I was 24 the first time it dawned on me that I will never be cool. I don’t mean cool in a general sense of course, but cool in the way that all people want to secretly believe themselves to be: in a way that says I exude attitude and mystery everywhere I go and you can’t help but want to follow. When I was a kid, I knew that when I grew up I was going to Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Denzel Washington and Andre 3000 rolled up into one human being–it was going to be against the law to be me.
No matter how old I got, I always clinged to the belief that at some point I would pull it off eventually. My arms just needed to be a little bigger, I just needed to be a little taller, my beard just needed to connect a little better, my walk had to be just a little more evocative, my one-liners had to be just a little cleaner and sharper; I just needed to be a little more believable. At 24, I accepted that I was who I was and I could be bummed about that or I could embrace it and make it work for me in any way possible: I’ve been trapped somewhere in between these two options for the past two years. Nobody wants to believe they aren’t cool in that old-fashioned Hollywood way but the majority of us just aren’t and, for me, the internet was the first thing to let me know this harsh truth.
When I was a junior in high school, I joined Myspace and my entire reality would shatter before my feet. Before social media, I had no real perspective on my self or my place in people’s lives: I got along with most people and as a result, I considered them all to be close friends of mine. I can look back at this and see how stupid it was but I fancied myself important purely out of my commitment to being incredibly friendly. Then Myspace and the “top 8” came into my life and nothing was the same. The top 8 became my judge and jury, the only authority that could tell me my fate; more than the fact that I was in nobody’s top 8 at first, I was mad at myself for how much power I gave it over me. It meant everything, it dictated my behavior for the rest of high school–be it trying to hard to be friends with people or living with even more resentment–and it was my nightly obsession.
My one saving grace was message boards: more specifically the Simpson’s message boards I was a member of. They ultimately became the friends I always wanted by giving me a safe space to be a true dork, while also putting me onto music, movies and books that would change my life. I had finally achieved a comfortable online existence and tried to use my new knowledge and online confidence in my actual life. I don’t know how successful it truly was but I felt cool and maybe that’s good enough, or it was at least.
Someday we’ll tell our kids that twitter used to be really fun. They’ll laugh and laugh and laugh and you’ll laugh with them because it sounds just as ridiculous to you, even though you know it was fun. Twitter was the heir apparent to the internet message board in a way neither myspace nor facebook ever tried to be; it was fun, goofy, insightful and full of community in a way that was inviting. But then attention became the new preferred currency and being right on the internet was the best high you could get without actually using drugs. Either you were doing the “reading” or you the one being “read” or “blooped” or “dragged for filth”. Corporations took advantage of our lust for attention and used our own hashtags to sell shit to us and then people started getting famous for their tweets which made a whole bunch more people try to get famous for their tweets the same way. Suddenly, this place full of flawed but personable people became a shark pit and what’s most annoying about the whole thing is: nobody actually cares about learning or growing on here. The idea of being the smartest, loudest, funniest, most correct person all the time is so intoxicating for a lot of people that they don’t even bother actually trying to be any of those things. They just declare themselves as such and move on.
I’ve been trapped in this web myself from time to time and I’ve broken out because honestly fuck all of it. Whatever good comes out of it seems to be more of an outlier than the standard. I came to be obsessed with the internet because I was a lonely, uncool kid trying to find some self-confidence and knowledge; ultimately, it turned into all the things I was running from: high school, parental figures, the real world, jobs and people who’d never love me.
In a way, I feel like we let the internet down. This was supposed to be a place for the real people to express themselves and seek a refuge from the depression of real life but where there are enough people, there’s enough confrontation and brands there to sell you shit and turn you into a product for consumption. The internet is not your friend, it doesn’t love you and to be honest, it has no reason to. We take everything wonderful and turn it into trash. Sometimes I wonder what it’d be like to destroy this thing and build something new and better, but then I remember that that would just be another excuse to destroy something beautiful by indulging in our worser selves.