Internet sickness


I’m sick of it. I’m sick with it.

I’ve got the sickness. The social media sadness, the internet ills. Once so beloved and of endless fascination, it now feels like a hollowed-out feeling when I tap the icon, type the address, touch the link.

The internet has become so essential yet so meta that even a critique of it gets assimilated into the constant noise of content. Take, for example the story this week about the 18-year-old Australian Instagram queen Essena O’Neill, who announced that she has turned her back on the ‘perfect life’ she had created that curated, and is instead editing her photos to show the reality of her perfect world. You have to applaud her for realising that social media is a kind of hyper-reality, where people want to give the impression that their lives are one long succession of looking beautiful, eating beautiful and living beautifully.

But now we dig deeper, by instinct.

We look it at it from another angle, the media tense: there are young people every day having an epiphany, realising that we’re all (to some degree) living out a collective delusion in which we perpetuate our own individual delusions by trying to keep up with others delusions. None of these epiphanies makes the news – is it because they’re not ‘high profile’ enough for it to be newsworthy? Hardly.

Maybe O’Neill has got herself a good publicist and is using this story to re-launch her image and career into some other component of the digital world. It is easy to reject the superficial once you’ve milked it. Unless O’Neill escapes to a desert island (and even then she’d need Facebook to check in), it’s hard to see how anyone younger than 20 has any choice in being tattoed for life as a social media user, and in doing so, being part of its vacuity. We all play our part.

Essena O’Neill might well be good intentioned. Safe passage!

The internet has become a monster that we keep feeding – and the more we feed it in terms of content, the more it demands of us. The beast will never be sated and it will consume us.

But for now the beast needs content. Not just any old content – it needs to be important sounding content – it needs to sound important, revolutionary, life-changing. Click-bait has become the catch-all term for a link that seduces our desires when we could be doing something far more useful, like building a cocktail bar or learning Esperanto.

Then there is the other end of the spectrum.

The digital equivalent who can’t find peace in a lull in conversation, finds comforting pauses uncomfortable – these are the people who post millions of selfies, or live tweet cutting their toe nails, or those who post inspirational quotes.

Everyone does it, guilty as charged, guv – well, not the motivational shit or the selfies, or the toenails – but that need sometimes to give presence, to broadcast just to fill the dead air, the space, the utter awkwardness of people being people with people. None of us need to do it, its all total vanity.

For that unbeatable what-does-any-of-this-mean forms of communication, LinkedIn is still my number one go to. It’s like somebody concocted a giant blender for buzzwords and platitudes and churned it into a platform. Utterly meaningless gunk that leaves everyone nodding their head, while wondering when they’ll quietly expire. If you don’t know what I mean, then check this and this and this for starters. The authors have some title such as ‘futurist’ or ‘thought leader’, and one can’t help wondering how a budding thought leader might get a foot in the door – are there internships for that? What is clear is that the LinkedIn thought-piece is to middle-aged executives (men), what the Snapchat/Instagram selfie is to the teenage girl. Hard currency with absolutely no real value.

The ’10 habits you must cultivate before breakfast to make you more successful’,  said habits will nurture greater well-being, they certainly don’t guarantee success or escape from a crappy job in a global economy still on its sickbed. It’s humble bragging with a nice haircut and a sharp suit. The best habit you can have for success is friends in high places, and if your old man is loaded, all the better – but such advice obviously has well-intentioned merits, and is undoubtedly useful. It more than anything typifies the culture-creep of the CEO-lifestyle. We’re told we should be doing more and earlier – preferably while in a level 5 yoga position – if we want to be successful. Maybe not everybody suits this lifestyle – and certainly not everyone is adherent to the ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ that the age demands.

The news, of course is everywhere. Everywhere. It’s burnt into your eyeballs. It’s inescapable – and in this country at least, it clings to you like a film of grimy pollutant as it builds up throughout the day, clogging up your ears and nose and making your skin greasy. What does this do to the psyche? Untold horrors no doubt. The oppressive nature of living in the UK is much in part to the news and the general unrelenting negativity that envelopes us with the wall-to-wall news coverage. It’s like living a constantly disappointing nightmare: media narratives burn into our cerebral cortex and advertising campaigns create fissure in our frontal lobes.


Promoted Tweets. Suggested Pages.

Information overload and burnout is easily done these days. In the early days of Twitter and Facebook there was the thrill of the chase, the feeling that it was all a bit new and permissible – unpoliced by neither authority nor etiquette. We gobbled it up. Everyone feeling their way blind to forms that became right, became ‘good practice’. And that’s it – the fun’s over. It’s all become too shouty, too violent, too misogynistic, too spiteful, too waa-waa-waa.

The beauty and gentle is still there, but it’s now like panning for nuggets rather than the gold rush of the early, simpler days. We learnt things when we learnt new etiquette.

We’re all now immune to rolling shock and arresting developments. We hearted and liked our way into this mess.

The simplest days of all were when none of us had the sickness.


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