whatever extent this broad characterization is accurate, it says nothing about who zoomers are but what you have been socially engineered into becoming. It is the mark of the digital malign influence scarring your personalities. The internet is a promoter of hedonism and nihilism. The benefit of this cynicism is that zoomers are far less naive than millennials were at their age.
Millennials are a generation that was deceived by the false optimism of technocratic marketing ploys and for-profit idealism. What I only came to understand intellectually, zoomers know intuitively.
Zoomers. It may already be too late. Struggle mightily to be a real person yet. Go outside. Meet people the right way. Study rather than have your opinions diluted by facile social media debates or manipulated by algorithms. Uncover the enormous power of thinking for yourself. Know the culture you have inherited does not have your best interests at heart, and understand why. It is designed to manipulate and deceive you, to steal your time and attention, to break you down into less than what you could be. You are more than a social media profile. Trust not in your devices. They are false idols. Cherish the quiet and still, the tranquil negative spaces that reside away from the incessant online chatter. Value the ancient and unchanging rather than give into the pressure to keep up with the immediate and contemporary. Be at peace in the wholeness of your mind free from the interference of electronic hyper-stimulation which cut and divide it the mind into distractible, disunited fragments. Abhor artifice. Reject false connectivity and the cynicism it breeds. Question your immediate impressions before you judge. Draw your own conclusions. Disdain the herd. Rebel against the mob. Cut loose. Reclaim and guard your spirit. Find your true self before you lose the chance to ever know it, before it is twisted into a perverse digitalized mockery. Fight back against cyber nihilism. Do not let your generation symbolize the shameful defeat of human potential. Resist the temptations of the machine. Earn real merit the hard way rather than the counterfeit, automated, convenient way. Discover the intense pride of overcoming personal challenges rather than taking the easy automatic solutions provided by apps. Choose serendipitous exploration over algorithmic predictability.
Online Culture = Death of the Soul
The internet is more than a brain blender. It is a soul crusher. A Kafkaesque labyrinth of chaos and uncertainty. For sure, the internet has some good. If I had the chance to rewrite history to prevent its invention, I think I would decline the opportunity. My life would be much more modest in scope without it, more regional. I would have a much harder time transcending the confines of my immediate environment. I have made several genuine connections thanks to the internet. Used wisely, it puts distant knowledge within reach. Generalizations have their limits. The web can be a powerful enhancer of possibilities. Nevertheless the mess it has made is undeniable.
We have all become twitchy, restless lab animals participating in the largest uncontrolled experiment in history. The net’s reality distortions have become so obscenely, perniciously normal that we have forgotten that the mirror through which we perceive is crooked. The marketing of big tech made it all
seem so spiffy and shiny and new. They pretended to know, or lied. One thing is clear: their net worth suspiciously went up as everybody’s net self-worth deteriorated.
It’s fair to say the internet has taught me how to hate. Worse, to luxuriate in hatred, to view it as essentially the correct attitude rather than an aberration. But the old internet hate machine has done its work. It has turned my general opinion of people into detestable creatures. Perhaps, and this is an evil thought, it has just shown me the truth. There are whole classes of garbage people out there and now I just know how trashy they are. Or perhaps, more likely, internet culture has distorted my perception so having a low opinion of everybody comes more naturally. Even so the net has deprived me of the willingness to give others the benefit of the doubt. The benefit of the doubt, in turn, requires a degree of ignorance.
Most likely internet culture manufactures nastier behavior by forcing people to engage in petty interactions and adopt sham personas. Would that mean I hate the false representations of people or what they have become and therefore what they are now? Is there any distinction any more?
Whatever the reason for this perceived depreciation of human value, I’m certain the internet has made me significantly more misanthropic than I would be otherwise. Hatred of humanity is in the end self-hatred. Hatred is the death of the soul.
Subtly the web exerts this same malicious pull on everyone, on you.
What troubles me most is the thought that the internet is just a reflection of ourselves rather than a disfigurement of our true, for the most part dignified, natures. The ugliness of internet culture is our ugliness mirrored back at us. We have created such a vile system because it is exactly suited to a such a lousy species, like hand in glove. We’ve built what we deserve.
I want to believe human beings are capable of more, that we can turn our slide into nihilism around, that this isn’t the end of culture. And so I am motivated to project blame onto the technology and absolve us of the guilt of cultural self-destruction. But the technology is just a vessel, a series of tubes. Without the representer to hold a representation in his mind’s eye, representation is nothing. So it is that the over-world, meatspace, the primary world of bodily experience, still takes precedence over the sub-world, the symbolic world, online pseudo-experience. We must take responsibility.
This is all very dramatic. I realize I seem to be building up to a doomerist crescendo whose logical conclusion is that future generations will devolve into horrific psychopathic monstrosities. I believe what’s essential to human nature cannot be deranged utterly no matter what seeks to corrupt it.
Regardless of how much the algorithms grind me up and press me into sausage-links of depersonalized data packets, no matter how much it seeks to flatten me into falsified one- dimensionality to misrepresent and abuse me, some part of my deepest self remains unmolested and unspoiled. The algorithm will never own my consciousness, though it may narrow its scope down to screen-framed tunnel vision, though it may follow the traces my mind leaves behind, hunting it as it would an escaped slave. Dignity comes from within.