January 12, 2011

Five Emotions Invented By The Internet

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What is the issue?

A vague and gnawing pang of anxiety centered around an IM window that has lulled. During this time an individual feels unsure whether they have offended the IM recipient, committed a breach of IM etiquette, or have otherwise spoilt the presentation of themselves carefully crafted thus far thanks to the miracles of the textual medium. The individual must be at least vaguely aware that they are being vaguely paranoid, and must tell themselves things like ‘he probably just stepped away from the keyboard’ or ‘I know she is at work right now so perhaps she has stopped replying because she is busy.’

This sentiment of anxiety must surface only after an extremely brief lapse in the pace of the conversation [range of ~30 seconds to 1 minute], and the individual must tell themselves things like ‘it has only been like a minute, don’t worry.’ The individual may mull a mental history of their prior IM conversations with the subject and with others in an attempt to gauge whether the lull is ‘normal’, or to extrapolate what the lull might indicate about the subject’s sentiment toward them.  The individual may experience elevated heart rate and depersonalization, and while staring at the screen with an unfocused expression, have catastrophic thoughts about their romantic history, their ability to be liked by others in the future or their key flaws.

A sudden and irrational rage in response to reading an ‘@-reply’ on Twitter. The reply is not especially insulting and might be simply a little bit facile, or flippant, or even overly friendly. It is essential that the substance of the ‘trigger’ is not actually upsetting or offensive in any comprehensible way; for example, a total stranger with a particularly goofy Twitter ‘avatar’ might tweet at an individual ‘hope you are staying safe in the snow, [name!] ;)’ in a totally reasonable and friendly fashion and the recipient instead experiences a sudden flash of negative sentiment like ‘who is this person and what makes someone randomly wish for the safety of a stranger, they are probably a loser, I am offended by the attention of this obsequious weirdo.’

Or the individual might Tweet seeking recommendations for what to watch on Hulu and receive a reply that says ‘have you seen [x]’ where ‘x’ is something completely obvious that everyone has seen, and the individual experiences the strong urge to reply with something virulent or to tweet ‘WHY ARE IDIOTS FOLLOWING ME WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE.’ Throughout the immediate rush of irrational hair-trigger irritation the individual is vaguely aware that their reaction is completely inappropriate for the situation of being addressed in a less than desirable way by strangers on the internet. In advanced cases the person tweets something stark or vicious about the state of society or about the internet and deletes it ~15-30 seconds later after realizing it is exceptionally unwarranted.

The state of being ‘installed’ at a computer or laptop for an extended period of time without purpose, characterized by a blurry, formless anxiety undercut with something hard like desperation. During this time the individual will have several windows open, generally several browser ‘tabs,’ a Microsoft Word document in some state of incompletion, the individual’s own Facebook page as well as that of another randomly-selected individual who may or may not be on the ‘friends’ list, 2-5 Gchat conversations that are no longer immediately active, possibly iTunes and a ‘client’ for Twitter. The individual will switch between the open applications/tabs in a fashion that appears organized but is functionally aimless, will return to reading some kind of ‘blog post’ in one browser tab and become distracted at the third paragraph for the third time before switching to the Gmail inbox and refreshing it again.

The behavior equates to mindlessly refreshing and ‘lozenging’ the same sources of information repeatedly. While performing this behavior the individual feels a sense of numb depersonalization, being calmly and pragmatically aware that they have no identifiable need to be at the computer nor are they gleaning any practical use from it at that moment, and the individual may feel vaguely uncomfortable or ashamed about this awareness in concert with the fact that they continue to perform the idle ‘refreshing’ behavior. They may feel increasingly anxious and needful, similar to the sensation of having an itch that needs scratching or a thirst that needs quenching, all while feeling as though they are calm or slightly bored.

The car collision of appetite and discomfort one feels simultaneously when using the internet to seek and consume images or information that may be considered unseemly or inappropriate. The individual might be viewing a YouTube video of an extremely uncool musical performance, an awkwardly poor ‘stand-up’ performance by a friend or something else they clicked on to be polite during an IM conversation to which the individual would have been unlikely to have navigated on his or her own.  Despite the fact that the individual is alone, possibly wearing headphones, or otherwise in a state of adequate privacy, the individual still feels slightly self-conscious in a way that is only possible in the silent digital echo chamber of the internet, under the internet’s populist eye. The individual is unlikely to be able to make more than a cursory assessment of the offending media, and may experience the sensation of ‘suffering through’ it despite the fact that the individual chose, or believes they chose, to view it.

In advanced cases, however, the individual continues to seek out contact with the offending media and offshoots or evolutions thereupon, such as finding a group of Tumblr users who seem insane and flipping rapidly through the Tumblrs while thinking ‘who the fuck would make this kind of Tumblr, how can there be so many people doing this,’ or finding an exceptionally boring and obnoxious Formspring user and thinking ‘god what a terrible person’ while reading ~6 pages of questions they answered. It is analogous to smoking a cigarette while thinking ‘ugh, smoking is slowly causing cancer inside me’ and finishing the cigarette, except for being expanded to ‘emotional landscape’ level and being much more fraught, somehow. The individual may experience a burning sensation or redness in the face or ears.

The sense of fatigue and disconnect one experiences after emitting a massive stream of content only to hit some kind of ‘wall’ and forget and/or abandon the entire thing. Most commonly encountered when a person starts to type a comment on a website, such as a carefully-considered response to a news article, generally for the purpose of joining a discussion taking place in a comments section, although this might apply to a blog post or Facebook ‘note’ if the individual is in the habit of generating those on at least a semi-regular basis. The person starts out with a tangible urge to produce a written argument and writes with intensity and immediacy until they notice they have written some 2-4 paragraphs, at which point begin feeling self-conscious about what they have written and wonder whether the length of their comment is appropriate.

The individual begins editing it to feel more concise and effective, begins adding some details and removing others, until an unacceptable length of time passes and the individual feels increasingly ‘fuzzy’ about whatever it was they were writing. They may feel as though the thread of their idea has ‘gotten away from them’ or that each paragraph of the increasingly unruly block of text is weaker than the one that preceded it. The need to say something has lapsed and leaves a dim, fatigued sensation in its place. In advanced cases, a sensation approximating ‘headache’ but not as tangible nor identifiable as ‘headache’ sets in.

The individual leaves their unfinished content in the ‘box,’ and becomes hyper-aware of its transient nature while navigating aimlessly to other tabs. The individual returns to the in-progress content as if to assure it still exists. The individual reads the content through for perhaps the tenth time in total and then presses ‘ctrl-a’ and ‘backspace’ or ‘delete’ and feels a simultaneous rush of relief and impotence when the content disappears. The person feels decimated, depersonalized and powerless while sitting still for a handful of seconds and may feel depressed for several minutes thereafter. TC mark

Check out the author’s book “Breathing Machine: A Memoir of Computers” here.

twitter image – Shutterstock
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