The Internet Is Weird

One thing having a blog has taught me about myself is that in my old age I’ve become a fair-weather writer (diarist?). When stuff gets hard, I don’t want to talk about it. I never posted in here all that regularly, but I’d say 2016–2017 truly derailed my writing habits. Weddings are distracting, and also stressful (I say that as someone who was skeptical about so-called “wedding stress”), and also expensive, and I spent a lot of time doing miscellaneous wedding-related administrative tasks while simultaneously watching my credit card bills skyrocket and my checking account funds all but disappear. There was something embarrassing to me about the fact that this wonderful, happy thing was happening to me, but the feeling I felt on a daily basis was not one of joy. Every day I imagined a different potential disaster and my own financial ruin, and in the midst of all this my diet consisted primarily of kale and hard-boiled eggs, so I wasn’t in a terribly great mood. But engaged people are supposed to be happy! It all felt a little bit shameful. It’s not something I wanted to write down.

Of course, if I’m being honest, my reticence started long before that. There’s something about public journaling as an adult that feels uncomfortable, which is probably why my brow furrows a bit when I read a Facebook status update that seems a little too self-revealing. Like, get that guard back up, sister, you’re making us feel a little weird over here. (Note: I feel it necessary to explain that I defaulted to “sister” only because I think women tend to be more open about and aware of their feelings and possess a greater ability to articulate those feelings. Men, meanwhile, tend to have the emotional depth and self-knowledge of hamsters. These are generalizations but I stand by them.)

I wasn’t always this way. The other day I discovered that my Deadjournal (2002–2009) still exists on the Internet, and by some stroke of luck I correctly guessed my username and password, and thus relived so many awkward moments of my late adolescence and early adulthood. (If I can call it that––22 feels kiddie to me.) Many years ago, I had gone through and deleted posts from 2002–2004 (after saving them to a flash drive for posterity), because the inner workings of my sixteen-year-old mind is something the Internet need not be subjected to. Those posts were a peculiar mix of conservative politics (lots of references to ANWR and caribou, Lord help me), recaps of The Real World: Las Vegas (which now feels kind of appropriate and fated, teehee), and intimate details around my and my immediate circle’s lack of sexual and romantic experience. It was mainly out of respect for my friends that I took those posts down––plus the horror I felt for my severely misguided, unapologetically horndogesque teenage self.

But the posts from late 2005 through late 2009 still exist, though I made them all private several years ago. I’ve spent my spare moments in the last 48 hours reading through these, positively aghast at the fact that I disclosed so many personal, inappropriate thoughts and actions and events, as well as the fact that I had forgotten about so many of them. (Is that a sign of old age?) For example: “A drunk young man I am acquainted with humped me on his way to the bathroom,” I write in September 2005. I have zero memory of this happening, and I can’t begin to guess who that person was, because I don’t remember speaking to many guys at all during college, though antics like that are probably why. (College guys are the most terrifying group of brutes on the planet.) I also wrote sentences that, presumably, didn’t make sense to anyone except me, and thus have an extremely intimate undertone that makes me uncomfortable, e.g., “I turned 20 yesterday and it tasted like a pickle straight from the jar.” Plus, every post from 2005 contains ambiguous, thinly veiled references to one of two psychology-shaping experiences that year: (1) my inexplicable crush on the campus pothead (which I had clearly convinced myself was a CW-network-level, brooding, coming-of-age romance that would most certainly culminate in a very deep conversation that would make him fall in love with me, despite our differences––he, the campus drug dealer, I, the brainy, inexperienced prude!); (2) my English professors’ persistent, somewhat irresponsible boosting of my ego, which made my decision to transfer to a local university, so I could live once again in the safety and solitude of my childhood bedroom, away from campus drug dealers, all the more harrowing and confusing. In my journal I include many apparent quotes, both written and verbal, from those well-meaning professors who I suppose were priming nineteen-year-old Colleen for academia and scholarship (and almost certain debt and poverty?). Looking back, I still appreciate that they understood how much effort I put into thinking and writing about books; it was a great love of mine that I took very seriously. But my advice to them, or any professor, now would be to not fill a nineteen-year-old’s head with delusions of grandeur; it only intensifies one’s self-aggrandizing tendencies and makes a summer working at Target even more difficult to bear, when the reality is that retail experience has way more practical value than, say, a really solid Marxist interpretation of Walden. (I say that as someone who thinks literature is probably the great savior of the world, the redeemer of humanity, and spent roughly $100,000 on not one, but two English degrees.)  Reading those entries, it’s clear to me that the path I ultimately chose––and then abandoned––was strongly influenced by those men and women who wanted me to be, or thought I was, like them. They had nothing but good intentions, but it was a little narcissistic, and it made me narcissistic too. It’s fine! Ya live ya learn! No regrets! (She cheerfully typed while on hold with one of her two––yes, she has two!––student loan servicers! Just kidding, I don’t call those motherfuckers.)

I’m getting off track here. My point is, I disclosed a lot of information back then, and I wasn’t ashamed of any of it. (Like the true egomaniac I was, and maybe still am.) I laid it all out there, and the result is at once incredibly awkward and a touch refreshing. But I don’t think I was the only one, or at least that’s what I tell myself when I’m staring at the wall thinking about this. The Internet was  a wildly different place back then. We were years away from social media like Instagram and Snapchat, which would both literally and metaphorically *filter* our lives. It was the age of Myspace and emo kids. Facebook was still mostly limited to college students writing dumb inside jokes on each other’s walls. Lots of people my age had Livejournals (and to a lesser extent, Deadjournals) or at a minimum would often reveal their current psychological or emotional state via song lyric or angsty quote on their AIM profile. To some degree, Facebook itself was treated like a kind of journal in those early days; the way I remember it, status updates could range from the pretty mundane (“[Name] is writing her final paper of junior year!”) to the casual overshare about one’s sex or dating life or substance use. I remember more than one drunk status update (not my own, but maybe I did it too), and it wasn’t even necessarily cause for deep shame or an automatic delete. That’s where we were back then.

Of course, my interactions on the Internet and social media were, and still are, entirely shaped and driven by my age. Generally speaking, one’s inclination toward poker-faced privacy and prudence is stronger at age 31 than at 16, or 18, or even 22 or 23. And in the days of AIM and Myspace I was in high school, and in the early days of Facebook I was in college, and anyone I was connected to on social media were in high school and then college, and we were all kind of immature and narcissistic and assumed everyone cared about what we were doing and how were feeling. Everyone was pretty much in the same boat in life. We also weren’t “friends” with our great aunt in Florida or our bosses or coworkers, which probably allowed us greater freedom to be raw and uncensored. In those days, I was perversely proud of my thoughts and feelings and how I spent my time, convinced that these details of my life made me endearing and charming and interesting. I brandished them somewhat theatrically. In my Deadjournal I come off as unaware, occasionally ignorant, sometimes obnoxious, more than a little bit strange. And while the act of public journal-keeping was certainly somewhat performative for me, it wasn’t dishonest; there is an authenticity that is missing from, for example, my current-day Instagram.

Maybe it’s because I’ve changed, whether due or age or what have you. But I do think social media and the Internet in general have changed over the years, as well as how we engage with them. Maybe it’s because the Internet used to be only a part of our lives; for me, it was an after-school activity, something to fill in the gap between homework and dinner. Now the Internet, social media, is so much a part of how we live and what we do that it’s easy to forget about that fact, and yet it forces us to be a little more guarded (even subconsciously) when it comes to how we present and represent our lives online? It’s why we craft posts so carefully, right? Or post stuff at all? Posts really aren’t for ourselves anymore; they’re for everyone else, it seems? They’re so everyone can see how put together we are, how smoothly our lives are sailing, how witty or clever we are, how nuanced or unique our opinions? I’m using question marks because I really don’t know. I’m just thinking out loud here.

The reason I’m thinking about this at all, just to come full circle, is because real-life-stuff now paralyzes me when it comes to writing both privately and publicly, when it was once my creative fodder. One Deadjournal post from late 2006 details a phone call I had with my Target supervisor; I had called in sick one Sunday so that I could finish a paper due Monday. The supervisor snapped and fired me over the phone. The last thing he said before hanging up on me was “Oh, what’s that? Today was your last day anyway? Cool, bye.” (For the record, that sarcastic farewell––”Cool, bye”––was uttered by a 50-something-year-old man named Chaz.) Honestly, until the moment I re-read that entry, I had completely forgotten about being kind of fired from Target. Humbling. (I say “kind of” because my plan had been to quit anyway; Chaz just beat me to the punch.)  But if I was fired from my job now? That is information that would not be written about. And should it be? Would social media be a friendlier place if we all shared real stuff, or would it be a weirder world if everyone knew everyone’s real personal business? Would a post like “my dog is 14 and her back legs often buckle and I lay awake at night thinking about her, but here I am across the country squandering what could be quality time with her” be welcome, an opportunity to connect with anyone who has ever had an elderly dog who they love so much it hurts? Or would people cringe, the way I am at times guilty of, at such an emotional overshare? What’s too much and what’s just enough? Or is anything too much, and we should all just go back to thirty minutes of AOL per day so you don’t tie up the phone line in case Grandma is trying to get through? (This option honestly sounds so appealing to me.) It seems that we shared, and shared some more, and then kept sharing and sharing and sharing so that now what’s online is completely artificial, a bunch of partial truths. I read The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell many years ago and didn’t understand it and was only a little interested in his thesis. Is this an example of what he was saying? I should look that up.

Again, just thinking out loud.

And now I’m in a bit of a pickle because I realized that I don’t know how to end this. I thus far have drawn no real conclusions about any of the thoughts re-reading my Deadjournal has inspired, and everything I’ve written is a bunch of obvious statements and very few interesting points. So, in closing, in the spirit of self-disclosure, I will say that my last Instagram post is a photo of my husband smoking a cigar on New Year’s Eve against an illuminated backdrop featuring Las Vegas’s fake Eiffel Tower and the Bellagio fountains. The caption is “And a happy new year.” It was a fun night, just the two of us strolling around town, but the truth of the matter is that I had been very mad at him earlier in the evening and we almost didn’t go out because we were both sulking. Also, three days later I came down with the flu, and I think it’s at least partly because I was out until 3 a.m. on New Year’s Eve and broke a sweat power-walking in the cold, and dinner was three glasses of champagne, three petite cigarinis (made that word up), and two cookies that I ate in the car, and typing this sentence is to serve as a public self-shaming about the smoking, which I legitimately feel dirty about, but also, perhaps, a forged connection with anyone who has smoked and then felt like ick, even if the cigarinis burn out in 30 seconds or less and were purchased in France, which might make the whole thing a little bit elegant?

One last thing before I get out of here. Here’s a sentence one could only write in 2007: “I bought a dress, but I need a shrug to go with it.” – Deadjournal. You’re welcome.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload the CAPTCHA.