When I was writing regularly two years ago as part of my Blog Post a Day series, a common theme I kept bringing up was the fact that the internet was a double-edged sword. The things that make it great – instant updates and responses, the collective power of online opinion, the ability to create bite-sized ideas that have the potential to invade the mindset of the internet populace – are also the things that make it awful, with terrible consequences. As powerful as a tool as the internet is, especially in exponential, real-time spreading of thoughts and ideas, it’s easily turned to a soup of swampy bullshit hot takes, collective campaigns to shun, shame, and harass, and subversive thoughts and ideas that are insidious in their ability to turn askew the positive power of online discourse.
In the two years since I completed my challenge to blog once a day, we’ve seen the dark side of the internet more often than not. The bombardment of bad content, especially as it comes from individuals and groups who are somehow able to keep posting what they want without consequences is perhaps one of the primary issues with the current state of things on the internet. Meanwhile, exhausted, genuinely good people who are being worn down by the constant need to hold up the best parts of being online while privately despairing that it will never change or go anywhere. Whether it’s in the wheelhouses where I’ve made my home – the games industry or information technology – or in other places where I only have passing familiarity or am an observer, it’s been a struggle for me personally to try to maintain mental fortitude in the face of such wanton chaos and seemingly endless bad juju. In some cases, in the past two years I’ve tried to completely excise myself from having to read, watch, or otherwise consume the constant stream of badness that seems to invade spaces where just two years ago I’d been hopeful were moving in the correct direction.
That being said, in this year I’ve come to realize that complete removal from engagement or from doing anything at all is a big mistake. Even though it’s been marginally helpful to not be as directly involved with the shittiness that is the internet, the unfortunate consequence of that is that I’d basically become “fucked” as far as the internet goes. What does being fucked mean, exactly? Several things, really:
- The inability to enjoy or otherwise be involved in spaces or places where I’d found enjoyment or fulfillment
- The negative self-talk I’ve engaged in about my own ability to be able to endure or otherwise deal with the haze of toxic shit I can’t control
- The removal of my voice or that failing, my actions and efforts as being in control of or be an active participant in steering the beast called the internet.
This last point is very important, because it means I’d moved from an active to a reactive standpoint – dreading the next bad news headline, worrying about which one of my heroes would be demonized or be brought low, becoming discouraged at the fact that people and companies who I ultimately cannot control directly persisted and even thrived, while others who I perceived to be better (and who I still think are as such) wilted under the pressure to be simply good or to plug holes in the dam holding back the real dregs of being online. I let them dictate the discussion. I let them control the way I felt. I let them approach being and working online with a sense of awful nausea instead of doing so with brightened hopefulness. It doesn’t help that some companies, studios, and other entities capable of moving the needle, for whatever reason, chose not to try to do so.
In short, I felt completely fucked, so I was fucked as far as being online was concerned.
It was only late last year, in the height of a very difficult time in my life and my interactions online, that I found the means and way to start unfucking myself from this mentality. The language I’m using to describe this isn’t a coincidence – it’s the result of picking up an audio book that I chose on a whim with extra Audible credits called “Unfu*k Yourself” by Gary John Bishop. The title caught my eye because I was looking around at the Self-Help section, and I know what you’re thinking. I’m someone that’s not exactly a subscriber to the flowery cheerleading of these types of books, but I was desperate to improve my mental situation in addition to what I was already making an attempt to do. It seemed to me that this book, written and narrated by very matter-of-fact, very Scottish personal development expert, might be different from the others.
I had no idea just how right I would turn out to be.
The core principles of the book are divided into several chapters, and I won’t bother to talk about them exhaustively. What I found important about listening to Bishop talk in an unmistakable, profanity-filled brogue was that unfucking myself, especially as it related to my thoughts about the state of things online, consisted of several ideas I picked out:
- That the destructive “Self-talk” I was subjecting myself to when it came to the dread and pessimism I approached with the internet was ultimately changing my default world view to be dreadful and pessimistic.
- That my despair over not being able to make a difference or do what I wanted was ultimately the result of not realizing I could be relentless, that I could be able to say “I got this”, while still recognizing that the bullshit that put me there was inevitably always going to be there.
- That it is ultimately my decision and my actions that should drive me, and that I should expect nothing, and accept everything, including loss, failure, and setbacks.
Make no mistake about it – unfucking yourself from this mentality, especially as it relates to the persistent, disruptive nature of the shitty environment that the internet can comprise, isn’t easy, and none of the above is delivered or meant to be conveyed in a happy, peppy, positive manner. If Bishop won me over with anything though, it was the fact that in the first chapter, he decried the positive thinking, “rah rah it’ll be great” mentality as like being “force fed a bucket of maple syrup with candy canes sprinkled liberally inside”. We can and we should acknowledge that getting things unfucked isn’t easy, will be filled with setbacks and failures, and may ultimately take some time to do. But the important thing is to take back that control, that idea that we can be the best fucking miracle selves we can be while knowing that it isn’t going to be sunshine and rainbows getting yourself there. What’s more, the idea that the unfucking of oneself isn’t a grand sweeping thing but is started by little habits – a change in mentality in the moment, a stopping of oneself from self-talking into negative oblivion, not just in general, but in a single moment, a single situation, a single minute – those are the things that eventually take root, and become self-fulfilling habits that lead to a greater change.
Ultimately, this is why I’m doing better these days. I’m not perfect – I could be doing more, and sometimes the old habits crop up when I read about or see something shitty online that seemingly has no consequences or that displays that the “bad guys” seem to be winning over the “good guys”. But I’m getting there. I’m cognizant of my own tolerances and work to both insulate myself and push through those limitations. I’m working around my own circumstances in terms of who and what I choose to ascribe value to in my interactions online. I’m making small, but sustained efforts to make a difference online – a new, humanizing podcast for my friends and peers in the games industry is just one way I’m accomplishing that. Most of all, I’m not letting what doesn’t seem good or right or just stop me from doing what I want to do or what I want to get to.
Writing again and finding my blogging voice is just another way things become unfucked. I hope if you read this all the way to the end, that you take the effort to figure out how you can do the same, whether that’s getting the book if it’s piqued your interest, changing your approach, or just simply taking the steps to stop or at least minimize the crushing self-dialogue that is exacerbated by the vast and apparently endless problems the internet currently has with its participants.