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Duration:03:45
Uploaded:2018-05-08
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In which John has a bit of a midlife crisis, or at least a midlife assessment, while considering his relationship with the contemporary social Internet.

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Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday. I assume you're familiar with the famous Simpsons newspaper headline, "Old Man Yells at Cloud." But it occurs to me that some people watching this might not be familiar with it, or else might only know it from the internet, because they were born after that episode of The Simpsons first aired in 2002.

So, when you have kids one of the phrases you start hearing a lot is, "developmentally appropriate." Like your pediatrician will say that temper tantrums are developmentally appropriate or that it's developmentally appropriate for your kids to refuse to eat anything other than processed carbohydrates. And that as such it's developmentally appropriate for your kids to engage in a complex nightly negotiation over whether they will eat two strawberries so as to stave off scurvy.

Anyway, I like this phrase developmentally appropriate and I wish we continued to use it into adulthood so that I could tell myself that it's developmentally appropriate not to understand Snapchat, or to genuinely enjoy gardening, or to find myself yearning for some idealized past that never existed. 

It may be that I feel this more acutely than the average person because I've made a living trying to write about how it feels to be young for the last 13 years. I mean, I'm so old that my career is a teenager. I should add here that getting older does not have to mean yelling at clouds and on that front I have wonderful models in my parents both of whom have remained passionate, and hopeful, and curious throughout their adult lives. 

Like when I was in ninth grade I like to listen to Nine Inch Nail's "Pretty Hate Machine" really, really loudly and one day my dad came in and asked if he could borrow the CD and I was like, "Yeah,  but you're gonna hate it because it's super 'alternative'." I think I literally said 'alternative.' And then a few days later my dad returned the CD to me and told me that, while he could live without some of the profanity, he found the music really compelling and hoped I didn't mind that he had gone out and bought his own copy of the album.  

Ah, is there a better way to defend a child's rebellion? But even though I have wonderful mentors in the field of being middle-aged, I still find myself yelling at clouds. I yell at literal clouds because they impact the garden that, God help me, I have gotten really, really into. I yell at our unnuanced outrage driven political discourse and most of all, I yell at - and also I suppose with - the social internet.

From the time I was 14 until a few years ago, the social internet gave me deep meaningful relationships that I struggled to find IRL. But now it mostly makes me feel anxious and spirally without deepening my feeling of connectedness. And I don't think that's because the internet used to be amazing, like 1994 AOL chat rooms make 2018 Twitter look civil and sophisticated. 

I think it's because I've changed, but if I didn't feel an obligation to be on Twitter and Reddit and the rest, I don't think I would be and maybe I shouldn't feel an obligation to be in virtual spaces that I feel like they make my life worse.

But then the internet always pulls me back in. Partly because I don't want to miss out, partly because I want to share stuff I'm working on and books I love and causes I care about, and partly because I feel this almost physical urge to check. Check my e-mail, check Twitter, check Instagram, check Reddit, make sure nothing terrible has happened, make sure there's nothing new that needs my outrage or my aws. Check, check, check.

Like many people with OCD, I live with the constant urge to check, the terrifying dread that accompanies not checking. Ihe irrational certainty that this time checking will be important. But it feels to me at times like this phenomena now happens across the social order - like the internet has hacked healthy brains and turned them into obsessive checking machines.

But there again I am an old man yelling at a cloud, forgetting that the social internet also facilitates conversations across borders and other divisions and that it gives a voice to people who otherwise wouldn't have one and so on. Feeling the urge to make grand pronouncements about what's good for other people is probably a developmentally appropriate symptom of middle age, but it's one worth fighting against. 

I don't know how you should live with what Mary Oliver called, "Your one wild and precious life." I don't even know how to live mine, but I know that I like my garden. So if I'm quiet on Twitter or elsewhere, know that I'm probably here and quite content. Hank, I'll see you on Friday.