Okay. I hear myself. And trust me, I used to roll my eyes pretty hard at the writers and journalists and entire cadre of types who built their careers on being online, only to rail against dependence on whatever was the platform du jour once they’d reached some level of professional security and could afford to leave. I used to think it was pretty rich of them to complain, not unlike watching a champion swimmer carp about the conditions of the pool after winning the meet. How could you justify telling other people to log off and touch grass when there clearly was a link between shearing off successive pieces of your time and energy and selfhood for algorithmic approval and the cold hard results that ensued?
What I understand now, having spent my entire 20s online—in pursuit of being as networked as possible, as up-to-date on matters micro and macro as possible, as most-hearted as possible—is the trade-off. Like everyone privileged enough to experience most of the pandemic from behind a screen, the limits of virtual connection have finally become painfully clear to me. I think about the old college friendship I’ve let decay because the other party isn’t on social media at all, and we never figured out how to reliably update each other on our lives without the ability to outsource it to a Zuckerbergian profit machine. I think about the time I confessed to a friend about how hard it was to date, and she said unthinkingly—automatically—with surprise, “But you have so many followers!” I think about the weeks I was home alone over the summer, bedridden with COVID, how obsessively I consumed every Instagram Story available on my feed. And now I wonder, with a shameful degree of melodrama, if that is what it will be one day when I die, and everyone just keeps posting like normal.
That’s a freakish thought, you might say. But that’s how my brain works now. In the face of Twitter’s demise, Instagram’s TikTokification, Facebook’s all-but-guaranteed obsolescence, and the metaverse’s total horror premise of cannibalising even more of real life for online life, the idea of simply finding the correct new platform to stare at under the guise of forming connection, to trade in one form of presence for a shoddier model, is, I think, counter to everything I’ve since learned to care about. I’m not sure that I can fool myself again. Can you?