Hello and welcome again to another edition of Lisa Has an Opinion on Things. This post is going to be a bit full of rambles because I’m afraid I don’t have a much of a thesis statement nor a conclusion because apparently I’ve forgotten how to write essays since I’ve been out of school.
As some of you might have noticed I like to talk about books a lot. Despite using the internet since the 90’s I’d never gotten involved in any book forums or fandoms although I was involved in other online communities for various anime fandoms since the late 90’s and early 2000’s. Through various things we grouped together (linked up angelfire or geocities sites and later livejournal). There were spaces where we could communicate with each other and talk about the things we loved–mailing lists, chat rooms, instant messenger. And things were great! There’s nothing like finding your people, a place where you can belong and be yourself. The internet back then, vast though it was, somehow felt much smaller and, sometimes even cozy compared to today. Not only is the internet bigger, but there is more access and there’s more people, folks who’ve grown up with the internet as a way of life.
Maybe it’s just my rose-colored glasses talking but the biggest controversial issues we ever had from the mailing list days was ‘PLEASE STOP REPLYING WITH ONE SENTENCE REPLIES TO EVERY EMAIL AND MAKE AN AGGREGATE REPLY, WE’RE GETTING TOO MANY EMAILS A DAY UGH’ which sometimes might result in a brief argument about why people chose to get single emails versus a bulk newsletter email blah blah blah. Just like now, I spent a lot of time online in those days, even though in the early days we only had dial up. But even with the time sink it was still so much different then it is today. Slower feeling (not just because of the dial up). Any kind of news, big or small, moves at the speed of lightning these days.
I think it’s safe to say that social media has been a game changer for the internet and how we interact with one another. It’s connected people more than ever and also driven us farther apart. Everyone has opinions on things and feels the need to get them out there (I realize the irony here) whether anyone wants to hear them or not. Social media has both served to highlight the best and worst of humanity. And it’s within these spaces that we exist today. It seems like every day something comes up that everyone has to get their feelings out on and then reactions to those feelings and then reactions to those reactions and it spreads like wildfire, so fast. Fast because sometimes people aren’t even aware of the original context and are commenting on a single tweet getting their hot-take out there without any idea what the initial comment or discussion was about in the first place. (It’s at this point that I’d recommend reading So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson as his books are not only told in a great narrative that keeps you interested, but the topic of internet mobs is fascinating and may make you examine your own online behavior). But also fast because these are issues people care about, are passionate about, and sometimes directly affect them.
Back when I first joined reddit, seven years ago now, I’ll admit I used to argue with people, far more than I’m happy with and maybe in the early days I engaged in some behavior that I’m not so proud of today. Was I ‘fighting the good fight’? Yeah, I mean, I thought so. Did I change anyone’s opinions with my arguing? Probably not. Did I have some thoughtful and engaging discussions? Sometimes. But often these kinds of ‘discussions’ would just lead to frustration on my end. At first I was all about it but after a while it just gets….exhausting. And now the discussions are less and there’s just more one-line opinion drops and people get so nasty. They feel they have the right to be nasty and I don’t know why. Why are people the way they are? I fear we’ll never know. But this idea of exhaustion, I’ve seen it cropping up over and over again from authors I follow to some of my online friends–you can only take dealing with so much hatred, so many people determined to erase you or your friends from history, so many people shitting on the things you love, before it overwhelms you.
I have found a group of folks that I love to spend my days with online these days, carefully cultivated over time, but I’m ever increasingly tired of the internet in general. I spend a lot less time on the forums as it seems like every day there’s a topic that brings out the trolls. And topics spread around book twitter really fast, but at least they’re easy enough to scroll past. It’s not that I don’t care about these things, I’m just tired. And I want to talk about books and characters and have fun with things. The thing is, as great as they are, a lot of days communities can really suck the fun out of things. And here’s where I state my privilege–I don’t have a lot of stakes in most topics floating around. I can turn things off and ignore certain topics if I choose because they don’t affect me. But it hurts me to see things that hurt my friends. And to see them even more exhausted and tired of having to deal with defending of their right to even exist, as sometimes happens. And then understanding why they choose to opt out of some online spaces, even if they’re spaces you used to love hanging out with them in and it also kind of makes you sad to see them go.
I don’t know what my point in all this is except I wish for more fun and happiness in my online communities. It’s there! But you I feel like one also has to wade through a bunch of bullshit to find it these days. The world we live in isn’t perfect by any means and some days it feels like there’s little I can do about that–sometimes everything feels very nihilistic. I’m increasingly escaping the cacophony by burying my head in a book and I’m not sure that’s the best approach to dealing with this is by, well, not dealing with it.
What can we do as part of an online community? I don’t know. Find your people. Love them. Be kind. Be positive. When you have to take a break, take a break. Don’t let the internet sap all your energy. Remember we’re all human (except for me, I’m actually three cats in a trench coat). Talk about things that bring you joy. Talk about things that frustrate you too. Be yourself. Be genuine. Because even though online communities feel pretty crap these days, I’ve still found my people and I think these spaces are worth having. And if you want to talk about books, I’m here, ready and willing to chat.
How do you deal with the exhaustion that comes with being involved in online communities these days? Or is being exhausted just a me thing? How do we make our spaces more welcoming and fun to participate in? Leave a note in the comments, I’d love to discuss.