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A Twisted Joke

by Noel Leon 11 months ago in humanity
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Extremely Online

Some stories shouldn’t be told and this is one of them. It’s like when my friend said he’d seen sharks five feet from the break where I surf and now I never want to go surfing again. This is a story that will put a major bum on your groove today.

The voices were coming from inside the house. It was dark, near midnight and I could barely make out the minute hand inching past two on the clock beside my bed. My dog’s snores were a better measure of time and of my increasing anxiety. Someone once said no good things happen at 2 AM. They were right. It must be some sort of witching hour, perhaps why nightclubs close then.

Don’t grab it Noel. DON’T-DO-IT. The existential pain of being unable to fall asleep was overpowered by a worse pain, the ache of phone withdrawal. My phone was charging peacefully in the corner of my room, purposefully placed out of reach. When, finally, the night’s spooky silence got too loud. Cue panic attack. If I were a band, instead of “Panic at the Disco” I’d be named “Panic Attack on a Tuesday.” I’d sing emo lyrics all about my phone, a toxic lover who keeps me up at night: “I miss you. I love you. I can’t live with you, but I can’t live without you.”

Whitney’s legs twitched, probably catching a squirrel in her dream, as I crawled over her, giving in to the blue light beckoning me. Grabbing my phone, I could feel my anxiety returning to a level that’s manageable. Off-line feels like a nightmare, a bad lucid dream. Online is a return to reality. Welcome back, Noel. We missed you. What did I feel? Relieved? Tired? Calm? Distracted… just distracted. So, what if I have to wake up in five hours? I have endless hippo videos to keep me happy. I am extremely online.

As hours of the night loudly ticked away, I replaced parts of my brain that would’ve had anything interesting to say with nonsense from cyberspace. Later that day, instead of original thoughts, I found myself quoting Instagram posts, only realizing how weird they sounded as they left my mouth. Or, maybe those Insta quotes by Insta models didn’t sound weird? I honestly can’t tell anymore. My bar for real life has been set by social media standards. I’m not good at judging my life objectively anymore. To normal people, I must seem pretty strange. But, then again, we’re all extremely online so what’s “normal” anymore? Maybe, we’re all the same kind of strange.

It’s “normal” for people to get famous for doing the exact same dance, in the exact same way that everyone else in the entire world is doing. Have people forgotten how to think originally? Have all the original creative ideas been taken by the “great” artists who have come before us? So, now we’re just replicating variations of the same meme a million times? Or, have we become so distracted we’ve lost the ability to think on the creative level of our predecessors? Like a lost language that hasn’t withstood the test of time, or architectural beauty that’s crumbled into ruins… we speak in a tongue that has no words to describe the feeling of being unique; because, we all look the same, we all feel the same, we all see the same through the filters on our phones.

The internet is where our minds we feel at ease, where our thoughts exist. If you have a thought that’s “interesting” and you don’t post it, are you even interesting? If no one likes or comments on the post, the idea, was it even good? We discard uniqueness for mass appeal. Programming our thoughts in order of importance by number of likes. Discarded. Overruled. Repost. Click. Like. Repeat.

I almost can’t even remember a time I felt bored. Even—in fact, especially—during the pandemic, I was extremely online. Like a noir film, crackling in and out of my mind, I can vaguely recall waiting rooms in the 90’s with magazines, when the only distraction came from actually reading and flipping the pages. This was before cell phones and self prescribed ADD. Remember when people called each other, when you couldn’t use an emoji to summarize your thoughts?

My friend actually called me yesterday, rudely interrupting my morning scroll—an activity that lasts five minutes or ten hours, I can never really tell—down Instagram Reddit Medium Facebook TikTok YouTube feeds. (Much like a morning stroll but more panic inducing.) Refresh. Scroll. Like. Repeat. What was I looking for? I always feel like a person who’s lost their keys online. So, it was very disorienting when she interrupted my Pinterest perusing to “talk.”

Her: There’s a rat in my kitchen. I’m freaking out!

Me (watching a lion taming video): Wow.

Her: What should I do?

Me (clicking photos of dudes swimming with sharks): That’s crazy.

Her: You sound distracted.

Me (checking my Amazon “suggested purchases”): I’m listening.

Her: I have pepper spray. I’m gonna gas them out.

Me (refreshing the like count on my last photo): Go with your gut.

I think that’s always the right answer. But, I wasn’t really listening. She hung up.

Me: Hello?

Honestly who calls people anymore? Later, she asked me to meet for coffee. Yes, I could meet you in person, but have you heard of this thing called a dm? It gives me an infinite amount of time to respond to your thoughts… one at a time… over days or months, crafting the perfect messages that make me sound infinitely more interesting. Yes, I know, the sun is magical outside but have you seen National Geographic posts? They just capture sunshine so brilliantly. And, the internet has humpback whales! I would literally have to rent a boat to see that. The crackhead squirrels in my yard pale in comparison. Plus, I’m breaking out from these stressful conspiracy videos. So, I can’t put makeup on. Yes, I should go to a dermatologist, but have you heard of an Instagram filter?

Psychologists have studied our tech adapted brains: “If you wait here for ten minutes and don’t eat that cookie on the table, I’ll give you two cookies when I get back. Okay?” Millennials: “Okay.” We eat the cookie. We see futility in being bored. Does it feel uncomfortable because we don’t actually believe we’ll get two cookies? And, the boredom of waiting can be sad, awkward, and downright depressing? Yes, maybe? Sitting with your thoughts can be like a bad blind date with yourself, someone you haven’t talked to in a while. But, neuroscientists have actually discovered that, counterintuitively, boredom is the one thing that actually leads to brilliance. Letting our minds wander free and disconnected, is the only state conducive to radical realizations. Knowing this, will we still reach for the cookie, for our phones? Do we trust ourselves to come up with something more interesting to think about than the thoughts imposed on us on Instagram?

Sometimes, I question my own brainpower, wondering if I have adult onset ADD. Or, does everyone feel like a paranoid squirrel on the internet, digging for something, but not quite sure what? There’s just too many tabs open in my brain. I’m constantly on an endless explore page, getting mini thrills when I think I’ve found a nut. And, after liking all the photos of contradictory self help quotes and Botox’d babes, i’m insecure and confused, on the verge of carpal tunnel, wondering where my day’s gone. It’s disappointing in so many ways.

I’m finally realizing, our smart phones are like hypothermia, deceiving you. See, people with hypothermia I feel hot when their bodies are incredibly cold. They lose all sense of reality. Our smart phones distract us enough to make us feel like we’re actually doing something, meanwhile we’re losing all sense of time, wasting hours, days, weeks, months. We feel incredibly connected but we’re actually dying inside from disconnection.

I hide on the internet and come out only when I’m “comfortable.” Ignoring a warning sign, withdrawal, I stay distracted, consuming rather than creating, letting the lost language of boredom stay in the time of the “greats.” My life slowly becomes a twisted joke, not of my own design, and I forever forget the ancient ruins of originality.

I told you this would be a story that shouldn’t be told. I’m playing emo songs no one wants to listen to from my band, “Panic Attack on a Tuesday’s,” new album, “My phone is Toxic Love.” And, worst of all, today, I’m conspicuously uncool, a hypocrite, extremely online. But, maybe tomorrow I won’t be. Maybe, tomorrow, I’ll be in on the joke and won’t eat the cookie. Maybe that might suck, but (according to science) it’ll be worth it.


About the author

Noel Leon

Random musings @noelleoninsta

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