Monday, January 09, 2017

The Futility of Existence

The New Year is just over a week old and I already want to slash my wrists - length ways - and put my face into an industrial blender...

If someone had said to me as recently as last year that 'you can't educate against ignorance,' I would have glared at them with added incredulity. I can't say I feel the same way now. I don't know if I've just been unlucky, but I seem to have witnessed a degree of fuckwittery this week that has all but shattered my faith in humanity surviving until the 22nd century.

Honestly, I'm not going to waste your time with some of the unbelievable examples I've witnessed, for a number of reasons, but my sanity is the top one and your spare time is another; let's just say that the prospect of moving to Scotland and semi-isolation was facing a crisis of faith, but yesterday I was seeing if there were any affordable islands and ruing the fact we haven't colonised other planets...

Actually, I will give you one example, basically because it perfectly illustrates the surreal nature of the world today: I was watching the FA Cup and on one of those MBM things I sometimes follow it was suggested that the game we were watching was 'as dull as brown wallpaper' - a fair surmise. Someone took this personally and accused the MBM of being negative and was going to boycott it from that point. Someone asked what was negative about a factually accurate report that was echoed by the TV pundits. The person who took it personally then accused people of insulting him and that because he was a season ticket holder he had more right than others to have an opinion. The truth appears to be that he expected others to agree with him and when they didn't he accused them of insulting him - because no one agreed with him. Is that just plain ignorance or some kind of underlying psychopathy?

I suppose current affairs has something to do with it - fake news, outrageous opinions, intolerance - but it's really getting to the point where my underlying feeling is if I don't disconnect from this mad fucking world I am going to buy a Kalashnikov and off a few dozen twats before I get taken out... The Age of Reason has been replaced by the Age of Opinion (and we all know opinions are like arseholes, it's just some are stinkier than others).

As 2016 descended into some black comedic satire of existence, lives lived and governed by thoughts and feelings took over; pragmatism, facts and rationale all ignored in favour of things 'which felt right' - like Brexit, Trump and the demonisation of the disenfranchised, and the fact the year clicked up one more hasn't changed the world, it's still the same and getting worse.

Then I discovered that even those of us who feel we're skirting under the Manipulation Radar are anything but; because even if we're not playing the new Game of Life, it [the Game] knows everything about us that it will ever need. Big Brother exists just as Orwell predicted, the thing is Big Brother is a capitalist business model rather than a government.

Faced with ignorance on a grand scale; intolerance at levels not seen for 80 years and prospects on the horizon that make taking an acid bath sound fun, it leads me to ask: what is the point? I made a couple of odd resolutions on December 31st. The first was I was going to try and refrain from clicking 'Like' on anything Facebook related and aside from music, I was going to post nothing that promoted anything other than my own brand (ie: my blogs). After getting involved in a number of futile exchanges at the end of the year, I reinforced my decision NOT to get involved and to stay civil and I've even chatted with a friend about how to survive without social media.

Even if I profess to not spend much time on Facebook, it is open on my browser whenever my browser is open, therefore I'm always just a heartbeat away from it. I can't say the same for other social media - I still struggle to even understand the significance of Twitter even though I'm on it; I mean, its very nature means that unless you spend forever following it you only ever get a snapshot of its world.

But the major problem I have is a refusal to sync my phone with my computer and therefore my social media world. Back in the 1990s, when I worked for that man and spent a lot of time on the telephone, we often used to joke about the mobile phone adverts telling us that we can now speak to people while we're on the beach and we'd look at each other and say 'why the hell would we want to do anything like that when we're on the beach?' ... Well, that's how I feel about my mobile device being a mini version of my PC. My mobile is for phone calls, text messages and bad photographs. I occasionally use the browser on it to check football scores or news, but that is it. I can go out without my mobile and never realise it and I like that; I think that liberates me a little.

Now, I have a desire to have my entire (new) house wired up and wireless. I want PCs and laptops to be linked to TVs and stereos and even mobile devices, but not so I can always know what So-and-So thinks about Wassname at the touch of a button; it's so I can watch or listen to things without having to transfer them onto some solid form of conveyance. I am also aware that it is my age that dictates this despite knowing many people older than me who are far more tech-minded than I've any desire to be (Just look at Miriam Margoyles, who at 76 knows more about the workings of computers than I know about my own crotch).

I also have always chosen to ignore adverts on the TV or radio, so I tend to have ad blockers on browsers and any other thing I can find that will limit my exposure to shit I don't want to see to a minimum. I have always believed that if I want something I'll go and buy it; I don't want or need something telling me what I need or should want; if anything adverts turn me off of things rather than peak my interest. That's also my age and as I get older the last thing I want is to take up my valuable minutes with some shit that an 18-year-old doesn't batter an eyelid at. I appreciate that everyone is selling something, but if I could have a shit filter on my net life it would the busiest thing in my real life.

Depending on what mood I'm in, we're either headed towards war, economic oblivion or social disorder and that's just me being optimistic. Couple that with some of the frankly surreal nonsense I'm seeing friends getting engrossed in, the growing number of old friends showing slightly far right wing opinions, and everyone's futile arguments with people who DON'T WANT THE TRUTH because they don't like it; they'd rather believe in unicorns that shit rainbows and spunk cash in the mouth of whoever is prepared to felate it.

I actually quite like life, it's probably one of the main reasons I never offed myself during the worst months of my depression, and I can't help thinking that if I can just come up with ways to entertain myself that do not involve any form of interaction on the 'social' side of the internet (but not stop using it because it does have its benefits) then I think I'll put a couple of years on my life. It does mean I will have to rely on old fashioned means of communication such as emails, telephones and in person, but I figure the less time I spend looking at memes the better my life will be. If I get what I want this year then I'm going to have to spend time doing stuff, deliberate social media withdrawal might be the best practice.

But therein lies the problem. An old acquaintance of mine, a guy called Chris*, did his PhD on Technology Dependence and the addictive nature of social media and he concluded (in 2009) that once you've become enveloped in social media it is akin to drug withdrawal to try and kick the habit. I can see this because as much as I fucking hate it at the moment, I'm a bit scared/worried about not being on it and this has nothing to do with FOMO (Fear Of Missing out) and more to do with filling a void that I would fill if I had something to fill it with...

The bottom line is just how much of it I can do without. If I went out everyday and various people came up to me and annoyed me in obstinate and childish mental ways, I'd avoid them, wouldn't I? All I need is a plan of withdrawal and interesting (and possibly new) stuff to keep me occupied. I do have a working plan of action, but even that involves remaining connected and just that simple fact makes technology addiction as real as drug addiction. Years after stopping smoking, I still sometimes find myself (usually) imagining a contrived circumstance where I can smoke again and that usually ends up with a week or two falling off the wagon, if I don't push the urge back where it belongs. The idea of not having that Facebook crutch has a similar effect on me and that is probably more worrying than anything else.

It doesn't help that it is January and a time of the year when we're all (except my mate Roger) desperately scrambling around to try and find something to occupy our time that doesn't involve watching shit TV and eating the rest of what was left over from the festive season. With the prospect of cold, snow, still gloomy days ahead of us, what could be better than sitting in your warm [insert somewhere here] gloating over how bad the world is, or being all sympathetic to someone whose life is being played out for everyone to see. Don't get me wrong, I'm just as guilty of it and I wonder if others feel, months down the line, as bloody stupid about it as I do now? Using social media as an intervention tool or a method of discussion regarding mental or economic health is a bit vulgar, even if I've done it on numerous occasions.

Social media is at best facile and at worst psychopathic and it's all just a tiny snapshot of everything because, especially with Facebook, you'll never know for sure about everything that is happening because it is algorithmically censored. I discovered this recently when a) I discovered a band I'm 'subscribed' to released an album in August 2015 and b) when I clicked on the Timeline of a friend and saw the legend 'Stories you might not have seen' and there were countless posts that had never made it to my own page, despite me 'following' this person. Facebook pretty much decides what you can and can't see, but because the average person has a specific number of friends unless you have all the time in the world it is difficult to keep track. Now, my infamous alter-ego has very few 'friends' because it is a shell account (originally created to play myself at Scrabble), yet even the real people on it are limited in their exposure. I see, at most, 50% of my own posts on my dummy ID page, and part of me thinks a snapshot is a good thing (because you don't really want to know everything about someone because that gets a bit ... stalker-y), but another part of me thinks that because of it there is a subtle manipulation going on that we're not aware of because it never dawns on us.

In an odd way, the internet once represented anarchy in its purest form; now it is just like everything else, designed to cull as much information from us to work out how the rich can screw more money out of you (I have no money, so they're getting fuck all from me apart from my time and my reprogrammed mind and ...).

*I lost touch with Chris because he isn't on any social media, (he also, rather heroically, doesn't play games on either his PC or a games machine), answers emails about 12 times a year and admits that despite teaching computer science, having a PhD in computing and the ability to dismantle and reassemble a PC with his eyes glued shut, he spends almost no time at all on any of his computers, or phone, preferring to do things that wouldn't have seemed out of place in 1975.


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