internot musings, part 5,039

Last night I spent about an hour sitting alone on the sofa in the dark, just thinking about some things I'm going through personally. Craptastic feelings of inadequacy and failure that are inching into self-loathing territory. I didn't pick up my phone or open my iPad to distract myself. I didn't put up a fight at all. I just let a parade of shitty emotion march right over me.

Simply sitting like that - being still and quiet with my thoughts in order to work through them - is something I've never been good at. When things get uncomfortable for me emotionally, distraction is the name of the game, typically in the form of some screen. Until I dumped Instagram, that screen was usually my phone's. I'm still turning to the browser far more often than I'd like, but overall, the amount of time I spend staring at my phone has gone down significantly. I'm happy about that change, but I know that I'm still using the internet in some pretty unhealthy ways.

The internet is my wooby and my scourge. It's where I go when I'm upset, and it's the place I go to get upset. It's the buffet at which I can gorge myself to bursting on whatever my appetite demands, no matter how toxic the craving. I overstimulate myself in some pretty fucked up ways on the internet, knowingly subjecting myself to annoyance, anger, envy, covetousness, jealousy, and more, all of which sit like jagged rocks at the bottom of a slide disguised as curiosity, or boredom. I start out surfing pages, but I end up surfing feelings themselves.

The internet is my right-hand enabler for some of my worst tendencies - egotism, materialism, superficiality, competitiveness. But it's also where I go to reaffirm my values, and the things I want to believe about myself. On other blogs and news sites, in communities and forums, I can read the words of like-minded individuals and surf away feeling reinforced by opinions I already held. It's the ultimate self-selection tool. And I wonder how my perceptions of the world - and of myself - would change if they weren't constantly being filtered through an internet page or two.

I'm also thinking about the ways in which we sell ourselves to one another online. Every so often, in discussions of blogs and social media, someone will point out the obvious: Okay, but don't forget: we're only getting a little bit of the picture with her. She's only sharing as much of herself as she carefully chooses to. And we know this, of course. But I think considering the degree to which we have allowed ourselves to become invested in these virtual relationships, it cannot be emphasized enough, just how important this is to remember.

Much in the same way that white sugar, white flour, and even cocaine are highly refined, concentrated essences pulled unnaturally from their greater, nutritively diverse packages, so are our 'net selves an artificial, winnowed-down version of who we really are. When I meet my friend Kerry for drinks, there's not a lot I can hide from her. She sees I'm tired. She sees my clothes are wrinkled, or out of fashion, or inappropriate to the occasion. She can see the tension on my face and draw conclusions about the kind of day I've had. It's easy for her to ask questions and get an idea of where I'm at emotionally, how I've been spending my time - how happy I am or am not. Sure there are things I can keep from her, but it's tricky to hide who I really am, time and again. Sooner or later, my flaws and uglier traits will out themselves.

But when I pop online, for all anyone knows - I'm perfect. I'm dressed stylishly, well-rested, productive, creative, and happy. I'm clever and cute and everything is peachy. For all anyone knows. And though yes, we're all quick to rush and say Oh, of course. Of course we know there's more to the story offline, I wonder how healthy it is to keep subjecting ourselves to these incomplete pictures of a one another. I think it fosters a whole host of shitty feelings we'd be better off without. She's prettier than me. He's more accomplished. They're a happier couple than we are. Etc. Or, when we identify the lie: Ugh, what a phony. She's not fooling anyone. Who does he think he is? I can't stand him. 

Annoyance, anger, envy. Why do we do this to ourselves, when we know better? When there's an entire, gorgeous physical world at our fingertips (not to mention a pretty interesting internal one), why do we ignore it hour after hour in favor of the virtual one filled with things that trigger such crappy emotions?

More and more, and especially since leaving IG, I'm thinking about what life was like, pre-internet. I've made a lot of noise about Productivity! and Literature! and Writing! and Better, More Creative Use of My Time! as motivating factors in my decision to (again) withdraw from social media - but now I'm wondering why that void needs to be filled with anything at all. What if the spaces between daily activities were filled with...nothing? With a few minutes of just sitting quietly? With petting Chaucer or just enjoying the sight of sunlight pouring in my window? I mean, what the fuck did I do with my spare time before I had a billion screens and gadgets to toggle between all day? It's been so long, I don't remember. Maybe nothing? Maybe a lot of sitting alone in the dark and thinking?

And maybe that isn't such a bad thing?