Personally I hate compliments. I don’t know how to take them. I would prefer a cutting insult or a challenge to my overpondered personal axioms such as Capitalism will be the Downfall of Society, or Snakes are Great. Even if it’s something I’ve worked very hard on, spent a great deal of time and effort making great, and you tell me it’s great, I’m like flubba-flubba-flubba no it’s not.
But every post I put up on social media is subsequently re-graded in my own mind based upon the number of likes it gets.
I hate this, I hate this. My own participation in the celebrity-worship culture. Not just popularity but lazy approval, that’s what I need, that’s what drives me. That’s what drives the internet anymore. The fact that ‘like’ can be a noun drives me up the wall. A like. One like. Multiple likes. Fuuuuuuuuuuck it. People work harder on witty comments than they do on most anything else, their jobs, their families. Why is this? Because nobody knows how to take a compliment? Because our hyper-actualization-based upbringing (You’re so great at everything! You can do whatever you want, and so can everybody else!) is more addictive than we care to admit? I remember growing up thinking I was the most valuable player in every category of everything, and this still affects me today. It didn’t bother me (too much) in college being put into the groups with the lazy slackers of the class because then I could do everything and do it right. I always prefer to drive than passenge. If ever on a plane where the pilot heart attacks out and everybody is screaming for their mommies, I would fight with knives out to be the one tabbed with attempting to land the thing, like I would strangle people and stomp babies until granted cockpit access, control over the last-ditch attempt to continue my life, and I guess everybody else’s. Because dying in a flaming crater in my mind is preferable to relying on any other nobody to do the simplest thing anywhere close to correctly. Let alone land a 747.
Is this narcissism? Solipsism? If either, then why the hell do I care if my photos push the limit of lowest common denominator? Snakes are indeed Great, and anytime I see one I take as many photos as my safety will allow, but given the choice, and I presume I do still have one, I fill my Instagram with cat pictures.
As far as I can tell, this is the only reason Twitter exists. To instill in a semi-anonymous audience the primordial but minimal half-second release of tension that results in a half-second of reflection on said release and its cause, hence appreciation of said slight taste of dopamine and the retributive reward of a click, i.e. the like, which for the original author of the tweet results in a one- to two-second sensation of self-satisfaction, perhaps four times the release of dopamine in comparison, hence the payoff always comes with heaps of interest in tow. But it’s dopamine of a different flavor — perhaps serotonin? I don’t know my brain chemicals — like not the electrocardiogram blip of brief instability followed by a payoff swing in the other direction, i.e. the reason we laugh, but a more unidirectional move, the world shifting more towards agreeing how great and right we are, or I am.
But still minuscule! Still temporary, even effervescent on a long enough time frame. I don’t hashtag much because of this exact scenario: I had a stranger like a photo I posted 203 weeks ago on Instagram because I had hashtagged it “anime” because I was watching I think Trigun at the time, but my cat was asleep on my lap at the time, was the occasion for the photo, clearly. This person’s profile is all anime stills, so obviously the like had not much to do with me but the hashtag, but even so I couldn’t help but take it personally, like you moron! You imbecilic cretin! Why are you reaffirming that person I was four years ago? He’s nothing to me now! I don’t live there anymore, I don’t own that TV, I even gave away that cat! Which was one of the shittiest things I’ve ever done, by the way, I was strapped for cash and about to move across the country and as much as I loved her I couldn’t imagine surviving for the next three months before I finally got another paycheck, not really for food and litter stuffs but I couldn’t find anywhere affordable in that stupid town that allowed cats! Like anywhere! Every place in my budget was no pets allowed, which isn’t to mention the pet deposit, and basically I chose to leave her behind, in a good home of course but not with me, not with the person who rescued her from the PetSmart and carried her all around that store picking out toys and scritching her neck and telling her everything would be okay, not with the one remaining of the only two human parents she’d ever known. I mean, it’s taken some time but for the most part I’ve forgiven myself for this, even knowing in retrospect I could’ve found a way, but still! That person was a shittier version of me, and you’re liking this? What’s wrong with you? Had you even glimpsed at my more recent work, my more recent cats? Or did you set out to prove yourself a complete and total incompetent, because buddy, you’ve succeeded.
This is the other problem with social media, I think, with the ‘like’ systems so prevalent on the internet, is that it fuels an ideology of unacknowledged transience. Nothing lasts. Until it gets repeated tomorrow, without recognition or often even awareness of the previous iteration’s influence. Every post is new, now, here, gone, forgotten. I would say this fact is so valued that it’s celebrated, but really, just, nobody thinks about it. Until that transience is unmasked as permanence, and then holy shit, the world explodes. Even public figures who ought to know better get used to 99.99% of the nonsensical, unfiltered opinions they put out there getting ignored and the slate wiped clean on a daily basis. Until one selfie-in-your-underwear becomes your permanent Wikipedia pic. Which is so counterintuitive to what I represent, as a self-professed novelist, someone who believes that the aspects of the self I choose to reveal, the art that represents me, has the right and the duty to be as edited, honed, and perfected as possible. Someone who values the artifice in art.
So why do I permit myself the dalliance? Probably because it’s an easy surrogate for what I actually want. If I ever publish a book, I don’t want glowing reviews, I don’t want to go to book signings and have people gush how touching, how personally gratifying, how life-altering, how meaningful. I just want a brief glance in my direction, accompanied by some knowing nod or wink or something, affirming my status as a worthy thing in this world. Simple extant appreciation. I am here; do I deserve to be? Check yes or no, then pass this note back and go on with your day, please.