shadow selfie

Dear Reader,

The solution to the technology addiction crisis is actually quite simple. This is it: spend more time on non-digital activities. Photography, art. Stuff that’s creative. Innovative. Stuff that starts with a blank page. These are the touchstones of society and they’re being destroyed by the impact of computers on our minds and souls. We need to return to our true, wild nature. We need to resist the pleasure of technology, the way it drops our mind, like a drug, into a lower orbit of non-critical thinking.

We need, as a society, to pop up for air. To read more. To create more. And yes, write more - in journals, on paper. Offline. We need more novels. Essays. Stuff that brings thinking. Crying. Being.

“Likes” and “shares” don’t find this stuff. They’re an engine for the stuff’s opposite: Clickbait. An endless stream of quick dopamine hits, timed and tuned to a rhythm set by some of the smartest and most creative people in the world. They’re also the best paid, by far. They encourage another hit, and another, and another, further toward something, a closeness to a vague reward we’ll never know and never get. “Connectivity.” “Community.” Fake news. Viral. Shareable. The sum of these turds amounts to a pile of shit, a huge one, on the doorsteps of the palaces built by our ancestors: War and Peace. Song of Solomon. One Hundred Years of Solitude.

“Don’t be preachy,” she said. “Don’t go crazy.”

I’m the guy (always a guy) with the sign that says “The End is Near.”

And just like you, I care. And just like you, I don’t.

I’m afraid that the world is wasting itself, utterly, on three nearly identical video games. Reddit, Facebook, Twitter. These platforms are only superficially distinct. Each makes money in the exact same way. And each makes us feel stupid and sad in the exact same way. It’s the way we’re tricked into thinking that we’re looking at something that’s real. Poops of information, generated by both humans and machines; real(ish) stuff of extraordinarily, undeniably low quality. It looks enough like the real world. And the feels are real, because it’s real enough. So we allow ourselves to fall in. Cuz what the heck, everyone does. Then - boom! - just like that, shittiness is normal. Extreme levels of it. “Facts” aren’t facts. Conversations, frankly, suck. Almost every single thing we do and say is now owned by a small number of corporations. It doesn’t make sense to wonder whether or not they’re evil. It makes a lot of sense to grapple with the fact that they’re soulless. Corporations don’t have souls. People do. Period.

Nobody cares.

Current social media: All those things you say and do online are used against you. Specifically, to get you glued to the screen for as long as possible so you’ll see as many ads as possible.

Far more than we are willing to admit, we no longer have our own experiences, make our own art, even have our own thoughts.

Okay, Reader, I’ll tell you about the photo. That’s me. A shadow selfie. Taken with my flip phone. These are my jam, now. This one was taken at the MacArthur Bart station in Oakland.

The smart phone wasn’t making me smart. Or interesting. So I quit. I haven’t had a push notification in my pocket in years. I can still get around. I’m a whiz with the busses, maps, directions. I’m slow at everything, but I’m never late for anything.

I’m not telling you this because I want you to care. Or be jealous. Or proud. Or really much of anything. I’m telling you this because I want to remind myself that I still have things to say, that the internet can still work for those of us who want to do it… well… different. This is my social media channel, built from scratch. That you’re here, with me, now, reading these words - that feels good. Warm. Somebody cares, nobody cares, somebody cares, whatever. I’ll keep writing. Hope is a practice.

Meanwhile, the world goes on.

Meanwhile, the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, are heading home again.

What I used to hate about Big Social Media (BSM) was that it always felt like me against the world. Ultimately, I think that’s why I torched all of my accounts. The loneliness is baked into the experience. Every man for himself. Every man an island. Every person against every other person, always. No teams. No shared goals. No communal progress.

Instead, a pecking order.

Five hundred likes is better than five.

Five thousand is better than five hundred.

Five means nothing literally nothing to the person who can pull in five thousand.

But five is still real for me. In fact, I’m hoping for just ONE person to read this stuff! Find me, Reader! Read me! My thoughts are yours! I’m really, truly actually sharing myself, and you can’t like me or share me or really do anything to me except enjoy (or hate) what I have to say. Isn’t this fun?

Another thing I hate about the game, the feed: It’s cheatable. In fact, cheating is part of the game. You can pay to get ahead, more likes, more followers, more reach. It’s convoluted, but if you learn it and master it, it works. The real winners are the ones who know how to break the rules, to leverage a set of officially unofficial tactics to get ahead. Build or buy a bot to follow everyone who follows you and - wow! look! - the virtual world, like a flower, opens up for you. Not entirely. But maybe enough.

Believe it or not, this isn’t science fiction:

A machine, bigger than any person, any country, that addicts us to an entertainment, makes us think we’re connected, informed, but is actually in the business of harvesting our personal information, pimping it out to the highest bidder, turning our attention into cash, and ultimately, selling us shit we don’t really need.

I’m talking about a massive, several-hundred-billion-dollar industry with only a small handful of players, growing like a fungus. And in the last decade, the fungus ate the journalism industry. And now - maybe, hopefully! - it’s spitting it back out.

Yellow-green, black, brown, sludgy mold and rot. The world, at the feet of this fungus, worshipping. And the creators of the fungus are praying too. Praying for a slackening of the weight that privelege landed on their shoulders.

Look there it is. There she is. The fungus, dressed-up like a little old woman, walking you through a dark patch of woods. You see green in her eyes and you want to get away.

“Stay!” she screams. “Don’t go! I’m your past and your future, your only chance at happiness.”

Why?

“Don’t be lonely. Don’t miss out. Stay. We love you.”

And she’s carrying, in her arms, a basket full of photos. Your photos. Drunk in college. Before gram died. When you lived alone on a sailboat. From a time when you wrote because you had something to say.

The evidence is beautiful.

Too beautiful to burn.