Disconnect and Talk To Yourself: An Essay on The New Age of Despondency

When was the last time you looked in the mirror and said, Who the fuck are you? It usually takes a catastrophe or an unique moment of clarity to kick over this heavy stone. Most people are uncomfortable with this question.

Often a question like this doesn’t have an answer and an unanswerable question doesn’t stir wonder in your average person. I recently asked myself this exact question for an extended period of time, approximately three months or so. Exactly the last quarter of 2014, which isn’t hard to imagine. Holiday cheer is in the air and my existentialism flares. What I came up with was not a concrete answer. I don’t really believe in concrete answers to most things anyway. What I came up with was, You are not this and it has little to do with you. I’m talking about my social media presence. My digital persona. My drunken empire of bad photos, worse statuses, hollow social interactions, and my barely visible, now in full decline, network of writers, publishers, record labels, bands, and artists.

It’s simple. Run some simple questions by yourself. What keeps you from being you? Are you weak? Are you truly empty? Are you faced with too many systemic, social, or financial obstacles? Are you comfortable to a complete state of complacency? Are you the personification of your experiences and the ideals set by your interpretation of your experiences? Does that state of being hinder where you want to go or what you want to do? Do you put yourself into everything you do or do you feel like you’re on display at all times? Are you going through the motions, desperately trying not to cause any alarm or panic to coworkers, family, friends, and acquaintances? Do you only smile in photographs because you are aware it is the digital or physical document of perceived self? Do you check your social media more times throughout the day than you interact with those persons who are involved in your daily life? Simply put, do you live a real life or are you displaying the theatrics of existing as a human being? What comes first in your life: the Instagram photo of what you’re eating or the consumption of nourishment; the impulse and action of seeing a film or the status and tweet about seeing the film; the breakup talk you have with your partner or the secret Facebook status or anon question on Tumblr he or she can’t see? In the digital age, what comes first, self or perceived self? And what effect does that have on your actual outer world identity, your inner world identity, and your role in creating that identity?

It’s a blurred experience. I asked myself a lot of hard questions to evaluate where I was emotionally and intellectually before I could understand. I asked myself two big questions. Am I lying to myself with the representation of an active artistic life or am I an artist who is active daily in my career and artistry? Am I lonelier and more depressed because I am so connected with all my acquaintances who have nothing to do with my daily life, creating an unacknowledged social dissonance? It wasn’t hard to see the truth. I put a little distance between myself and the preciousness of my online presence and I knew I was more involved in the representation of life than I was in my daily life.

When talking to friends about the subject, even when they didn’t want to admit it, I could see in the way their body language changed while silent, they were defensive of their online social media use. I heard, It’s a tool for artists and young professionals. It only empowers those who use it. Sure there are some downsides but overall it’s a great tool for most people. It’s a precious interaction to most. Without websites like Tumblr, Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or Google, they would live very disconnected lives despite daily contact with real people.

So where is the line between ourselves and our online profile? At what point will we have to be represented in the digital world to be validated in the real world? Most would say that day has already came and gone with only a few exceptions to the rule. Try to be a professional under forty, a student, a band, an artist, a writer, a photographer, or any sort of non-worker bee in our society without representation on social media. You will go unvalidated in our modern world.The digital vacuum that large internet start ups like Google, YouTube, and Facebook have created is inescapable for artists and millennials.

There’s very tricky tactics involved with creating an atmosphere which looks as an act of empowerment through involvement. It is sold as a tool. A tool that we use and control. Though through the monitoring of all your online traffic, social interactions, and content creation these websites collect every scrap of data about your likes, dislikes, your human flares, your highs and lows socially, your limited intellect, even your escalating dissent towards a system from which you can’t disconnect. They will sell you yourself through your entire online experience via adverts and content filtering.

In reality it is a tool, but not a tool for you or me. It’s a tool for the market place. It categorizes your interests and moves the right products and content to keep you using. Through data collection and serving as the silent hand creating your online experience they can make their profit with companies trying to move products to their specific demographic. Consumer cattle troughs feeding you so you can be milked of income and counted and tagged as their marketplace influence. But this is mostly common knowledge and people don’t care much about this. People like catering, even if the catering is happening at their spiritual funeral.

I need you to walk away with this big idea. If you carry your personal history with you and that personal history is defined by a narrative you select. You are a victim, a bystander, a predator, or tool for good will. Not all these constructs work for everyone so you can be more complex than those listed but, whether it’s an active decision or a impulsive personal truth from your past dealings and interactions with the world, you construct and agree to the narrative you think you deserve. Personal narratives create a diverse world and keep us from falling into binary existences or choosing binary experience to identify our narrative. Because of diversity of experiences which turn into personal narrative, we can all agree things like binary politics, binary news, binary social-political views, and binary lives are not reflective of the reality of humanity. We are infinitely more complex than the choice of CNN or Fox News. So when our whole social experience is heavily revolving around binary code that creates uniform ways of presenting our identity, our art, our ideas, our experiences, our relationships, and literally every other drop of our humanity; what is the eventual outcome? A binary identity that will leave most of us despondent and socially dissonant.

You may not feel the same as me about the subject but I see it daily. My millennial friends and I are miserable with Facebook profiles of us smiling, working, consuming, interacting, and involved in relationships. We are our own scarecrows keeping ourselves from discovering the blatant emptiness of social media. For example: I have roughly six to eight friends who suffer from a serious diagnosis of chronic depression. Not one has a photo of them frowning or displaying any form of ill-spirit on any social media outlet. A few openly talk about it on their Tumblr, but Tumblr is mostly used by non-professionals as a confessional booth for fetishes, depression, artistic interests, or a place to curate photos of kittens and other cute animals.

We crown these tools as forms of empowerment when we compromise the very nature of self to participate. It’s a crock of shit. I say delete your Facebook, delete your twitter, delete your Instagram, and leave your phone at home every once in a while. We’re so connected that no one’s in the room when we’re at the bar, at our friends place, out for dinner, etc. Live and define yourself by what you do, not what you consume and what is projected as what you do. I fear for the future and I’m not a luddite, let me state. I’ve enjoyed technology most my life. I fear for how we let technology define us. I fear we are the tools and the technology is the hand using us. I fear when the world goes up in flames, people will burn to death trying to take the last Instagram photo of the fire consuming us.

Disconnect and have an honest conversation with the people involved in your life. Most importantly, disconnect and talk to yourself. You can’t own anything in this world if you don’t own yourself. Live before you project your lifestyle.

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About Charles Ray Hastings Jr.

Charles Ray Hastings Jr. is a musician, producer, and writer based in Huntsville, Alabama. The twenty-nine year old Alabama native has written, recorded, and produced over twenty-five solo and band albums and has had essays and short stories published through webzines, small press, and magazines like Before Sunrise Press, Two Dollar Radio, Flaneur, and That Lit Site.

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