EMOTIONAL GOONING

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Last evening I deleted most of my social media accounts. I had been considering it for a while but I finally snapped this week.

The realization hit me when I was laying on the couch flipping through a "social" short-form video network.

funny meme

laughter

like,flip,flip,flip

horrific injury video

flip,flip

protests

flip,flip

crime

flip

meme

laughter

Interacting with the rectangle is emotional gooning. I've been searching for a more civilized way to term it but that's the most fitting and appropriate because it's disgusting. You use the rectangle to flip your emotions between extremes, each peak and valley more dramatic than the last, with no conclusion. No real world action is taken that means anything and no meaningful change in lifestyle occurs.

As you flip to videos of horrific human suffering, you feel anger and anxiety, your adrenaline spikes, there is a thrill, you feel guilty about having and noticing the thrill. Just as your anger flowers into rage and as your anxiety deteriorates into panic a video of a man getting hit in the shins with a scooter appears - you chortle lazily and feel a quick relief - the human suffering video is forgotten and you feel as though everything will be okay. You compulsively flip at a sub-10-second frequency for minutes or hours. You forget what the "middle" feels like. You desensitize yourself to less contrasty feelings like mild happiness or slight disappointment. Everything must now fit into two boxes "best" and "worst". The binary world of the rectangle imposes its fundamental binary structure on your analog reality.

learn

You flip for days and The Algorithm(TM) learns what you prefer to watch. "I am learning" you think. "All of those silly fools that spent years in school to get meaningless degrees, PhDs, MDs, JDs aren't so knowledgeable after all, I'm learning everything they've spent thousands to learn directly from my rectangle for free!". You fall into delusion. You begin trading stock options. "Sure it's almost a statistical impossibility that I will beat funds comprised of professionals with better inside information than I have but I posses wisdom from the rectangle, I am an exception to the rule, not like those other cretins!"

You flip some more and see a video by someone with quite a large following saying radical things about modern medicine - their tirade is not in the realm of "healthy skepticism" but urges total rejection of medical practices that have been in play for decades. The argument is padded with some "data points" but is primarily an emotional one, e.g. "You're a bad parent and you're going to harm or even kill your child if you do this!" You don't want to be a bad parent, this guy has a lot of views and the comments on the video either vehemently agree with his points or are filled with hate and vitriol. "Wow" you think to yourself "If they're getting this much hate they must be onto something! Now I know the TRUTH(TM)! It's incredible to witness this modern Plato forced to drink hemlock, to suffer for his (undeniably true) contributions to human wisdom!"

I have empathy for falling for these and other delusions. I've personally been under the influence of many of them, they are easy traps to fall into. I assume that I'm still in the snares of many such traps that I can't yet or may never be able to see. Each of them leverages the worst parts of myself:

  • My arrogance in believing that I am more knowledgeable about a topic than scholars in that area.
  • My belief that I am somehow exceptional through my own efforts.
  • My natural curiosity misdirected and amplified past the point of its usefulness.
  • My avoidance of sitting quietly and facing reality - not in an artificially constructed and inauthentic way such as meditation but "in the arena", throughout my ordinary day.

I don't hate social media. Every decision has tradeoffs. "One size fits all" or extremist solutions rarely have the best tradeoffs and are usually leading indicators of white-knuckle repression, the impetus for which usually comes out messier than it went in. The only app that it doesn't make sense for me to leave is LinkedIn. That's not to say LinkedIn is "good", in fact most of the cringe-worthy bullshit I've seen on the internet is written and posted there regularly - much of it my own. Because LinkedIn has tangibly benefitted me in the domain of business networking, I'm deciding to keep it for now. In the real world there's no awards for doing something perfectly so I don't understand why people make it such a point of pride to leave social media entirely. Maybe you have none of the problems I've been rambling about here, in that case, it's not obvious what benefit you'd receive from limiting your usage.

care

I can't care enough to socially engage as much as I have been. I am emotionally exhausted. That's not to say I'm not a caring person. If there were a bell curve of how much people cared I'd be somewhere near the middle of it.

I care about a lot of things, many of them unproductive. I have a strong opinion about whichever highly polarizing and divisive story is currently dominating the news cycle (no matter when you read this that statement will remain true). Whenever I "care" about a story in the news, three things always occur: I get emotionally charged, I don't know enough to have a nuanced opinion, and my opinion doesn't have any meaningful effect on the real world. At best I approve of whatever is happening and I feel some (unearned) satisfaction in it. At worst I feel angry at the injustice I perceive in the world and the injustice continues unaffected by my petty tantrum. Paradoxically my sour mood only affects those closest to me - my family and friends. As far as buckling down and learning enough to form a nuanced opinion? I only had enough "care" left in the tank to watch a 5 minute video on the topic. Plus, how will I find good information on the internet without wasting my time? It's most probable that I'll just find a 30 minute video by some other asshole who doesn't know what they're talking about, even if they do know what they're talking about I'm probably too dumb to understand it - then I'm 35+ minutes in the hole and all I have to show for it are some half-cocked arguments I've copy-pasted into my brain from whatever dubiously authoritative video I've just watched.

I still exist, just not on most of the social media networks I was previously using. It's not that I don't care how you and the family are doing or where you're traveling this month, it's just that I can't care about it every day and it would be dishonest if I said I could. Could you imagine if we worked in an office together, Monday through Friday, and every morning I asked you "HOW IS YOUR FAMILY DOING - HAVE ANY RECENT PICTURES?" By Thursday you'd want to slam my head in the copier over and over again until the ink ran dry!

I hope that I can redirect most of my creativity towards the blog. Writing an essay is taxing, it takes sustained effort. By the time I've tweeted, posted, and shared a few pics I don't feel like I can care enough to develop a new essay that could take days or weeks to get right. Maybe that can change for the better if I can stop emotionally gooning for long enough to give a damn.