We are now living in a time in which the first generation in history that never experienced life before the internet is coming into cultural power. And it is awful.
I don't seek to generalize about the tendencies of "a generation," which is just a fun but completely made up thing that hack writers such as me do on other days, for fun. I seek only to point out that in its most virulent form, a life spent consumed by sharing one's own life on the internet can completely erode the very sense of "the self" as something separate and apart from the reaction that one's own actions get from others. Life is pure performance; outside validation is everything; contemplation of the self is merely a pose designed to elicit comments of sympathy, respect, or even disagreement or dissent. It doesn't matter, really. The addiction is to the reaction itself, not to its nature.
This has the effect of destroying not just privacy—all this oversharing is voluntary, after all—but also of diluting the river of public dialogue with endless quantities of worthless self-absorption. I'm not talking about Twitter and Facebook; they're made for worthless oversharing and self-absorption, and wading through it is the price you pay for choosing to partake. I'm talking about writing. Stuff that is published, for others to read. Again, I won't argue that narcissism and a garish lack of self awareness is anything new among writers; I'm just arguing that if I keep reading posts on Thought Catalog, I am probably going to hurl myself in front of an oncoming subway train in despair sometime this winter.
The One Thing I Won't Write About
This is the title of a post, on Thought Catalog, by Ryan O'Connell, one of the best extant examples of the aformentioned phenomenon. Let us examine this: it is an essay-style blog post, 433 words in length, about the fact that there is something about Ryan O'Connell's life about which Ryan O'Connell will not write a blog post. In this blog post, Ryan O'Connell expends hundreds of words discussing with his readers the mere fact that he considers some unnamed aspect of his own existence to be off-limits, when it comes to writing blog posts.
Imagine that, right? Something I can't even post about?! Dear god, what could it be?! But it's okay when this happens. It makes me remember that I live a life that isn't always meant for public consumption. As a writer, you have to keep some things private. Otherwise, everything feels cheap.
Note what Ryan O'Connell did not do, regarding this most private and secret aspect of his life: shut up. The idea of keeping something to one's self is wholly out of the question. The only course of action, when faced with something that one wants to keep private, is to write a 433-word blog post declaring to one's readers that this private thing exists. It is imperative to know that the nature of our private thing is, at this very moment, being speculated upon by hundreds of faceless strangers—otherwise, what's the point of having a secret? Secrets are only useful insofar as they can be used to stoke further public interest in me, me, me. Me? Me. Me!
As Richard Nixon knew when he touted his "secret plan" to end the war, and as Joe McCarthy knew when he declared he had "in my hand" a list of undercover Communists, it doesn't really matter whether you actually have something too secret to share. All that matters is that others think you do, and lavish attention upon you as a result. Mission accomplished, Thought Catalog. You guys are better at this game than I am.
If you need me, I'll be on the train tracks.