Tag Archives: i hate myself
It’s a been a year now since I “surfed the web” or “checked my email” or “liked” anything with a figurative rather than literal thumbs up. I’ve managed to stay disconnected, just like I planned. I’m internet free.
And now I’m supposed to tell you how it solved all my problems. I’m supposed to be enlightened. I’m supposed to be more “real,” now. More perfect.
Paul Miller, writer and lifelong techie, went a year without using the internet. No e-mail, no Facebook, no Google Maps, no Expedia, nothing.
And everything started out great, let me tell you. I did stop and smell the flowers. My life was full of serendipitous events: real life meetings, frisbee, bike rides, and Greek literature. With no clear idea how I did it, I wrote half my novel, and turned in an essay nearly every week to The Verge. In one of the early months my boss expressed slight frustration at how much I was writing, which has never happened before and never happened since.
[...] As my head uncluttered, my attention span expanded. In my first month or two, 10 pages of The Odyssey was a slog. Now I can read 100 pages in a sitting, or, if the prose is easy and I’m really enthralled, a few hundred.
It seemed then, in those first few months, that my hypothesis was right. The internet had held me back from my true self, the better Paul. I had pulled the plug and found the light.
It’s funny the kneejerk admiration we have for people who voluntarily opt out of technology we’ve had for less than two decades. Miller got regular fan mail from admirers, an outpouring of ‘good for you’ sentiments in his PO box every week. When I first read his ‘Goodbye Internet’ post a year ago, I remember my reaction being ‘good for this dude!’
We have this weird conventional wisdom that the internet (by which we usually mean its more superficial representatives: Facebook, Buzzfeed, LOLCats) is a burden, a cacophony, the sirens enticing Ulysses toward destruction with a beautiful song.
Whenever anyone complains about the internet–the constant distractions, the oppressive connectivity, the instant gratification–I wonder to what degree they’re engaging in a kind of poorly aimed nostalgia. I remember the pre-internet era like this too, a time when friendships were stronger, books were shorter, concentration was easier.
Some of this is undoubtedly true. But it is also true that before the internet I was fifteen years old. The processing power of my desktop computer is not the only thing that has changed since then. Going to college, getting a job, moving to other countries, these things affect friendships, reading habits, ability to concentrate just as much as the internet does.
I wonder how many of the people congratulating Miller on leaving the internet are old enough to have had lives without it.
By late 2012, I’d learned how to make a new style of wrong choices off the internet. I abandoned my positive offline habits, and discovered new offline vices. Instead of taking boredom and lack of stimulation and turning them into learning and creativity, I turned toward passive consumption and social retreat.
A year in, I don’t ride my bike so much. My frisbee gathers dust. Most weeks I don’t go out with people even once. My favorite place is the couch. I prop my feet up on the coffee table, play a video game, and listen to an audiobook. I pick a mindless game, like Borderlands 2 or Skate 3, and absently thumb the sticks through the game-world while my mind rests on the audiobook, or maybe just on nothing.
It’s hard to say exactly what changed. I guess those first months felt so good because I felt the absence of the pressures of the internet. My freedom felt tangible. But when I stopped seeing my life in the context of “I don’t use the internet,” the offline existence became mundane, and the worst sides of myself began to emerge.
It’s like the Malthusian trap works at the level of the individual. Something changes in your life and you find new habits, new energy. You think you’re riding an incline, productivity and happiness increasing upward toward some new you. But then, your personality and your habits and your vices adjust. The incline plateaus, and before you know it, you’re staring at same monsters you thought you had turned away from.
This week is the two-year anniversary of my arrival in Berlin. This is the fourth time I’ve moved to a new country, and every time, the same thing happens. The first few weeks I explore, I meet new people, I take in the new stuff and jettison the old. The first three months go by like a year, all the novelty and adjustment stretching each day into an accomplishment. Then it all speeds up. Six months go by, a year, and I look around and I find myself in the same life I had in the last country.
This isn’t actually so bad. I rather like my life, and I’ve been able to build social groups (thanks Facebook!), stay in touch with old friends (thanks Skype!) and entertain myself (thanks Grindr!) in places I wouldn’t have known if I didn’t constantly feel like a new me was just one more country away.
But still, Miller’s experience and mine make me wonder if we think about self-improvement the wrong way. Maybe it’s not about changing where we live or what we do or how much we internet. Maybe it’s about changing how we respond to what’s already around us.
Or maybe we’re proof that it doesn’t actually matter. Even the most profound changes in your external circumstances will only result in short-term changes before you adjust and invite the old you to return. Maybe that fifteen year old kid, the one with the lifelong friends, the stack of books books completed and absorbed, he’s still here, no matter how emphatically adulthood tries to ostracize him.
Strangely, I find all this somewhat comforting. If that kid isn’t going to make an exit anytime soon, maybe I still have time for a few more.
The heartbreaking, inspiring, impossible story of the former world’s fattest man:
He was born in Ipswich and had a childhood marked by two things, he says: the verbal and physical abuse of his father, a military policeman turned security guard; and three years of sexual abuse, starting when he was 6, by a relative in her 20s who lived in the house and shared his bed. He told no one until decades later.
After he left school, Mr. Mason took a job as a postal worker and became engaged to a woman more than 20 years older than him. “I thought it would be for life, but she just turned around one day and said, ‘No, I don’t want to see you anymore — goodbye,’ ” he said.
His father died, and he returned home to care for his arthritic mother, who was in a wheelchair. “I still had all these things going around in my head from my childhood,” he said. “Food replaced the love I didn’t get from my parents.” When he left the Royal Mail in 1986, he said, he weighed 364 pounds.
Then things spun out of control. Mr. Mason tried to eat himself into oblivion. He spent every available penny of his and his mother’s social security checks on food. He stopped paying the mortgage. The bank repossessed their house, and the council found them a smaller place to live. All the while, he ate the way a locust eats — indiscriminately, voraciously, ingesting perhaps 20,000 calories a day. First he could no longer manage the stairs; then he could no longer get out of his room. He stayed in bed, on and off, for most of the last decade.
Most people, I imagine, read this—the abuse, the loneliness, the sense of helplessness—and feel sorry for this dude. Everyone deals with personal and family problems in unique, unbeautiful ways. This dude just happens to have chosen a way that profoundly affected his health and quality of life. This story almost invites you to go ‘Aw, poor guy.’
It’s harder when you don’t know the backstory. If you saw this guy at a restaurant, nearly 1,000 pounds, inhaling fried chicken, French fries, chocolate cake, washing it down with a milkshake, he’d probably make you sick to your stomach. You’d probably comment to a friend, ‘this guy is disgusting’, turn the other way.
We don’t realize the extent to which we learn one thing about someone and let it take over our entire opinion of them. You read this article and you know he’s fat, but you also know the abuse, the torn relationships, how he’s now reversed the spiral, how hard he’s trying. When you see a fat person at a restaurant, all you know is how they appear and what they’re eating. In both cases, you use the information you have to make a judgement. In that restaurant, you just don’t realize how little information you have.
But this is the part where I really suck at this. When I see a significantly overweight person in public, I end up assuming there’s a sympathetic backstory, an understandable reason they got this way. Maybe their dad just died and eating is a way to feel comfort. Maybe they have a hormonal imbalance. Or maybe they were just born with a crazy-slow metabolism and they have completely accepted their size and don’t feel any need to apologize for it. Good for them! I think, feeling kind and wise.
I fundamentally have no information about these people. I don’t know their first names, or where they grew up, or who their friends are or how they treat them. If it’s dickish to see a fat person at a restaurant and assume ‘they must be lazy’, isn’t it dickish to assume the opposite, that they must have an emotional or personal or physical reason for their obesity?
In other words, is kneejerk empathy as patronizing as kneejerk judgement?
It’s not just overweight people. I do this all the time, explain away a person’s appearance and actions. I try really hard to give people the benefit of the doubt when they snap at their kids in public, cut me off in traffic, refuse to give up their seat to an old person on the train. Maybe they’re having a terrible day. Maybe they’re hurrying home to take care of their sick mom. Maybe they’re just distracted. I’m no better than them, I tell myself, I’ve done all these things and worse.
Sometimes I think this makes me a left-wing cliche. There’s no such thing as bad behavior, only people who need a hug. On a society-wide scale, maybe judgement is better than empathy. If we know we’ll get nasty l0oks from our societal peers, maybe we’ll act better. Or at least look better.
Like everyone else, I haven’t found a way to make my actions match my beliefs. I lack the information to make any robust conclusions about the world around me, but even knowing that, I lack the ability not to. I wish I could see people and not assume anything at all. But until that happens, I should be sure about what I know before I decide what I think.
The best thing about streaming movies is that there’s no sunk costs. I don’t have to sit there and suffer through another sequel, another superhero, another indie misanthrope just to justify the $8 I’ve already spent. Ever since I started watching movies on my laptop, I start more than I used to, but my completion rate is down to like 50 percent. Now that I have a smartphone, a second screen to distract me, it’s pushing 25.
Anyway, here’s 12 movies I watched this year that failed to be more interesting than whatever I found an alt+tab away.
- John Carter: After watching this for 20 minutes I stopped to do an image search for ‘taylor kitsch rippling shirtless’ and never unpaused.
- We Bought a Zoo: So the title’s not a metaphor? It’s, like, the actual premise for the movie? Oh yeah fuck this.
- Friends With Kids: We know you’re a playwright, OK, now can every line of dialogue stop telling us that?
- The Hunger Games: I told everyone I know, like ‘It may not be High Art, but it’s a genuine cultural phenomenon, we have the obligation to see it.’ Like all intellectual pledges I made this year, this required a longer attention span than I possess, and I turned it off to read articles about it 25 minutes in.
- We Need to Talk about Kevin: After Tilda’s third metaphor-rich juxtaposition with her environment, I figured my time would be better spent experiencing mine.
- Your Sister’s Sister: I made it like 90 minutes in, and I was all proud of myself for concentrating on nutritious, prestigious Cinema, then the third-act twist was so bonkers and implausible that I shut down my Macbook and set it on fire.
- Shut Up and Play the Hits: Love this movie and love this band so much that I turned it off to go dancing at Berghain after 25 minutes.
- Shame: If I wanted to watch hot guys go jogging, I’d go hang out in Tiergarten. Oh wait, that would be more interesting than this, seeya.
- This Means War: Five minutes went by before my middle school social studies teacher, in my head, went ‘Is this how you want to live your life?’ and I returned to watching cooking videos on YouTube.
- Brave: This hurts. Pixar’s been good to us, as a society, and we owe it our attention and our allegiance. Still, halfway in, I wasn’t seeing anything I haven’t seen before. Sorry little hopping lamp, I let you down on this one.
- Twilight: Is this a TV movie? Why does everyone look like they have the flu?
- The Campaign: I love it when dick-joke comedies spend the last 30 minutes trying to convince me of the wrongness of their villains’ political opinions.
Here’s a post about the sellability of various college skills:
In order to do well in courses on 19th Century British Literature or Social Anthropology or Philosophy or American History in a properly running American college, what you need to do is get pretty good at reading and writing documents in the English language. These are very much real skills with wide-ranging practical applications.
Clearly relatively few people are professional writers, but a huge amount of what goes on at the higher levels of a typical business is a steady stream of production and consumption of reports and memos. If you can compose an email that’s 10 percent clearer in 90 percent of the time as the other guy, you’re going to get ahead in a wide range of fields.
Outside of office work, a big part of the difference between a hard-working individual who’s pretty good at his job and a person who’s able to leverage his skills and hardwork into an entrepreneurial or managerial role is precisely the ability to research things and write up plans. Everyone knows that a kid growing up in rural India is obtaining valuable skills if he gets better at English, but this is equally true for a kid growing up in Indiana.
Now of course perhaps not every liberal arts program is in fact imparting reading and writing skills to its graduates. But that’s a problem of execution not of concept. It’s a fallacy to think that in an increasingly technology-performed society that technical skills will be the only sources of value. Computers are going to put accountants out of business long before they start hurting the earnings of talented interior decorators. The important point is that mastering a specific body of facts is not nearly as useful in 2012 as it was in 1962.
I realized the other day that most of the things my employer pays me for aren’t technical skills or expertise on particular topic areas. Most of my day is spent building relationships within and outside of my organization toward goals (fundraising, partnerships, awareness-raising, etc.) defined for me by someone else.
It sometimes feels like my employer isn’t buying a set of skills from me, but rather renting my actual personality and applying it toward its own development.
I spend most of my day listening to colleagues describe their projects, telling other colleagues about them and describing them to people outside of my organization. I write lots of e-mails notifying internal and external people of things they need to know about. I try–flailingly–to convince other people to be interested in what my organization is doing.
If I had to sum up the skills that I use at work, it would be things like listening, reading between the lines, telling a good story and being empathetic. These aren’t job skills, they’re personality traits.
Sometimes I think jobs like mine represent some kind of post-Marxian dystopia where we don’t sell our skills to the highest bidder, but our selves. If there’s no difference between your personal skills and your professional ones, what is your employer actually buying?
I still fundamentally have the power to draw a line between my work-self and my weekend-self, of course. The convergence of the two simply reflects the fact that my work addresses an issue I’m personally passionate about, as well as my own failure to develop technical skills beyond liberal-arts faffery.
But I wonder what it means, at a structural level, for employers to requisition employees to this extent. As employee marketability shifts away from skills and toward selves, what will our employers start to expect from us?
A lot’s been written in recent years about the implications of employers checking the Facebook pages and Twitter feeds of their workers. Maybe our bosses aren’t monitoring us, they’re just assessing their purchase.
In 15 minutes, I'm going jogging. After I get home and shower, I'm taking a Mach 3 to this motherfucker like a springtime park ranger. Fuck looking like an adult, I want my face back.
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I'd be at parties, like "I'm sorry, there is too much bullshit plopping out of you to continue fathoming your life. To continue being boring and nonsensical, choose the Canadian girl by the guacamole."