Culture

The internet is making me sick

The web has turned into a clusterfuck of moral performativity.
Culture

The internet is making me sick

The web has turned into a clusterfuck of moral performativity.

There’s a significant body of research that says going to the doctor too often can actually be harmful to your health. It’s not that the doctor directly hurts you, but that the anxiety of going and stressing about your health or waiting for test results takes a mental toll. Whenever I go in for a checkup — vulnerable in a paper gown under fluorescent lights and waiting for a doctor to tell me I’m going to die — I imagine that a stomach twinge will be stomach cancer, a headache an aneurysm. After I’m hopefully told everything is fine but that I should be doing literally any exercise and taking Vitamin D, I’m left to return to my life spent ignoring niggling health issues for as long as possible.

This is how I feel about the internet now. It is a giant doctor’s office, and the medical team is run by Donald Trump and sons, who are ready to probe you. The nurses are the staff of Vox. The receptionist is David Brooks. The waiting room holds the people you follow on Twitter, hundreds of coughing bodies each hacking louder than the next. You definitely don’t have insurance.

Gratitude

Being online is really bad, and the way we interact with information on the web is a type of sickness unique to this moment in time. The news, as filtered through Twitter or Nuzzel or LinkedIn, comes in incremental microbursts, so instead of looking at aggregate events over time, we react to each bit of micro-news as if it is the worst thing that has ever happened. And since our president is likely on industrial-strength amphetamines, we exist online at his peril. I’m not sure if you’ve ever taken an Adderall and surfed the net, but the last time I did I played 167 games of Solitaire in a row and posted some truly bad tweets for which I apologize to my 10 sentient followers. It would have been bad if I were president at that time, not to excuse Trump or anything.

Not only is each Trump tweet treated as a breaking news emergency, but there stems from each one a contest of sorts — who can have the best response? This has turned the internet into a clusterfuck of moral performativity. If you’re not denouncing Trump online, are you a nazi? If you don’t tweet 60 times a day about dismantling white supremacy, are you a white supremacist? If you don’t post an Instagram about how you donated money to the Southern Poverty Law Center after Charlottesville, are you a bad person? The absence of speech on social networks is increasingly a negative, rather than a neutral, action. “Opting out” is a moral failure.

In these rabid times there’s a lot to be said for the art of restraint. In his Republic, Plato wrote of what the Greeks called temperance: “And our State if any will be the abode of temperance; and we were right in describing this virtue as a harmony which is diffused through the whole, making the dwellers in the city to be of one mind, and attuning the upper and middle and lower classes like the strings of an instrument, whether you suppose them to differ in wisdom, strength or wealth.” Plato... a real show off.

Temperance is not easy. In the Charmides, Socrates pushes a hot young thing and the hot young thing’s cousin on the definition of temperance, and after some ogling of form they deduce that it means to know oneself. As Socrates says, “the man who does what he ought is temperate, isn’t he?” In this way temperance is free from any moral taint: it is a self-determined value. One is free to do what he ought, but this also means that one ought to do what he ought to do, and outside forces cannot determine what that is.

As always, follow your soul as you see fit. But it’s important to examine how certain things influence the way you follow your soul because they are infecting your soul with poison and making you do poisonous things, like getting caught in the vast echo chamber of internet self-seriousness. However, I must note that making fun of nazis online is always okay and will actually make you healthier.

Here's ten hours of sprinkler sounds. Very calming.

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