I have more than once been accused of being a nostalgia junkie. Nostalgia literally means “pain of returning home.” Very specific in their descriptions, those Latins. It’s not that I’m into causing myself pain, not even in the more modern, wistful sense of the word. But I am into comfort: comfy jammies, comfort foods, songs I know all the words to. I think we all know that particular warm fuzzy that we get from telling old stories or looking through a photo album.
However. (And, fair warning, it’s a big one this time – some of you are not going to be on my side at the end of this.)
In the past couple of months both Facebook and Twitter have added a feature that annoys the ever-living shit out of me. For some reason they’ve found it necessary to show me things I posted “on this day X number of years ago.” You would think that, being an alleged nostalgia junkie, this would appeal to me. It does not. Because frankly, my life is not worthy of any sort of “on this day in rock history” treatment. I frequently post online when drunk or angry. As much as I bitch about social media (and its effects on the bigger media machine) making important events ephemeral, I would also love to forget some shit, you know? And I don’t have children, so I don’t get those squidgy “look how much things have changed since then” feelings over anything that’s happened in just the past few years.
Don’t get me wrong. I like those feelings. It’s not Throwback Thursday that I take issue with. Occasionally someone puts up an old photo of me or my friends or family, and of course they make me smile. But I have actual photo albums and old home movies. I can do that shit whenever I want. This new thing feels contrived, forced, a manufactured nostalgia used to cover up the fact that we’ve made moments more about the picture you get rather than the memory you keep. Everything is ephemeral because we’re using social media as an external brain hard drive so we can fill our real brains with listicles and cat videos. And we’re not even doing it for ourselves, we’re doing it for others. When was the last time you took a photo just to have it and not with the express intention of posting it somewhere? There’s a little bit of a toddler-ish “Look Mom! Look at me! You’re not looking!” feeling here. Furthermore, when was the last time you held a physical photograph in your hand? A new one? Obviously some people still do this, I am aware that I’m overgeneralizing here. But I will point out that the people I know personally who still deal in printed photos are all either older folks, photographers, or the parents of small children (or some combination thereof).
I’m not just talking about pictures, though. Things like those insipid yearly recap videos that Facebook foists upon us can be really horrible. Consider The Husband’s aunt (who I wrote about here). This past New Year her video was made up entirely of her posts and pictures documenting her dead husband’s cancer and her ensuing grief. Now, I understand that this wouldn’t be the case for most of us, but it’s pretty heartless to assume that it couldn’t be and then aggregate all that shit with a happy song and fireworks graphics. Straight to the gut. Fuck you, Facebook.
All this constant documentation, it feels like we’re writing our own eulogies. And, as a weirdo who has actually written her own eulogy (don’t ask), I can categorically say that photos of my dinner are not how I wish to be remembered. When I die and someone has to go shut down my social media accounts, I sincerely hope they’re not bored to fucking death with the minutiae of my day-to-day life. That’s the shit we should forget, frankly, while remembering or memorializing, if we must, the big things or the good things or the beautiful things. Not that a meal can’t be that big, good, beautiful event, but I assure you, not every meal is.
I heard an interview recently with Jack White, who’s become notorious for being a little weird and old-fashioned. He has instituted a no filming policy at his shows (although I’m not sure if it’s just for his solo shows, or for all of his other bands as well). The venue takes high quality video and makes it available, but if you’re caught filming the concert on a small screen rather than watching and enjoying it, security will boot you. Personally, I applaud White’s efforts. I think this is a fantastic policy and should be more widely embraced by performing musicians. Particularly in small venues where a forest of arms holding up cell phones would be much more disruptive. Just enjoy the fucking concert. If you want to watch it on a screen stay home and out of my way.
Have you guys seen The Final Cut? It’s a weird little scifi movie from Robin Williams’ dark period. Everyone has a chip in their head that records their entire life, the whole point of which is to edit the footage together for a memorial film at death. At the time, this seemed hyperbolic, but now I’m not so sure. With Google putting out products like Google Glass and great strides being made to correct blindness with robotics, I feel confident saying that it’s just a matter of time before we can use cybernetic eyes not just to see but to record. And why wouldn’t we? The applications are endless. The singularity is coming, but I’m terrified that it might start with Instagram.
I have one friend who isn’t on any kind of social media (that’s right, count ’em – one). The last couple of times we’ve hung out she’s gone to tell me a story or a tidbit of news or whatever about a mutual friend and repeatedly I’ve said “Yeah, I saw it on Facebook.” And I feel really bad about that. Not only did I take the wind out of her sails, but I stopped the conversation cold, which is the last thing I ever want to do when catching up with a dear friend. Had it been anyone else I could have steered the conversation elsewhere with something like “Oh, but did you see the other thing she posted, that was so cool, blah blah blah.” Which is, in a way, equally fucked up. We’ve all become voyeurs in each other’s lives, and that voyeurism is expected and assumed to be both mutual and extensive. That’s weird, right? It’s not just me?
But it’s not just us watching each other. Not to sound like a conspiracy nutjob here, but if you think that shit isn’t being datamined like crazy by corporations and governments you are fucking delusional. I have watched an embarrassing number of police procedurals. More and more they show law enforcement using social media either to gather evidence about suspects or information about victims, because it is such a huge part of everyone’s life (or death, as the case may be). Obviously, it’s television so I’m sure it’s a far cry from how they really use these things as tools, but the point remains that they can watch us and we let them. It is interesting, though, how often in those scenes they use social media to illustrate a generation gap. The grizzled veteran cop is stumped and the quirky upstart techie guy saves the day with two mouse clicks and a Twitter feed. As much as I don’t want my Tweets in my eulogy, I also don’t want them in my FBI file.
I’m not trying to say social media is bad. I use it and enjoy it every single day. All I’m saying is let’s stop with the fake bullshit nostalgia over a duckfaced bathroom selfie taken a year ago. Not every moment is worth public comment or server space. Save some things for yourself, of your own volition, with your own brain. Watch the concert. Eat your beautiful dinner. Play with your kids. Talk to your friends. Read a book. Take a walk without your phone in your pocket. Write your own eulogy. Like, with a pencil. If we keep documenting everything, we’re going to be just walking, fleshy camerabots and that scares the hell out of me.