What is a post on social media? Five liters of blood, poured out onto a metal baking tray, where it congeals into cubes of quivering jelly before being flipped out onto the cool chrome surface of the operating table. Snapping on seafoam-green gloves, a surgeon prods each glistening cube with the business end of a scalpel, bursting the delicate tension between outer layer and liquid innards. Emotions splash out and blood, contorting on the table, begins to perform a macabre dance. It thins and thickens, forming a plaintive message in lowercase letters. Beads of punctuation drip down in unctuous red streaks.
Growing up online is like being dissected under a microscope, flooded with headlights, trapped behind glass, and then chucked out, in parts, into a roaring crowd. Intense fixation, explosive speculation, deranged invasion, and then total abandonment. A culture that entices by claiming to celebrate honesty, but that relishes in punishing vulnerability, often brutally. A culture that has no idea what it means by authenticity, sincerity, or love. A beast with a million freely-moving hands can justify any behavior.
“Digital hygiene.” I think I now finally understand the term. The Internet makes me feel dirty in the most literal sense. I know I’ve spent too much time online when my mind feels like a scrap of fabric dragged through a pool of mud. I recover it and twist it tightly between my hands to wring out the sludge; blood spurts out instead, in a gory pink fountain. My spirit lags. My desire to do anything vanishes. My attention span shrivels to nothing. My drive to create scrabbles up my body and screams in my face to do SOMETHING, do ANYTHING. Meanwhile, a hand that resembles mine clicks through a bloody trail of posts, and eyes that resemble mine glaze over.
When I’ve exhausted the content on one site, the hand and eyes migrate compulsively over to another; the process repeats itself, ad infinitum, ad nauseum. In a frictionless, vapid, procedurally generated landscape of filtered light, rounded fonts, and focus-grouped clipart, social media appears normal, predictable, safe. A wave of constant sensation. But when I witness how the wave reacts to a jagged edge, I am jolted out of the placid dream. We wanted community. We wanted a cure. Let’s not pretend that the Internet is capable of providing either in any consistent way. The codes through which we speak to one another are completely corrupted. The conflict has taken on the mask of a divine war, one in which mercy is not only impossible to mete out, but met with disgust.
You may be thinking to yourself: “What is she talking about? Is she talking about cancel culture, call-out culture, culture in general, or some other thing?” The answer to that is: No. I am not talking about any of those things. I don’t lay claim to a thesis here. I don’t even lay claim to coherence. This isn’t a thinkpiece. I just want to say that, every time I find myself on social media, I feel more and more that no molecule ever traveled the length of spacetime to live the life of your average stranger online. The Internet is not the worst place in the world. But nowhere else do I feel the contradiction between human compassion and human cruelty more acutely. A pit filled with the bodies of nephilim and their congealing blood, and I sit on the edge of that pit, legs dangling over the red-black hole, watching, and trying not to watch.