This morning I was thinking back to those heady days of the internet’s infancy, when people thought, unironically, that Facebook would be a universal public good. I mean it made sense, the progressive nature of major cities, now on a global scale! Hate breeds in fear, fear breeds in ignorance, and the original internet appeared in schools as a vehicle of education. We thought this spread of contact and knowledge would democratize the world, ushering in an elevated age of information and openness and understanding.
Instead things got weird. You know this already: we made little echo chambers, which then became cavernous echo chambers, and the once-defused information highway became a handful of enormous one-stop corporate content aggregators, each with their attendant influencers, and we all slid slowly to our chambers of choice. There we did our human thing, the thing we always do: we formed clans and made mobs. In-groups, out-groups, misinformation, hate, fear, and of course the people in power who smelled opportunity and harnessed it. It gets dark, direct democracy, quickly, and anonymity did us no favors.
I was on a date with a girl once and she, for all her erudition, her literature degree from Berkley, spent a lot of time watching the YouTube channel of a trans woman doing makeup. I did not understand. We watched some of it, and I tried, but I just did not get it. It felt like this enormous vacuous time suck, a simulacrum of actual human interaction, the whole experience frankly kind of mystifying.
But then a couple months ago I started watching play-throughs of board games, games that for various reasons of complexity, expense, and sheer lack of like-minded friends, I would never get to play. That’s what brought me in, but now I watch this shit all the time. There is something supremely comforting about it, and it comes from the fact that, without realizing it, I went there because I was lonely. And what I got, tucked secretly inside that board game content, was human contact. Simulacrum or not, I get it now.
So here we have this global pandemic. More than the sickness itself, the honest danger of this thing is the pressure it’s putting on our already cracked and straining societies — In the US we look for leadership and we get a gutted CDC and a president that stands at the podium with CEOs instead of healthcare experts. Their strategy of taking over government, breaking it for profit, then pointing at it and calling it broken has come to its logical conclusion and now we’re in a crisis without command.
The virus will eventually settle down, and we will return to a “normal” of sorts, but this is all unsustainable, and always has been. Endgame Capitalism is not an equilibrium to which anyone who cares about human dignity aspires, and yet we’ve got a liberal front-runner candidate with a literal slogan of “return to normalcy.” Give it some time and this crisis will all have been a trial run for climate change, and when that hits for real, there will be no more “normal.” In the end, it’s all the “normal” we demanded and keep demanding that got us here in the first place. All this “normal” is driving our species to the brink of extinction, and nobody in power seems to give a shit. We’re on our own.
And yet something of the old optimism has been creeping up on me. All that crushing alienation, the feckless indifference of the wealthy for what they are doing to all of us, the retreat of people to the internet for connection they weren’t getting in the lonely waste of their wage-slave lives, prepared us for this. Suddenly internet culture has a whole audience in quarantine. Watching some of these streams that are popping up, seeing people connect and comfort each other through this ready-made medium, in this time of fear and the failure of institutions, has my scarred cynic’s heart feeling something about the internet, something about all the weirdos out there, that surprises me.
The internet, no shit, is a source of hope. The world we grew up in may be falling apart around us as we stew in the anxiety of individual isolation, but here I am, watching frightened humans find each other, and be kind to each other, and execute the promise of what this could have been all along. And despite all the danger signs, all the ways in which we’re sliding towards extinction, right now? Just in this moment? What I’m feeling is warm, and bright, and good. Sartre only had it half right. The best and worst part of being a person is other people.
I’ll let Loop Daddy handle it from here: