Oh, what a difference a year makes. And maybe that's just it: maybe it's circumstantial, maybe it's related to the fact that a year ago I was there and now I am here, and everything, but also nothing, has changed. But seriously, have you looked at the internet lately?
I know the internet is not just this Thing, this big mouth-breathing monster that sits in the corner and grunts occasionally and then looks back down at the keyboard. But indulge me for a moment. Pretend it is. And just look at the state of it! Greasy hair, stained t-shirt, dried spittle at the corner of a tea-stained mouth. It hasn't been exercising enough; it hasn't been realising its potential or even acknowledging it has worth.
Sometimes (okay, a lot of times) I don't write rants on Sundays. Sometimes I don't write anything, all day, which is not good when that is basically what I am supposed to be doing all day, every day. But honestly, a lot of the time I can't actually pinpoint what it is I'm thinking, or what it is exactly that's annoying me, even when I know something is annoying me. There's so much noise. It's like that scene in Arcadia (which I know I reference in every other blog post), when Valentine Coverly says "There's just too much bloody noise!" and you aren't sure if he means there's too much noise around his data, or too much noise in the room, in general.
I am not going to do that thing I hate and blame the Internet Monster, and say that the reason I sometimes can't write or sometimes can't identify what it is that's annoying me is that the Internet Monster has been mouth-breathing in my ear all day and I'm just so…wait, what was I saying? Because I still really, really hate that. I am not going to blame one of the greatest (for better or worse) technological and possibly sociological phenomenons of our age for the fact that sometimes I sit down at my computer and instead of banging out another 2,000 words of my book I look at photos of expensive chairs and impossibly beautiful women in Barbour coats on Tumblr. Because if computers didn't exist and I was chained to a desk writing my book in my own blood with a stick I would still find ways not to write it. I can promise you that.
But. Part of the reason I don't write, or I don't know what's bothering me, or I can't figure out what the fuck my book is supposed to be about, is because lately - in the last year, or two, maybe - I haven't been exercising that part of my brain that ignores everybody. Everything I read or see or hear that involves anything or anyone else in some way influences what it is I think I should be doing. Which isn't right. And because I read and see and hear a lot, my sense of what I should be doing has been completely diluted by this sense that I'm not doing what they're doing, how can I be more like them?
I am envious or jealous almost all the time because of what other people are doing. I don't actually know what other people are doing, of course. The lives I see online are like little icebergs, and I will never collide with most of them, so I will never know what lies beneath. But I can extrapolate from an offhand comment - "what a great day", for instance - and, because I like to invent things, and in a perfect world I would be inventing them on paper for an adoring public, not in my head for the sake of destroying my own self-esteem, imagine that what this means is that the person who had a great day is, at 24, already a bestselling author with a Booker nomination and a big house.
I guess the thing is, there's just so much. Of everything. I'm drowning in everything. And it isn't that I can't shut it off and it isn't that the Internet Monster is destroying the world. It's just that I've lost my bearings. I'm stuck in a bad maze. I'm tired of a lot of things, which is fine, but I need to know how to find the things that excite me, rather than just encountering, again and again, in different incarnations, the things I'm tired of.
There's just so much funny, for instance. There's so much funny that none of it is funny anymore. It's too near the bone, or else it means nothing at all. If I read one more girl's clever blog about her slightly zany life (and, looked at from the right angle, whose life isn't slightly zany?) that overuses capital letters, sentence fragments and exclamation points to drive home just how FUNNY! It all is! I will probably cry. (And am I guilty of doing this? Yes. Of course I am, sometimes. I'm as susceptible as everyone else, and I know it: that's the point.).
Meanwhile, on Twitter, that medium for even more transient expression, there are all these jokes! These one-liners that, taken out of context, are mean or meaningless or both. And all this talk about television! Increasingly I wonder if Twitter is actually just a way for people who watch a lot of TV to feel like they're part of a community. And they can #xfactor to their hearts' content, and Caitlin Moran can make as many quips about the contestants as she wants, and other people can retweet Caitlin Moran's quips about the contestants as much as they like (this is not a criticism of Caitlin Moran, by the way: she is a tremendous writer, both funny and poignant, and I have a lot of respect for her). But it's still a Sunday evening and they're all still sitting at home alone watching television and talking about how bad it is - or, even more depressing, how good it is.
Am I jaded? Yes, I am, a bit. I'm tired of smug people telling us what they ate and wore and accomplished today. I'm tired of self-referential Techcrunch pieces, self-referential Guardian articles, self-referential tweets. I'm tired of reading blogs about how to be more productive (why do these blogs never suggest "not spending your entire morning reading blogs about productivity" as a tip for being more productive?). I'm tired of feeling perpetually as if I'm not keeping up, even when I know that everyone else feels exactly the same way, because no one could ever keep up, even if they tried.
But I'll say again: our imaginary Internet Monster, slobbering and abused in the corner, is not the cause of my angst. You know what the cause of my angst is? My self. My negativity. It takes a certain amount of energy and imagination to sift (or, perhaps, see) through a billion photos of well-dressed people standing in the middle of the street and a bunch of blog posts about that really awkward thing I did yesterday or that really funny thing that happened to me involving a bookcase, a dildo and a dwarf, but it can be done. No one says that books should be abolished because there are some really bad authors out there (maybe some people do say that, but they'd be wrong). And no one is standing over me forcing me to spend a few hours every day looking at things that, fundamentally, are making me depressed. I'm doing that all on my own.
What is making me angsty, therefore, is not that there is so much shit: it is that I am allowing myself the luxury of getting down about all the shit, instead of ignoring all the shit. I don't have to read the things I read, and, more importantly, I don't have to react negatively to them.
I think maybe a year ago I was too excited about everything to ignore anything, if you see what I mean. I think a lot of us were. But now we have the greatest freedom of all: the freedom to choose what we engage with.
So welcome to the era of accountability: in which the Internet Monster stops doing the work for us, and we have to be discerning enough to discover and promote the content we actually care about, instead of being forever mired in the content we resent. No one said it would be easy.