Many years ago, we went to London to watch football. Arsenal won, of course, so the game itself was sort of forgettable, and what ended up sticking mostly in my mind was the overall experience of Emirates Stadium. I would describe it as solid, pricey, and sort of… sterile? Modern oligarch-owned football trends towards expensive food and drink and a very exit-through-the-gift-shop atmosphere. That’s fine, I suppose! Football isn’t just about the game itself: it’s the pre-game beer, the jam-packed Underground station, the discussions afterwards. And of course, we did some more tourism while we were there. I remember Kew Gardens the most.
Upon arriving at Kew (which is amazing and well worth a visit) my younger brother unexpectedly pulled an Alexander Pope epigram from memory. It was written on the collar of a puppy given to the Prince of Wales in the 1700s:
I am His Highness’ dog at Kew.
Pray tell me, sir, whose dog are you?
Lovely! And I think of that sometimes, because aren’t we all the Internet’s dog now?
Commenting on social media, posting a photo, blogging, really anything you put out there will inevitably land you in some kind of performance. Usually a pretty low-intensity performance, like “what will my friends and family think?” or “is this too spicy for LinkedIn?” but it’s always there in some form, in the back of your mind. You’re singing and dancing for somebody, whoever you picture them to be.
I’ve never really been a “poster.” I stayed mostly private over the years, posted intermittently on blogs, and treated social media as a lighter sort of RSS. Stuff floats by, and you can grab hold of some of it and turn it over in your palm before releasing it back into the ether. It’s ephemeral. I’d boost stuff that seemed interesting to me, in the spirit of giving something back. And then a few years ago I stopped working as a consultant which, looking back, was very freeing — I was always laboring under the yoke of an idea that someone, somewhere, would read what I wrote and go “ew” and then I’d lose my contracts and end up dirty and penniless on the street, scrounging for food and wi-fi in the trash. As you can imagine, that kind of neuroticism will cramp your style. High-intensity performance. That went away as I broke free of my hourly-billing shackles, and I started trying to find my voice on the socials.
…aaand then of course Twitter came tumbling down like some demented Jenga. As I dusted myself off on the other side of the dopamine withdrawal, I realized that I really don’t need social networks. What am I even doing on them? The best answer I’ve been able to come up with is “I think of things, and then I feel the need to say them out loud” and that feels like a pressure release valve. Which got me thinking: maybe that metaphor goes deeper than one might assume? That valve releases steam that could otherwise be used to drive a bigger, more powerful engine. Am I robbing myself of inspiration and creativity by venting off energy into the little text box? Would it be possible to take that impetus and channel it somewhere else?
It was me.
I was writing for me, all along.
And why would you write to yourself in pithy 280-character chunks? It gives you no clarity, you can’t get your thoughts down in front of you so you can see them. The coherence is lost, siphoned away to conform to an easily consumable but ultimately unsatisfying format.
I hope that in the end Elon turns out to be a blessing, disguised as a pompous cryptofascist ass. I hope Twitter balkanizes into a thousand warring services. I hope Instagram keels over, too. I hope we all collectively decide to fire every single Facebook employee into the sun, and salt the earth of every datacenter they befouled. But I don’t particularly care, in the end: I’ve decided I don’t need any of it. I will write for myself. I will be free. I will be nobody’s dog.