The Internet Can’t Love You

Only people. And dogs. And cats if they so choose. And horses, of course. And guinea pigs and sugar gliders and all those other warm, fuzzy creatures people keep as pets, probably, and maybe even snakes. But not spiders.

And definitely not the Internet.

Social media has taken passive aggression to heights the military psychiatrists who first coined the term in 1945 could never have imagined. See if this sounds familiar. Somebody is pissing you off. That meaner has hurt your feelings, stolen your happy thought, danced all over your last damned nerve. But for whatever reason, you don’t want to confront them directly. Maybe they have more power than you. Maybe a confrontation will just turn into this whole big thing, and who needs that? Maybe it’s just in your nature to be a passive-aggressive whiny-ass. Don’t be ashamed; millions share your affliction and parade it daily. In any case, telling the source of your pain to piss off directly is not an option. But even so, you cannot in good conscience allow that blight on humanity to get away with that shit even one more time.

So you take it to the Internet. Without ever actually defining the conflict or identifying your oppressor, you air your grievance. You open a vein and spill. The individual people who read your post and know you will probably hate it.  People (and dogs, etc.) who genuinely care when you’re hurting would much rather know exactly who did you wrong and how so they know where to show up and whether to bring you a nice, consoling milkshake or quick lime and a gun. Those individual people will probably send you some kind of a private message asking some version of “WTF is going on?” If they really love you, they’ll restrain themselves from adding, “You passive-aggressive whiny-ass?”

But the Internet looooooves (or”Liiiiiiiiikes”) your post. Not you; never you; but your passive-aggressive reveal of yourself as the victim of some wrong. Because that allows the Internet to feel one of its favorite things. Pity. Friends of friends you’ve never even heard of will come out of the woodwork to tell you how sorry they are, how rotten those unnamed bastards can be (they know; their lives are full up to the top with unnamed bastards), how deeply they feel your pain. Each one of those individual posts comes from an individual person who is probably quite nice and almost certainly means well. But taken collectively in response to shit they in fact know nothing about, they aren’t people; they’re the swarm that is the Internet.

Which doesn’t mean it can’t make you feel better. That spontaneous outpouring of impersonal pity  can feel like just the balm you need to get you past your pain. But be careful. Because it isn’t love or even empathy.  It’s just pity.

Pity gives the Internet a seemingly benign outlet for its most favorite thing of all:  feeling superior. “Oh, you poor baby!” spoken by a loved one means, “I feel bad because you feel bad.” “Oh you poor baby,” from the Internet means, “Maybe my life is shit and I’m a moron, but at least I’m better off than this poor bastard.”  Passive aggressive pronouncements of pain make this kind of judging effortless.  If you never say what the problem is, the Internet can assume the absolute, wickedest worst. So be careful.

This is why the Internet, for all its, “You go, girl/boy/undetermined gender and that’s your choice and yay for you!” grandstanding, loves the weak and hates the strong. The weak make the Internet feel better about itself. The strong . . . those bitches are just showing off. And it can turn on you faster than you can hit “Send.” The same endless wellsprings of kindness who succored you through your misery will stone you in the public square just as soon as you tell them you’re better.  Because the Internet doesn’t love you.  It loves pitying you. And it loves judging you even more. So be careful. Hipster. Hypocrite. Poseur. Slut.  These are all Internet synonyms for “possibly superior to me in some way.” And they’re far from the worst.

The Internet is a mob, a hive brain, specialized bits and pieces but rarely the whole of all those individuals with an IP address, banded together for the sole purpose of belonging at any cost. Every chat group, every friends list, every hashtag is a different mob with a different focus, but it all amounts to the same thing–be one of us, be no better than the median, or be the Other. The Enemy. That’s how teen-age girls get hounded into suicide. That’s how female game designers get hounded out of their homes.

And of course I know it’s not all bad.  That same hive brain, that same Internet can accomplish great things, raise huge wads of cash for charity, spread awareness of social ills, keep Firefly on the air–wait, not that, but stuff like that.  But it doesn’t do it for love.  It does it to belong. It does it to feel superior.  It does it to judge. The motives of individual people can be entirely altruistic–they genuinely want to help. But the Internet just wants to be so right that all who oppose it are wrong. Meaning it can eat them.

There are wonderful, amazing, kind, brilliant people all over the Internet. I met my husband there. He’s a person; I know him as a person; I trust him as a person. I know the bits and pieces of his character he shows to the digital world, and I know all the other stuff, too.  And I know he loves me, he himself. the individual human.  Not the Internet.

The Internet can’t love you.  Get a dog.


I Ain’t No Follow Back Girl

cowgirl for FB

I’m on Twitter as @LucyBlueCastle, and I have been for a couple of years now, and I’ve tweeted more than 2500 times, and I follow a lot of people and enjoy reading them a lot, and I have a fair few followers of my own.  But it’s been brought to my attention that I don’t follow people back enough, that I don’t automatically follow back everybody who follows me, and that makes some people, particularly other writers, feel bad.  I’m sorry about that; I really am.  And actually, if somebody follows me, I always check their profile, and if it says they’re a writer or an aspiring writer, I almost always do follow them back.  (The exceptions being the ones who make some explicit BDSM portrait of themselves or their spirit animal their identifying avatar – sorry, kittens; I go on Twitter at the office; I can’t have you trussed up like a Christmas goose on my HD screen for all the world to see. no matter how vehemently I defend your right to trussing.)   But if the only thing a writer ever, EVER tweets is some version of “buy my book buy my book tra-la-la, buy my book!” I un-follow them pretty quickly.  We know you’re a writer.  We can guess you’re on Twitter because you want to promote your work.  There’s nothing wrong with that – an occasional message from our sponsors is only to be expected, and some people do it very cleverly.  But if you want a permanent slot on my scrolling wall of everything in the whole wide world 140 characters at a time, your slice of everything has be more entertaining or informative than that.  Nothing depresses me more than to open my Twitter feed to find a whole screen full of one-sentence blurbs and links to e-books.  And don’t even get me started on the people who tweet SEVENTEEN THOUSAND PROMO TWEETS IN A ROW IN ALL CAPS.  Trust me, you might sell a book to somebody that way, but I can promise you, it won’t be me.  The same thing goes for so-called professional Tweeters who dump seventeen thousand different promo tweets in a row for their seventeen thousand different clients.  Again, it’s good sense to get the word out; that’s what your Twitter account is for.  But if that’s all  you ever do, if your personal broadcast is nothing but commercials 24/7, why should I keep tuning in?   Even TBS occasionally gives me a little bit of movie in between the ads;  as a Tweeter, you’ve gotta do the same.

And you don’t have to be Patton Oswalt, Wil Wheaton, or Stephen Fry.  Snappy one-liners are always welcome, certainly.  But I follow a couple of writers who tweet all the time about their day jobs, their kids, their struggle to find time to make art in the midst of very full lives, and I love reading them.  I relate to them; I feel a kinship with them that makes me want them to succeed.  And how can I help them succeed?  Buy their books – and I do.  There’s no need to get TOO personal – I un-followed someone last week who might conceivably be a big help to me in my career because she tweeted about the “food baby” she birthed following a big meal with a VIP at a convention.  Ummm, ew.  But don’t be afraid to be yourself, to share who you are as a writer.

Re-tweets are also a good way to keep your feed interesting.  If you find somebody else’s tweet hilarious or interesting or important, chances are, your followers will, too.  Just always be sure to give credit where credit’s due.  There are people for whom Twitter is a major resource in their writing career; stealing their tweets is the same thing as stealing someone’s stories.

Selling books these days is hard, and social media, for better and worse, is the main way to get it done.  But in that arena, before we care about your book, we’ve gotta care about you.  If you’ve already captured your followers’ attention with your personality, your humor, or your taste in cute kitten videos, chances are they’re a lot more likely to follow that link and buy your masterpiece.