They are living a life without it.
Most people who work online dream of a "normal" job. But is that even possible?
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People who work online dream of a "normal" job. But is that even possible?
There is a place next to my office that makes chairs. It's full of people in all black who wander around and it just has these huge, floor-to-ceiling glass walls that look out onto the high street and everyone has posture and shape and poise and I imagine what they do with most of their time is chair-related. Chair selling, chair making, chair thinking. And I'm often longing for that. What do the chair people do and what do they think about and what kind of life is it that you have when you are admittedly free of the pain of being online, I assume. When you are free of all of this.
Can you be canceled in the chair world? In between brutalist contractions of German-backed office chairs and wooden, curving horseshoe dining chairs and soft, plush, lounges sprung out at you from Instagram to real life. Do any of those people worry about what we are all told matters? Are they at all concerned with engagement, with views, with retweets, with What Is Happening Online? Is there a woke chair group and an angry chair group? Are these conservative designers warring with these progressive designers? It's all possible.
There is a myth of a Real and Normal Job held close to the hearts of most people who work online or who work in media or who, for some ungodly and broken reason, choose to be online 24/7, scrolling a newsfeed or timeline designed to literally Make Their Life Worse but Make it More Profitable.
It is because they live this life and because it is so insufferable that there is an understanding that others have a life somehow complete and somehow impossible to grasp. And in many ways - at least if your measurement is "online brokenness" - this is true. They are living a life without it. And yet.
It is the dream of many working in content or media or marketing - anyone who has to email for a living - where the somehow "normal" life of a friend who is a mechanic or a baker or a chef or a consultant fills you up with the warm glow of a promising life, a life you know is better, a life that is just out of reach and yet right there in front of you. The north star of the perpetually online generation isn’t wealth or fulfilment. It’s freedom.
The pain comes from the marginal influence this self-hating group of workers has on the other, and it is frightening and comical all at once. You have to laugh. The amount of people I have met at God Awful Media Drinks or industry events or No-I-Promise-They're-Cool-Just-Give-Them-Your-Email things who daydream about running into the mountains and opening a cafe and working 9-5, as if that is a dream and not something entirely possible, and as if they, with their broken and toxic brains washed over by decades of internet drivel, would not just turn their new profession into something equally as painful. I am the man who runs a cafe: I can pull a great espresso but only between tweets. I am the woman who runs the local gym: our classes run for thirty minutes or an hour, with a fifteen minute break in-between because I need to check Facebook. I am being transparent here: I'm talking about myself.
It's kind of like how you only really start understanding the 2000s-era Radiohead albums when you become an adult and have to stare at a computer screen all day and suddenly you need Thom Yorke to wail at you and Jonny Greenwood to do that weird wee-ooo-wee-ooo thing to help you Get In The Zone and Concentrate. Just don't pay attention to how little it actually helps and how rare it is that you're better because of it. Maybe it's not like that at all.
Anyway, the chairs.
Everyone online likes to think that there is an opportunity to Not Be That Way but what they're considering as an alternative isn't an alternative at all. Not mentally, at least, which is what all of these digital writers and creators and editors and journalists want.
It is not just hard to log off once you have logged on, it is Damn near impossible, and that's not necessarily bad. The steak tastes fine in the matrix. This is no judgement on it. But there is a sad and broken divide between the more online among us (I Stand With You) and the Not Online, where considerations that your uncle and your neighbour and the man at the end of the bus aren't also on Twitter, aren't also on Discord, aren't also trying to make things happen, are far too common and cause everyone to believe life could be simple. As if those lives are simple. But we are all hustling to make this life. Online and offline: to make both lives work.
And so online life is so painful for a huge amount of people who spend all their time on it. To cope, they live their lives chasing the realistically unattainable. Some people would call it devastating. I am going to call it funny.
Are we ever going to face an exodus from the internet? Is that even possible? I don't think so. But for as long as we concede that is has been built as something to drain things from us and take things from us we are living a digital life for someone else.
You could turn it all off, sure. But what's the fun in that.