A close friend/longtime roommate went through mental health ups and downs. At his worst, he’d stay up for days wondering if other people were just automatons and didn’t experience existence in the same way he did. A traumatic childhood had another friend fixated on the idea she was filled with cotton, like a stuffed animal. Those thoughts would precede through disassociation. I never really struggled with these ideas of personhood and reality and etcetera and blah blah.
I’m fairly certain I’m a person, human, definitely, who has thoughts and feelings. I’ve become skeptical of others. The “Public Face” is always dishonest, at least in small ways. Holding in a fart, for example. But we take reasonable dishonesty and file it under “being polite.”
The “New Public Face,” or less-succinctly, “The Way People Behave Online To Maintain Or Advance Their Status In Whatever They Consider Their Peer Group,” is dishonest plus ultra. And it’s creeping me the hell out. Superman 3 where-the-villainess-falls-into-the-machine-and-is-made-a-machine levels of creeped out. Don’t write me off as a banished academic doing the podcast circuit complaining about young people. I’m just trying to have a human moment with you here.
There’s a tabletop roleplaying game called Paranoia. Really novel idea. Did you ever wanna experience the terror of Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four firsthand? Did you ever wanna live Kafka’s The Trial? Gilliam’s Brazil? Clearly, it’s a horror game of a sort, but with its tongue firmly-in-cheek. You’re tasked by the state to capture and kill dissident mutants. Also, you are a dissident mutant. Shhh. Don’t tell. Black comedy. There is no way to win and you are expected to backstab your party members when necessary or for enjoyment. It’s a fun evening.
We’re public facing at all times. No break time during which we can be ourselves, even among friends.
Or, it’s the 24hr reality of Internet People. It used to only be “celebrities” who spent every public moment being the fraud versions of themselves. Now, it’s millions of people. Many of whom may not fully understand there’s an alternative to that life. There’s an anecdote about state torturers in Edvard Radzinsky’s Stalin (at least I think it was Radzinsky’s book. Pretty sure. I’m not so literate that I read multiple 600 page biographies of the same man, so it must be). The paranoia within the Communist Party was such that a captive recalls his torturer in a manic state crying and reflecting aloud on how he may be the next tied to the chair.
Sorry for the melodrama, but that’s sometimes how it feels out here.
We’ve self-elected to be celebrities. Anemic ones, sure. Notable only in our little corners of subculture or shared interest, but notable insofar as niches go. And, perhaps more telling, we’ve self-elected to be torturers. Remember the band 24-7 Spyz? This is 24-7 Torturerz. We’re public facing at all times. No break time during which we can be ourselves, even among friends. Do something human… oh man. Don’t do anything human.
Again, my apologies for sounding like I have graying temples and a bone to pick with some demographic cohort of 15-25 year-olds. I assure you, only one of those is true. I’m just freaked out, man. Or maybe, fuck it. I’ll have a human moment on purpose. Let everyone know I’m definitely a dissident and a mutant and let them shoot me with lasers. Takes the waiting out of things. “If you want a vision of the future, imagine holding your farts- forever.” – George Orwell; translation mine.