"Where does this idea of greater connection come from? I’ve never in my life felt more disconnected." — from Joshua Ferris’ new novel To Rise Again at a Decent Hour
Did you hear the one about the kid who got detention for correcting his teacher in class? See, the kid was right, but the teacher objected to his manners, his insolence. “… Alex’s actions show a blatant disregard for authority, and a complete lack of respect for his school,” the letter says.
I heard about it on Facebook where I took one look at the letter—typed, no letterhead—and thought, “Well that’s bullshit.” Not the teacher’s reaction. The whole story. It’s almost certainly fake. Snopes’ verdict is “Legend,” because nothing in the letter is verifiable. The grand debunkers of the Internet filed it under Loony Letters. But it’s too perfect a target for misdirected rage toward teachers, public schools, the government in general, people today, the works.
And the works is pretty much what happened on Facebook. Finally someone linked to Snopes and that should have been the end of it, but it wasn’t. Everyone kept arguing with each other. Someone else linked to Snopes. The argument continued unabated. It was like they didn’t even notice they were arguing about a fabrication, or didn’t care.
I was still contemplating the stupidity of that when I came across this perfect little Twitter sketch.
/Wakes up. /Sips from bedside glass of sewage, swishes it around for flavor. /Reaches down for phone and scrolls back through Twitter.— Tom Scocca (@tomscocca)June 22, 2014
I was talking to my therapist about time management. Only one of us is any good at it—the one who sat patiently while I went on and on about Twitter, which, on the whole, seems to have become the purest distillation of humanity’s worst impulses.
Well, Twitter and war, I suppose.
Each day I wake up and reach for my phone and scroll back through Twitter, interested in what we’re pissed off about now that we’ll forget about later, anxious to catch up on a conversation that isn’t really very interesting. The river of voices on my computer, my phone, my iPad, they’re talking to me—all the time—and telling me nothing I need to know.
My therapist agreed with me. I think she especially agreed with me when I said I didn’t think it was her job to keep me from checking Twitter. Or Facebook.
This conversation happened a couple days before an anniversary of sorts. The one-year mark of a somewhat significant date for myself and a bunch of other talented people who had their careers upended on a random Thursday.
Through a hellacious (and well-deserved) hangover the next day, I wrote this, and I still feel pretty good about it. I feel good about the work I did, and since I walked out that door, I wrote a book. It’ll be out in October. You’ll be hearing a lot about it.
I’ve also had to wade through a lot of bullshit, and parts of the nine weeks that followed the writing of that post were pretty humiliating.
At Ye Olde Word Shoppe, engagement in the digital conversation seemed necessary. There were blog posts to write, and you sure as hell could write an entire blog post off a single tweet or Facebook post. You could write one with less. Whether or not you should doesn’t matter. That’s how it is right now.
Here in the quiet of my basement office, that conversation is noise. It’s distraction. It’s dispiriting. It has nothing to do with what I’m working on at the moment.
I’m tired. Of outrage, and snark, and smarm, and testimonials, and inspirational quackery. Of hashtags, gifs, retweets, modified tweets, and the same stupid clickbait being picked up and passed around from site to site like an STD. Of the existential navel gazing typed up daily by others in the word industry. And by myself, for this surely qualifies. But I figure if I put it out there, I got a little skin in the game, a reason to make good on this—beyond the good reasons.
Like that character in Ferris’ new book, I feel less connected to my life, and so I’m hanging up the ‘Gone Fishin’ sign for July. I got stuff to do. Words to write. A big project that has to be plotted or else come fall I’m going to have to write a resume, and I don’t want to write a fucking resume.
I want to learn to do that stand-up paddle board thing. (Anyone want to pay me to learn how to do that stand-up paddle board thing?)
I want to listen to this Townes Van Zandt record I picked up a few weeks ago—over, and over, and over—and I don’t want to feel the pull of my phone while I do it.
I have a stack of books and I want to read them without checking to see if someone “liked” whatever I’ve most recently shared.
I want to think.
And hopefully come August, I’ll be able to use these tools a little better. Especially to promote the book. Which comes out in October. (Pre-order!)