If you’re reading this, I’m gone. I’m in a small cabin in the woods of upstate New York, removed from the infinite anxiety of online life. I’m surrounded by trees and small yelping animals in their branches. I don’t have access to Uber or Seamless or Slack or push notifications or even Twitter. I’m here to get away from it all and decompress.
In the Trump era, the internet has become an increasingly vicious place, especially when you (me) happen to have a job covering about the most divisive thing in the world (politics). For every nice note someone might send me, there are people calling me a kike and a whore; for every real friend I make, there are a hundred weirdo men incessantly sending me everything from dick pics to findom requests to thousand-plus word emails about all the ways I’m just like some dude’s bitch ex-girlfriend; there’s the woman who sends me emails calling me “a stupid, stupid cunt” and “filth” every time I write something negative about Hillary Clinton; the assholes who are obsessed with the fact that I’m a close friend with a journalist who they don’t like; the nonstop chatter and outrage every time someone who’s fallen out of favor with the Twitter mob does an ill-advised tweet; there’s the fake news and the real news, and emotions are never not running high.
The whole thing is eerily reminiscent of High-Rise, J.G. Ballard’s 1975 novel about a luxury apartment building equipped with everything a yuppie could dream of—its own supermarket, school, hair salon, restaurant, and gym. This wannabe utopia is soon derailed by the petty feuds between the building’s affluent residents, which swiftly turn from inane arguments to violent chaos. The battle between the residents plays out as a sort of class warfare, the inhabitants at the bottom of the building indignant about the top-dwellers mistreating them. The building, vandalized by its own residents, overflows with trash and excrement; rival tribes battle for control of the elevators; food becomes scarce; electricity and running water cease; empty apartments or those that have yet to be barricaded are subjected to raids from warring tribes; the dogs of the building are killed for sport and/or nourishment; women are routinely sexually assaulted; people are beaten and sometimes murdered; and most curiously of all, the residents lean into the whole thing. They shut themselves inside their 40-storey tower of hell, committed to and freed by the unapologetic barbarism of the high-rise.
So here I am, breaking out of the high-rise and escaping into the woods for a week. While here, I will completely forgo using the internet, but my unplugged week in the woods does come with a couple caveats: I’m not allowed to log on, but still have to write a daily dispatch on my five (hopefully) blissful days offline. My boyfriend, who will be accompanying me on my journey, will email my editor a draft on my behalf. I won’t quit posting completely—a third party will tweet out my articles for me—but I won’t be online to see anyone yelling at me about whatever I end up writing.
To be clear, for all the pain it causes me, I am indebted to the internet. I owe the success I’ve had as a professional writer to my social media presence. I started casually writing for the web in 2015, and things took off when I capitalized on a viral tweet, writing an article about it that also made the rounds, eventually landing myself on CNN, which helped me make enough of a name for myself in the digital media world that justified quitting my barista job to write full time.
The marriage of my writing career and my social media brand has been a blessing and a curse—the internet is a prerequisite for the career path I’m on, and being a public person online has, from a macro perspective, served me well. But the intoxicating nature of social media, especially when you have a big audience cheering you on and/or criticizing your every last word, has fucked me up big time. If I calculated the number of hours I’ve spent online over the past three years—my entire work day and a good portion of my evenings and weekends—I would melt into a puddle of shame.
Like any good millennial, I am consumed by self-loathing and depression, so naturally, I exert an exceptional amount of emotional energy chastising myself for wasting my time hypnotized by the alluring blue light of the screen, wondering what type of person I would be if I read more books and drew pictures like I used to, and worried less about what internet randos think of me and who's destroying the world.
My fantasy of getting liberated from the internet and finally finding happiness and peace misunderstands my lifelong mental health problems as external. I know it’s bullshit, but at the same time, I can’t help but believe that if I was able to successfully evade logging on, I will discover who I really am, or at the very least, feel a little more balanced in the chaotic universe I occupy. I dunno, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens...
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