In this article, Lachlan Mitchell asks us all to spend just a little more time thinking about being vulnerable on social media, and what that entails.
The beauty of the internet is that it is anonymous as you want it to be. Well, so long as you factor in tailored advertising, data breaches, seemingly mandatory usage of Facebook and Linkedin for anything remotely professional, and so on. The beauty of the internet is that it can feel anonymous, I suppose. This ability to cleanly slip off your flesh prison like a pair of socks and just exist as a profile picture of, say, Mike Wazowski? It has its benefits. With the illusion of anonymity, there is an implied loosening of social boundaries, as there is nothing but the algorithm and the report button to slow you down. You are Neo, the decider of what can or cannot be perceived. The spoon is not real!
Whether or not you choose to be a ‘different person’, the internet gives us the ability to say as much as we want, for as long as we want, to tailor it to an exact audience and hopefully derive the exact like & retweet sequencing to jack up our dopamine subroutines and orgasmically fade into the bed, knowing we have been vaguely validated. But it also gives us the ability to do this ad infinitum, descending into the abyss for as long as we can keep our eyes open. Scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling, scrolling and scrolling. It is both scary and comforting; there is always someone waiting for you somewhere in the depths of the chasm.
Without a flesh prison to tie us down, it is easy to slip the surly bonds of presumed social boundaries and dance the timeline on pixelated wings – the great filters of the physical, another person’s watchful eyes, are not here to remind us of the immediate impact of our words. Oversharing, for those with an average social skill set, is naturally put to an end by the grimace of another. For many, the removal of this element is a blessing; especially for those neurodivergent folk that struggle with body language and reading tone to begin with. By doing this dance, we can say whatever we feel like, and the only way to hold us accountable is to mute or block our asses. And for many, becoming one with the abyss is the only way to feel like we can talk to others sometimes – God knows the amount of cry-text on a locked account thatsd has seememd so corr;e;ct atthe tiiem. To share is to feel acknowledged, and social media is designed to draw out pathological FOMO, so letting the world hold a little of you each time becomes natural. For people who feel isolated because of mental illness, it so often becomes therapeutic to scream without limits into a void that is, by design, incapable of reacting. But without boundaries, sharing as a cathartic process, a replacement for the perceived clinical environment of therapy, becomes constricting.
I just want to share some advice as someone who has seemingly incurable Internet Brain. I don’t want to do some wanking off over how the internet isn’t a replacement for real people. Obviously, duh. That’s, like, article number fucking one in every mental health piece since World of Warcraft first began. Right below the current-day cautionary tales of watching your best friend get redpilled into, I don’t know, believing Jacinda consumes 1080 on plates made of the chopped off foreskin of immigrant babies. However, sometimes I think we read so much about how the internet/social media isn’t a replacement, that we actually just filter out that idea entirely. We think we already know, we’ve had the idea bombarded into our skulls since 2004, so we let our defenses down. Being aware of Internet Brain isn’t the same as actively working on managing it. It’s like when you feel bad about your looks. Maybe you think you have a listless Kia Picanto ass instead of a massive, juicy Hydrema 922F dumptruck of a rear end. A caring figure bombards you with compliments that are intended to perk you up and change your mind, but you only push those words away – you know they mean well, but it only serves to confuse you and cling even tighter to your ideas. Internet Brain relies on this subversion of common sense, it relies on you to know better but to feel guilty over that fact. And look, I’m sympathetic. I get it.
Vulnerability is a wonderful thing, especially when paired with the feeling of healing all that mental trauma. That feeling of letting someone else know the stirrings of your spirit is something that can’t be imitated – how could it be, as it tickles the ego so nicely? But vulnerability is not an answer to your troubles. It’s not enough to simply be open, you have to be open to the right people, at the right times. Openness is a gift, not a default; to own yourself means creating limits to who can own a bit of your presence. To overshare yourself is to spread your inner workings thin, to confuse the embrace of the void with the desire for companionship. It leaves you empty and fragile, as you’ve spent so much energy tying your heart and soul to every acquaintance and passerby. And when people inevitably don’t match up to your constant need for matched emotions, matched validity, you become resentful and sink back into yourself, losing the focus for why you even wanted other people to know you. Your pain encourages you to see yourself as nothing but your pain.
The internet, by its very nature, encourages all this. While not designed to facilitate sickness and self-doubt, there has been little effort in rectifying what it facilitates nonetheless. The nature of social media is to encourage spreading yourself to as many communication nodes as possible, fuck the consequences. It encourages disposability, both for your own emotions and the feelings of those around you. It doesn’t encourage permanence, it only encourages More and More and More. It encourages the mental health journey as an inherently and involuntarily interactive matter. And I mean, this can sometimes help. As mentioned earlier, for those who are less inclined towards the troubles of physical interactions, the way the internet helps you not see people as people but as faceless faces… for many, this is worth the trade off.
And I don’t think it’s all bad. But you can’t trade one medium for another and expect to come out entirely clean, and we still haven’t learned that lesson despite all our supposed ‘digital generation’ bullshit. However, I understand. Oversharing can feel like therapy, especially when access to more traditional forms of therapy, clinical or communal, is so stratified these days. I don’t think purely advocating a distinctly clinical idea of therapy is the answer either, though I have heard good things about somatic therapy. Learning to live with yourself can take the form of so many answers. But learning to keep a part of yourself just to yourself… I’ve found so much good in that. Depeche Mode had it right: enjoy the silence.