Many people I follow on blogs and on Twitter consistently produce witty and clever posts that fit into what’s acceptable of the form. They’re quick hits of delightful smartness that I can absorb, then move onto something else. This is the norm.
But not everything I find online is as clear-cut and pleasant as this, nor should it be.
In a recent Thought Catalog piece, writer Ryan O’Connell talks about the tendency and the danger of a nullifying uniformity among our online communications. Many of us are afraid of putting ourselves out there online and becoming a target for trolls. We’re rather fit into someone else’s notion of how we should behave and think rather than be raw and vulnerable.
O’Connell writes: “People hide behind their phones, they carefully curate their communication with other people, which makes honest moments few and far between.”
A fleeting tweet that satisfied our expectations reaffirms our sense of the world. It lets us move on. But it’s really these honest moments, the ones whose meaning isn’t obvious, that generally stick with us.
As I see it, writing about our lives and our world is basically an exercise in observation in which one draws attention to connections between people, places, ideas, and so on. We observe something, analyze it, then produce a report on our findings.
Comedy writer Hallie Cantor wrote a beautiful blog post on experiencing things without having to make them a joke:
It’s easier to agree that something is funny than to agree that December feels like being in a concrete building that’s the highest point in a tiny state and daydreaming about some boy and listening to Charlie Parker. But when I can convince myself to remember that other people’s stories are interesting, I wish it didn’t have to be funny. I wish it were enough to just look.
Going “off-script” is not as easy for people to process as a neat, self-contained joke.
Many would assume that digital media is making our generation too narcissistic and/or soporific to make an eloquent and irreverent statement like Allen Ginsberg’s Howl. Ginsberg wasn’t afraid to go to dark places, and be real in a time of great conformity.
Perhaps, though, our battles are more specific and nuanced to the point where no single voice can speak for a generation. Our blog posts and tweets might seemingly be “a dumping ground for every non-thought that crawls through their brain” and often falling short of a rally cry. But do we really need to compel action from people? It seems to me that it’s often enough just to be honest about what we’re thinking about and to show others our experiences and how we live our lives – even if that means posts about your mundane and unfulfilled life.
Rather than “build our brands,” we can be part of an internet that moves beyond what’s deemed acceptable or rational or appropriate. We need to fight our need to come across as calm, cool and collected (or simply put: normal). Otherwise, we’ll have an online world that conforms to what is expected, and never delivers what is needed.