Written by sephira
The Internet has allowed humanity to experience emotions that most of us would have been unlikely to find elsewhere: the leap of joy when someone near you joins your furry meetup group, the pleasure of stumbling upon the perfect piece of Avatar slash fanfiction. But spend too much time online, and you’re likely to come across less welcome emotions as well. Such as…
1. Acute Social Networking Loneliness
You spend forty-five minutes choosing the perfect link to share with all of your friends on Facebook, finally settling on a hilarious vide of a kitten peeping out from behind a window frame. You write a witty description and emphatic recommendation, and then realize it’s time to go to bed. You retire satisfied for the night, thinking how grateful your companions, family and coworkers will be for what you have done for them.
The next morning, you happily click on your Facebook page, ready to respond to your friends’ replies. Instead, you see this:
Your joy fading, you go to your email inbox to see if anyone has left any comments on your Livejournal site in which you post pieces of your artwork and lyrics from your favorite indie songs. Nothing. The inbox is empty. Not even any spam, or 3-year-old email forwards from your grandma warning about how sunscreen can kill children.
Crushed, you go back to Facebook, and scroll vacantly through your friend’s happy status updates and photos. Their lives continuing with no apparent concern for your own. Do they really care? You ask. Am I even really real?
Feeling alone in a crowd is not unfamiliar to anyone who has lived in a big city, or who has accidentally wandered into a romance novel convention. What makes it unique on the Internet is that the crowd is now comprised entirely of people who are meant to like you. It’s kind of like telling a joke that no one laughs at in the middle of a party thrown on your behalf, except at least then you can be reasonably sure that it was just an unfunny joke, and that they don’t secretly hate you. Why else would they be at your party?
But with the less ‘real’ friends of Facebook and other Internet social tools, and with less of the certainty that comes from actually seeing people’s faces and reactions, you are more likely to instead begin to obsess and rationalize. Was it just that no one was reading Facebook at that hour? Maybe some people did like it and appreciate it, but they just forgot to click ‘like’ or leave a comment? Maybe there was a technical problem and it didn’t come up on their feed, or –
Oh god, who are you kidding. They probably saw the link next to your name and thought “What’s this crap? Peeping kittens? God, I frickin’ hate that guy.” They are probably only keeping you on their list to make themselves feel better about not being quite as fat as you.
Realizing this, you crumble into black despair, until you are distracted by the next peeping kitten video.
2. False Intimacy Syndrome
It’s familiar to most of us: the creepily one-sided relationship where one person cares for or obsesses about the other, who is entirely unaware that he or she exists. Something like this has been around in mild form for a while: we’re pretty sure that far more people considered themselves married to Elvis than Elvis was actually married to. But the advent of the Internet has made this delusion mutate. But while in the past it applied mainly to celebrities (who presumably had the means of dealing with the problem by throwing money and naked women at it) it can now affect anyone silly enough to put their opinions online.
We’re not just talking about stalking here, or about young women thinking they are connected to the Jonas brothers on the astral plane. It can be far more subtle: you begin to read the blog of a certain witty writer, and soon, it’s on your daily links list. Whenever something controversial happens, you find yourself thinking “I wonder what Tom at PicturesOfBabyHedgehogs.org thinks about this turn of events!” and go to his site to check. Pretty soon, your brain, not wired to deal with the one-sidedness of Internet relationships, assumes that you’re old friends who have nightly chats.
He has other, better friends.
You know this guy’s family stories, his deepest opinions, his hedgehogs, the good and bad things about his life. He wouldn’t know you if you came up and kissed him (which you probably will one day). If it’s a popular blog, chances are he won’t have time to respond to your messages even if you do write to him. And attempting to ‘even out’ the relationship by telling him a bit about yourself out of the blue will come across as creepy oversharing.
It’s true that most of us will not ultimately react to this by going and shooting the guy and leaving a single red rose on his bed. But it will almost definitely lead to heartbreak, as on the inevitable day that his blog goes down and you realize that once again, you’re all alone.
3. Awkward Friendship Revelation Despair
“Sorry. I didn’t realize you were a woman when I told that joke.”
Social networking sites like Facebook, LinkedIn and Classmates are great for catching up with old friends. They’re also useful for networking, and for maintaining contact with acquaintances who you otherwise would have forgotten to call (it makes it far less awkward later when you don’t have to make up stories about not calling them back because you suddenly came down with cancer). Problem is, while letting you know their contact details, the Internet also shows you some things about your friends that you might not want to know.
Say you bump into the attractive friend of a friend, and strike up a conversation. You discover to your joy that your new pal is amenable to having coffee sometime. Rather than exchange phone numbers, they give you their full name so you can look them up on Facebook.
Excited, you start gazing at photos of him or her and imagining the gradual blossoming of your physical affection. Then your eyes stray over to the side of their profile, and you see this:
Okay, you say to yourself. ICP. You can deal with that when you’re married. Well, okay, maybe you’re not really interested in ever settling down with an Insane Clown Posse fan. But you can deal with it on dates at least, unless you’re in the car and they want to listen… no, you can’t. Okay, maybe you can fake some sort of music allergy. But can you really handle someone who thinks it is acceptable to use that many apostrophes in an inappropriate fart analogy? You could have gone without knowing this stuff about them until after you have slept together, or preferably, after you were both dead.
It’s not just romantic partners, either. How do you react when this comes up on your Facebook feed, with your uncle’s name next to it?
It’s not like you can disown an entire branch of your family over an internet conspiracy meme. But the next holiday you spend together is going to be hell awkward. Once you know these things about a person, you can’t unknow them. It was far better back in the days when our conspiracy theories and bad taste was kept behind closed doors, or preferably, not talked about at all, and you could go happily to your grave without knowing that your favorite computer teacher from highschool now likes to dress up as Pikachu on the weekends.
4. Obsessive Life Comparison Inadequacy
There is another pitfall of reuniting with people you used to know – except that this doesn’t apply so much to people you like as it does to people you hate. Or more accurately, hated. The girl who you asked out when you were twelve, who responded by telling everyone that you had pooped your pants in front of her. The guy who came up with that embarrassing nickname for you in eighth grade when he figured out that your last name rhymed with ‘butt’. The dude that deliberately ran you down with his car when you were eight – what was with that guy?
Really, the best way for most of us to maintain our fragile grip on sanity is to tell ourselves that everyone who wronged us in the past is now not only working the night shift at Denny’s, but also getting picked on by the night manager who deliberately breaks the toilet and makes them fix it. And before the rise of social networking, most of us could go for most of our lives believing it.
These days, though, no matter how far you leave your past behind, you only have to be friends, or friends of friends, with someone to know how exactly your past rival is going. Hell, even if you avoid social networking yourself, you might have a friend who doesn’t, who will absentmindedly let it slip to you that the girl who beat you out for that band scholarship is now a multi-millionaire who lunches with the President and owns your hometown.
Meanwhile, you live here.
Don’t get us wrong: in the past, you could still compare your own life and success with that of your neighbors. But you didn’t have so much at stake, because unless you live in a very small town, your neighbors probably weren’t the ones who beat you up in high school while screaming “Stop hitting yourself! Stop hitting yourself!”
All of these negative emotions might possibly contribute to…
5. Chronic Impotent Internet Rage
Looking at successful people on the internet might get you angry, but it’s nothing compared with the blinding red mist that clouds your vision when you see online statements like this:
Now, in times past, when someone was totally, ass-stupidly wrong about something, you could punch them in the face (or if female, remove your gloves and give them a ladylike slap). Hell, you could at least stare at them angrily for a while. Now, with your stupidity target nowhere in your actual physical vicinity, there is nothing to do but argue. And argue some more.
Six hours later, when the sun is long set and when your argument partner simply signs off after calling you a ‘fag’ one last time, there is nothing you can do at all. Hell, these days it’s even illegal to thrash the nearest orphan.
The only outlet for your continued rage is contained within your computer. It calls you back when you try to leave, offering you the chance of further incoherent fury and the possibility of sweet relief. You toss and turn through the night, thinking only of returning to your keyboard and explaining to that moron why world poverty can’t be solved by everybody simply printing more money. Eventually you get fired from your job for constantly logging in to Yahoo!Answers and pounding your firsts wildly on the keyboard.
“THERE’S NO APOSTROPHE THERRRRRRRRRRRRRRE!”
But still, relief does not come, because even in the extremely rare occurrences when your partner concedes that yes, you are right that there is not a massive conspiracy by pharmaceutical companies to withhold a cure for cancer so that they can continue to make money on cancer treatments, there will always be someone else. You can never really sleep, not again, because you are no longer innocent of this knowledge. Until the day you die, you will never rest, because you know that someone somewhere on the internet still thinks that steel only melts at 1,874,000 degrees Fahrenheit, and that if you don’t reply to this chain letter about the headless doll by midnight tonight you will totally die.
Bonus: two guys chatting on a party. nothing special.