I’m reading “Ten Arguments for Deleting Your Social Media Accounts Right Now,” by Jaron Lanier. Social media has been a big problem for me this year, the culmination of a few years of being unhappy with the idea that I needed to know everything about/be known by everyone. That said, I think it’s more about unfettered control than anything else; the fact that I was putting myself out there to a platform with a built-in audience that I was realising I needed to trust more was concerning.
I worry about the power of groups, and how a new sort of online tribalism has come about in the last fifteen years. I feel like my generation (Gen Y, millennials etc) took to this cart that was rolling along the road, thinking it was cool and full of promise and hope for connection and “sharing” (another buzzword that I’ve grown to distrust). Eventually the whole world piled onto the cart, but now the road has been influenced by the weight of the cart that’s underneath too many people, and it’s been reshaped so that it’s running down a hill.
I fully acknowledge and own the melodrama of what I wrote there. It is late, but mainly I’m just not a very good writer.
I’ve always had problems with groups, or rather the concern of feeling ostracised and isolated. I will admit that my biggest emotional hangup is feeling as though I am deserving of being actively isolated. It’s something that I can logically refute, and the stronger parts of me are more well-reinforced to not feel so affected by it. But it’s a reliable bruise, and I dare say we’ve all got one or two.
Naturally, in spite of my fear of deserved isolation I do feel the need to be recognised. I had problems with communication when I was young, feeling like I had to push harder to connect with people; even though I feel as normal as one should feel they need to, I still get a case of the “what ifs?”, which tempts me to turn around and reconsider whether I belong.
That all just came out, there – I felt like I needed to set the scene.
When I was 10 or 11, in 1995, I was in my first year of a new school that went from years 5-8. Enough time had passed whereby the lines of social groups were well-set, and I couldn’t find where I could fit, or anyone that I could (or wanted to) see my reflection in. I was having a rough time. I was tall and lanky for my age, I wore glasses and had no good sense of style. All of these things were probably less important to others compared to how I rated them, but who knows. Regardless I was desperately trying to reconcile why I felt so disliked, and I was certainly more sensitive in general.
We had two breaks in the day at this school, 20 mins for mid-morning and 30 mins (I think) for afternoon/lunch. Both were outside of the classroom and could be enjoyed at one of a few medium grassy ovals or a sizeable field of concrete. On one particularly fateful day, it was the end of one of these breaks – I think lunch – and I was on the receiving end of some verbal taunts. I can’t remember how many there were (or if it started with one person or a few), but I just remember that at some point one of the boys started singing the hook for a Libra television commercial. I haven’t seen the ad in around 25 years, but I remember the video had a very airy, feminine vibe about it: there were sheer, silky blinds that were draped over the silhouette of a model, who was hugging herself…I think. The details for the visuals are scattered in my memory, but one thing that I am 95% certain that I recall is the song. I haven’t heard the actual song in decades, but I think it’s this:
One of the boys started singing it, then more joined in. Then it felt like the equivalent of my entire year level was singing this thing at me – not necessarily knowing why. Tragically, the bell rang for the break to finish, and we were trudging the regular path to our classroom. But this time I was unwillingly leading the pack in tears, followed by a singing chorus whose members likely had differing intentions between them. As I walked down, I saw a boy ahead of me that wasn’t part of the Libra singers; he was smiling at the spectacle of seeing his classmates bizarrely singing this song together, although I interpreted it as him enjoying the spectacle that was myself. I felt humiliation, confusion, anger and rage, and I reached out and punched this kid hard, vertically down his chest. He was a lot smaller than me, and I was taller than pretty much everyone my age.
I really hurt him, and a teacher ended up coming to disperse the crowd and calling the two of us into a room. He was beside himself, crying with shock and pain, not knowing why I had punched him out of the blue. I was also crying – I thought that I had a justifiable target for my dysphoria, but I realised that this poor kid was simply a target for what I was feeling. He was somewhat popular too, and I think I would have appreciated the social faux pas of striking someone above my own social standing. I don’t remember what happened beyond that, there was probably no resolution other than me apologising for punching him.
Life went on. It wasn’t the start of my issues with groups – that had started years before, even prior to starting school – but it was a notable example of when the threshold was crossed for things being really shit in that regard.