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Emotional Work Internet Culture

Day 283 and Presencing

Nick Couldry uses the term ‘presencing’ in his book Media, Society, World to talk about how we go into digital or media spaces to manage our presence over time. It’s a way we cultivate a sense of wider purpose through a public presence. And because of the way suffering and trauma marginalize people, this act of making yourself more visible is even more important.

I was browsing Anne Helen Peterson’s newsletter Culture Study when the above quote hit me over the head. The interview was on the topic of ambiguous grief with a media studies professor Samira Rajabi. While the writing is almost uncomfortably academic it resonated with me immediately. I have been engaging in presenceing for the entire course of my illness. I just never had a name for why I felt like a public presence mattered to me.

While it sounds unbelievable, I never considered that I might be using social media as a way to give myself visibility in the face of the trauma of an extended and chronic illness. I’ve always been a heavy user of social media so I didn’t find it unusual that I spent significantly more time on Twitter and blogging as I went through the diagnosis and recovery process.

I had been used to being visible in my previous life. I was regularly in media for my startups and I had cultivated some amount of public presence on and off since I was in college. But I didn’t really become a Twitter personality that cultivated a presence and interactions and a voice until I got sick. Without knowing it was presencing myself.

In American culture in particular, there is a strong preference for triumphant stories. So we can conceive of suffering if it can be managed and overcome, but rarely do we know what to do with a story of chronic pain and suffering and how relentlessly it reminds a person that they no longer fit into the so-called “normal” world. To me, it becomes even more important for those people to be seen.

I really wanted my story to fit into a narrative when I first got diagnosed. I had all kinds of ambitions of overcoming and healing that were quickly dashed on the reality of my life. I was never going to be normal again. And I hated that. I still find myself overcome with grief at the prospect that there is no triumphant return.

But I want people to see that grief. And see that it’s alright. That life went on. I didn’t lose myself. Even in pain and illness, or perhaps because of it, I’ve gained ground in finding myself. The pain and degradation of illness is ugly and shitty but also powerfully transformative.

I have not given up just because the narrative isn’t clear and the story has no simple arc. Any impression we have that stories have structure is imposed in hindsight. We love our post-hoc rationalization. We love our pattern recognition. But the through line is never clear in the moment. And that’s why presence matters. We all need the visibility of the truth even if it doesn’t fit neatly into the story our culture has given us.

Categories
Chronic Disease Emotional Work

Day 198 and Kindness from Strangers

I’ve written about how terribly I’ve felt physically for the past 6 straight days. The last positive day of writing I had was 8 days ago. People have noticed the emotional tone of this struggle.

Generally speaking a day or two of being down doesn’t get noticed on social media, but a continuous streak of being “off” tends to get noticed by your community. Your mutuals know who you are even from afar. Your mutuals see your struggles. Your mutuals may know more about you than you imagine. And I’ve found your mutuals may genuinely care about you.

I’ve never felt less alone than I have the past year under quarantine. Maybe it’s because the network of mutuals that shares their personality and life has spent more time on the give and take of commenting, posting, responding and messaging across social media. When we are forced to contend with our own inner emotional lives we can extend more empathy to others.

So while others may have seen politicization, partisanship and other externalized anger on social media, I’ve found mostly grace and kindness. People who I have never met in the flesh have shared their knowledge, their vulnerability and their network with me. When I have opened myself up I have been met with with compassion and understanding.

If you share a period of struggle and your desire to get out from under it you may not be far from help. The kindness of your community is within reach. Even, perhaps especially, your social media community. If you are hurting share that burden. I have and it is much lighter.

Categories
Internet Culture

Day 139 and Saving The Insights

One of the unexpected aspects of having audience, even a small one, is wanting your good shit to be saved for them. I regularly find myself saying shit to my friends or my husband only to stop myself and say “that needs to go on Twitter!” And then occasionally to their chagrin I will open the app and attempt to condense the insight or joke into 140 characters. If it’s a longer point I’ll open up WordPress and attempt to get the thesis on paper.

A significant upside to saving good shit for an audience is that you have a written record. There is no worse feeling than completely losing an insight because you didn’t write it down. I dislike phone calls or Zooms because I’m not a natural born note taker. If I’m just shooting the shit I’m prone to forgetting whatever I just said. I can spend an hour feeling like I’ve really dug into a point only to find myself with complete amnesia because I neither shared it nor did I get a note down. By stopping myself and recording it to social media I find I retain more of the good stuff. I guess I’ve accidentally created a workflow where my note taking system is posting it to Twitter. Sorry Evernote turns out the killer feature for note taking was actually having reply guys.

This system of trusting an audience to have immediate access to your good shit does takes some getting used to. I’ve written about my fondness for shitposting as an inherently healthy emotional act. Sharing who you are without any filtering is scary. But it’s a muscle that can be developed. When I am working with portfolio companies or my communications clients I encourage them to just start getting content out on whatever platform is easiest for them. I picked Twitter as I’m most comfortable with written formats but I obviously also find blogging on WordPress to be easy. Instagram or more visual platforms make me anxious. Formal platforms like LinkedIn make me second guess every word. For me immediate unpolished platforms where I can just say shit is the way.

Categories
Chronicle Internet Culture

Day 123 and Being Liked

I asked if folks cared if other people liked them today on Twitter. The results are surprisingly mixed on the issue.

A Twitter poll asking if folks care if others like them with 4 options: yes, no, yes but I like about it and no but I lie about it.

The four options were Yes, No, Yes But I Lie About It and No But I Lie About It. It is fascinating to see the breakdown in responses even a few hours into the poll. I don’t know what I thought the response would be but I don’t think it was an even split.

Now, of course, I didn’t ask if being likeable is good, or bad, or even helpful. I just asked if people cared. It’s likely people who do care don’t think it’s good that they care. And there are people who don’t care that maybe which wish did as caring about being liked may have benefits. I don’t actually believe that a third of folks don’t care as frankly society would look pretty different if 35% of us just didn’t care about perception. And sure you can argue that you don’t care but you hide the fact, but then your answer would have been the least popular option “no and I lie about it” which is lagging in the results. My guess is that a number of folks are aspirational “no” votes which I can respect. I’m confident I would have voted no in my twenties. I used to be an aspirational no vote

Currently my vote would be “Yes But I Lie About It” but I’m not sure if I’m lying to myself or others with that answer. I don’t generally care what people think of me but I think I lie to myself about needing to care. I think being liked is important and I want to act like I care more. I’ve got some hang ups about not having been a more palatable person when I was younger. Maybe if I had been nicer or better behaved or well…just more likable I’d be richer, more loved, have a better relationship with my family and other fantasies. I’m also not convinced that changing myself for others has the benefits I think. That’s just some 4 year old inner child trauma emotions. How others feel about me has little to do with me and a lot to do with them. That’s true for how I feel about others. My reaction to you says a lot about my emotions, trauma and hang ups than it does about if you are likable.

Categories
Aesthetics Chronicle Internet Culture Media

Day 87 and Information Processing

I occasionally enjoy dropping a deliberately provocative tweet just to see where people will land on rorsach wordings. I particularly like ones that can be read depending on your place in cultural issues haven’t reached consensus. which is exactly why people get angry. I did this on a whim yesterday asking “is listening to audiobooks reading?”

About 70% of folks said yes. 30% said no. But the reasons why were fascinating. The majority probably doesn’t care about semantics (the minority do which I will get to) but a good chunk cares about the connotations associated with how we learn or retain information. Mostly as a function of diversity and inclusion as many folks find reading to be inaccessible for reasons of neurodivergence or focus.

I relate as I don’t process audio easily so prefer subtitles and transcripts. Sometimes I feel bad about this as folks occasionally moralize about the value of mediums I don’t find accessible. There are plenty of things that I can’t engage with or experience in its original form because of disability. I’m just not particularly angry about it. But I am also left with all of the high prestige ways of consuming culture and none of the lowbrow. Like bummer I don’t have podcasts but I still have Dostoyevsky

That’s ultimately the interesting point about asking if reading and listening are similar. What do we consider to be higher processing? And does that matter? Some folks definitely moralized on the issue on. It’s sides. If you retain the information who cares how you got it. And accessibility is its own value. Pop culture is arguably more important because of its accessibility. This is why memes are folk art. They produce a very low loss form of high meaning to content ratio

A third of folks wanted about the definition used. A lot of semantics of information consumption. If you fall into the camp of caring about how we discuss information processing there is an amazing book called the Alphabet and the Goddess: The Conflict between Word and Image about the transition from image to binary communication and the changes in our neurological structures by a surgeon called and Leonard Schlain.

Like the actual debate about what types of processing is happening and how it affects our structures is worth having. But so much of Twitter boils down to the moral scolds and the rage woke fighting over ideas of worth and assigning value and status. I’d rather discuss how our minds process and that impacts the trajectory of our civilizations.