Marcus Aurelius once said, You are not compelled to form any opinion about this matter before you, nor to disturb your peace of mind at all. Things in themselves have no power to extort a verdict from you. Wise words, especially in this day and age. Not that the man himself could have ever foreseen the advent of social media some two thousand years later, but the notion that most of us are indeed free from the obligation to have an opinion on ALL the things is evergreen.
I’m old enough to remember the Internet from before megacorps started to pit all of humanity against each other on a handful of platforms (and monetize the ensuing outrage). People congregated around specific interests. We had forums, chat rooms, and the occasional website to archive indie works and useful information. Communities had the power to self-moderate, and toxicity was dealt with swiftly and never allowed to fester. If you didn’t like a forum, you could always look for another one — or make your own. If you were done with a place, you could just delete that bookmark and never log in again.
Best of all, you didn’t have to worry about anyone and everyone taking your words out of context and twisting them into something to get mad about.
I remember the first time I got Internet-dogpiled. It was around ’12, when I was still a part of a certain fandom that holds a lot of nostalgic appeal for Milennials like me. An American shared an opinion in a Tumblr post. I reblogged it with my own two cents, as a Romanian who’d grown up with the same characters but surrounded by different real-life circumstances*. The American took offense.
It bears saying that their number of followers was an order of magnitude above mine. Suddenly, I had dozens of anonymous hate messages calling me every name under the sun. A mutual I’d interacted with recently had their inbox flooded with filth. Someone found my Facebook and had a go at me there. All in all, a few innocuous sentences about what a fictional character meant to me came this close to ruining my life.
I still think about that incident from time to time. In hindsight, it’s obvious that the other person was looking to pick a fight, while I was there to geek out over vintage anime and hopefully make a friend. Lesson learned, I guess.
Therein lies, I feel, one of the more obvious problems with the Internet today: everyone’s out to yell at someone. Back in the ’00s, you had to go out of your way to find people you really disagreed with. If you liked something, odds were you’d hang out on a People Who Like The Thing messageboard and steer clear of the one called People Who Don’t Like The Thing. These days, we all have to share the same handful of Internet spaces with people who like, loathe, or don’t give a f!ck about the thing.
What’s the thing, you ask?
There’s no shortage of things to opine on, and monetization algorithms are constantly shoving crap to the forefront of our notification pile and looking for a modicum of our attention (or, even better, a reaction) in return. Don’t care about Kim K’s umpteenth booty snap? Maybe you’ll tweet about how you don’t care about it, and then the algorithm will catch that and shove more Kim K-related content in your feed.
Which brings us back to our pal Marcus Aurelius and his words of wisdom. In a world where anyone with a smartphone and opposable thumbs can tug on your metaphorical sleeve and say, “Here’s something you should care about,” it’s perfectly fine to simply… not. Scroll past it. Close the tab. Go outside and touch some chlorophyll.
This is aprticularly helpful when dealing with the deluge of truly frivolous content out there, whose sole purpose seems to be to distract us from other things. Bread and circuses, in the words of Decimus Iunius Iuvenalis, another Roman great.
Besides, if you don’t weet about how boring you find Kim K and her aforementioned booty, you’ll get the added benefit of not hafving your life potentially ruined by an army of Kim K stan accounts.
* For readers who aren’t Eastern-European, we had a revolution, followed by a decade of inflation, poverty and civil unrest.