an explanation

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“Cool” is certainly a relative term. But in the age of internet, immediate notifications and social media, there is a more universal online understanding of cool, and it is the way you answer these questions:

  1. How much value do you bring to the threads and messages that you find yourself a part of?

  2. Are you funny?

  3. Do you get them to post GIFs?

  4. Do you earn Reddit gold?

  5. Do you have that internet “it” factor that makes you somewhat more interesting and appealing than the rest?

  6. Do you choose your words well?

  7. Are you concise and easy to understand, only allowing ambiguity when it’s completely intentional for a joke?

  8. Do you write as minimally as you can, only writing a lot when it’s a joke or part of your brand?

I believe that many people in my generation ask these questions to themselves all the time. But, most of the time we are unaware of it, AND these questions are almost never asked in this form. No one says:

I’m not gonna post that. I can’t fit it into 10 words, and the joke won’t make sense if I have to shorten it that much. Not only would it not be funny, I’ll just sound desperate. Was I even thinking about what words could have been better to use for this? I always forget to be more concise. That’s why my posts aren’t doing well.

Instead, they always manifest as smaller thoughts in our heads that don’t feel like much in the moment, but later add and snowball into a rigorous check on our thoughts and words in a way that is truly damaging.

This check manifests itself in the horrible habit of checking my phone constantly, never truly understanding how much of my thinking it takes up. Meanwhile, the small thoughts of doubt and criticism snowball into low self-esteem, the over-control of my thoughts and content and an attachment to being concise, clear and safe. More than safe actually — in my comfort zone, away from the uncomfortable, not vulnerable and completely independent of all the missed opportunities for connection.

But where would this come from? How could a tendency toward long preparation, certainty and clear communication make someone feel shitty about themselves? It sounds wonderful. To be honest, that’s kind of my style. I’m only ambiguous in my social and personal life when I intend to mislead or deceive (which I would hope is not very often lol).

I like preparation, I love being perfectly organized and I hate when people and things are misunderstood in vain. Being misunderstood is not only a pet peeve of mine, it is a tragedy that paralyzes me in thought. I have a compulsion to continue elaborating and explaining in the hopes I will make myself understood. But what am I searching for? What kind of approval or understanding could someone possibly offer me to make me absolutely, 100% sure with zero possibility of doubt that it’s true?

There’s nothing that can do that.

I continue searching, trying and also failing to resist the urge to elaborate. And where does that repression of explanation come from?

On the internet, by being clear, concise, to the point and limited in personality, I can almost always avoid misunderstanding. Or, if you do say a lot, it has to be within a concise, organized and certain framework that you develop as you find your online audience. Either way, we are singular users. Adopting a singular character, rather than your full personhood, is the preferred way of living online (that being said, there are some loopholes to that, like creating finstagrams and things like that to be able to express yourself in other ways. I actually think those are a good idea right now, especially for people feeling trapped.)

I know of a movement of advocates for mental health in social media that states that the Internet is only half the story while real life is the other half. I completely agree with what they are advocating for and basically agree with everything they say about it, but I think the “half the story” is already inaccurate. I say “already” because the "half” is not a fixed half. I think it’s higher than 50% right now, and it will continue to climb. Not really because we spend more time on our phones — on the contrary — instead of us going into the social media world, the customs, cultures, stigmas, values and social mores of social media and the internet are traveling into our world rapidly, millions of internet users at a time.It varies across the world, but I believe that for some people, nearly all of their lives is either spent directly on social media, for social media or with social media in mind.

At this point, I know my brother Sam would say that I’m not going far enough. “There is no distinction in worlds now. It’s all the same world. Social media and the internet are inseparable, virtually and mechanically. What you are describing is what happened years ago.” In other words, even in reflection we underestimate the internet and social media’s past as we talk about it.

But that is exactly it. My points are less about the actual facts and figures and more about the progression of the social media customs, habits, stigmas and values in our lives. Whether we are on the way or have already arrived here, the intense pressure to be short, concise and subtle in our online messaging has seeped into us. If our self esteem is manufactured from both the offline and online worlds, then the weight of talking to someone offline vs. online is the same. And if there is only one world, then we don’t even have to ask that question.

Despite the phrase up top, I do apologize for only having the “too long” version of the TLDR comment. As I said earlier, I love being concise. I love being subtle, minimalistic and detailed. However, I recognize that those are simply a stage in an ever-important process not unlike solid→liquid→gas. To understand and appreciate the gaseous state, we have to be able to acknowledge and welcome the stages before it.

In other words, it is a tragic disservice to ourselves to glorify only one step in the process, especially because it then diminishes the others. When in reality, all are equally important and all should be a part of our world(s). Just as solid is just as important a part in the process as gas, so too are the stages of going from messy to organized. To be messy, unorganized, misunderstood and unclear is to have experienced a piece of what it means to be human.

I wish I could create equity within the versions of myself. I wish I could understand and appreciate every part of the process, whether I’m going from messy and unorganized to clean and concise, or from simple and brief to something grand and expansive. I wish it could be easier to see that others’ big explanations only mean that there is much weight to the thoughts they put online. I wish it would be seen as normal and wonderful that people are thinking a lot, saying a lot and wondering a lot in the pursuit of a clearer understanding of things. I wish it was cool to say too much.