Illustration by Penelope Gazin
If there is a single idea that can be borrowed from its original physics, or whatever context, and reapplied as an explanation for the ways in which people are shitty to each other, it’s that energy can’t be created or destroyed, only changed.
Split open, every interaction and communication is a bare transference of needs and wants, cut into sub- and cross-sections of ego, love, rage, mood, intention, demand, everything, like imperceptible and maybe accidentally poisoned arrows heading straight for the brain’s amygdala. When energy is passed from one person to another, it’s shifting and interphasic and constant, but it will always just be energy, made up of all of our emotional pulp, and will necessarily have some effect or affect, because it has to. It has to! It’s not anyone’s fault, but it’s still a scam we all pull on one another, endlessly.
Energy transference is the first, best, most elemental way to take advantage of, or just take from, one another. It’s eternal and inevitable, and not something that gets acknowledged, even now when we’re way, way deep into an era of hazmat-suited, self-caring vigilance about every potential influence or experience that might infect us with something, like gluten or negativity. Energy transferred is emotion transferred, which means that the quality of a feeling or urge gets onto and into whomever it comes in contact with, like emo-osmosis. This is more or less the basis of human relationships, but understood in its tinier, quieter, implicit machinations, energy transference is how even almost invisible discord is perpetrated. Like, how subjecting someone to the vagaries of a gnarly mood is a subtle, inevitable kind of violence; how asking someone for something is not only about the favor itself but also about the expanding, moving context of the ask.
Electronic shits like email and texts—not @s or comments, maybe, since they’re more specifically directed and inherently invite a response—feel, when taken together, like a psychic Pacific Trash Vortex. But considered more carefully and granularly, each thing that is sent requests and requires a not insignificant dedication of attention (to the thing itself, its form, its glow, its typical, heartbreaking insignificance) that’s inverse to the decreasing amount of effort involved in the sending. Here, when energy is transferred it gets bigger, and usually badder. That energy, that feeling, that need, will be metabolized and understood and used—and osmosis-ed to the next guy—in some individual, unpredictable way, but the energy of it always exists.
This would be more whatever, more just fine, when our individual energy resources were more fulsome and available, divided between real time and paperbacks and a singular mainstream, and not busy doing the real work of adapting to new ways of thinking and connecting. (“Internet brain” is both funny-haha and funny-weird, but it’s a thing, and it’s a crucial misread to decide that the online swath of our lives is necessarily degraded and degrading.) Now, these ways in which energy and therefore attention are taken—just taken!—have become internet-infinite, and out of this emotionally (and hormonally and physically) disruptive and demanding mass of information and possibility and ways of being, there has emerged an “attention economy” where those daily, momentary requests are currency: energy is attention, and attention is exchanged—transferred—like currency.
In some ways these sorts of interactions are opt-out-able, but included in that economy is the assumption that our energy, attention, whatever, is owed. It’s no different from that darker stuff of human-on-human energy contact, when one person has the pleasure and privilege of releasing a need and want in the direction of someone else, like dudes hissing sex stuff at girls on the street, or anyone coming at you shoulders first, in a bar or wherever. It’s less about titties or specific anger, and more about a demand—unwanted and unsolicited—of attention, to offer it and get it back.
This also applies to the expectations around where your attention should be, and how it should be spent—like, knowing everything, always, and having a developed perspective on everything, always, the second before it’s available on Twitter, in open tabs, or wherever else, and the correct and incorrect ways to deploy that knowing and that perspective. If this is going to drain our daily and lifetime reserves of energy cum attention, ultimately, I don’t know (is it like X and serotonin?), but what has to come in between these tiny robberies of attention via nega-energy-transference are some specific, explicit management choices of our own, which first means acknowledging the energy that’s being taken on or taken away or just changed with every encounter, every emoji, every tab. This is, to me, where it becomes clear that emotional behavior and energy transference online aren’t antihuman, but actually superhuman: human on human on human. It’s so much of all of us, snapping and grabbing at one another and one another’s notice—not eyes, not ears, but attention—for more.
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