seven seconds // a thousand words
an essay about the internet
i miss the old internet.
do you remember how different it felt before everything became tiktok? the blogosphere was its own sort of dumpster fire but at least there was space for words. whole paragraphs of words! hundreds, sometimes even thousands of words on one topic and people would actually read them can you imagine the luxury?
we used to write essays, whole essays every week and publish them on the internet and people would read them and respond. lots of us were doing it then. it was a whole thing. maybe you were there.
that’s how long you have now. seven seconds of video or one written sentence. say what you need to say and be quick. the algorithmically-determined attention span is not generous. the internet doesn’t want essays.
one sentence, or a seven-second video. maybe a paragraph if it’s really good. so the word-creation workshop inside my skull has been re-assigned to produce an endless stream of very clever sentences, sparsely populated paragraphs that will attempt to say something meaningful in the space of one breath.
did you want nuance? did you want a well-crafted story? did you want space for the words to breathe, a space where you could breathe too? no room for that here.
don’t fuck it up.
there are things i want to say that cannot be said in one sentence.
To write like this, ranging and curious, allowing the thoughts to unspool themselves through my fingers as the pages slowly fill with black symbols, this isn’t something I let myself do anymore. Already I fear this essay has grown excessive, gluttonous, obsolete.
It is not yet at 300 words.
It didn’t have to be this way.
I think this part is worth saying, if only to remind myself one more time.
What we are experiencing is not an accidental state of decay or the inevitable cost of doing business online. The internet in which we exist was engineered to extract money from us at the cost of our souls. The richest men in the world have hired some of the best engineers and scientists in the world to build machines which consume our time, attention, and creative energy to produce valuable datasets and advertising streams and profit for shareholders.
I don’t need to tell you how it works; you probably know.
But I need to remind myself: the reason it feels soul-crushing is because it was designed to be soul-crushing. Because anger and fear and greed and ego make the machine run better, keep you there scrolling through endless content and throwing words into the void in hopes of human connection.
Because crushed souls yield more profit for the companies.
Social media is a place that tends to repel maturity and wisdom. The algorithm is engineered to reward chaos and conflict and self-assured righteous indignation. Maturity and wisdom are drowned out by grandstanding and reactive posturing.
Most of the people that I respect have grappled publicly with the toxic nature of this environment. Most have taken long breaks from being in these spaces. Many have never returned.
I am weary of the never-ending game of faux-woke discourse parading as virtue, communities imploding over semantics, nuance derided as tone-policing. I am weary of witnessing the relational carnage as egos drive arguments that could have been conversations and lines are drawn until everyone is an enemy.
When an ecosystem has become inhospitable to voices of wisdom and maturity by rewarding our worst human impulses, dysfunction is inevitable. The cost/benefit of being here is increasingly negative, and those who value their souls have to ask themselves if this is worth it or not. For me, the answer has long trended toward no.
Aside from curating a hostile environment where bad-faith reading has become the de facto rule of engagement, the algorithms also demand fresh content or face extinction.
These cursed games are free to play, but if you want to be relevant you need to pay. The cost is your constant devotion.
Post without ceasing.
And the posting is not at the discretion of the artist, but it dictated by the rules of the game. The game wants seven seconds of video, or one sentence. That is the cost of admission. Here is my admission: I don’t want to make one-sentence screenshots and seven-second videos. I don’t want to figure out how to compress an essay into a tik-tok video. I don’t want to generate content.
I want to write a thousand words at a time. I have words I want to write that need more than seven seconds to breathe.
As a person who wants to create and share shit with the world, I have struggled to know what my relationship to social media should be. And I have struggled to know how much to talk about that publicly.
Talking publicly about internal struggles has always been my thing. I have always chosen to steer toward honesty in my words. I believe that is why my words have connected with you over the years. I don’t know whether to do that now.
Does anybody really want to hear about how much social media sucks?
We all live here. We all know it. We all deal with it. What more is there to say?
I have been working on this essay for most of a month now.
Every few days I consider deleting all of it.
For most of a month now I have been mostly off social media. During this time Twitter has been going through a colossal clusterfuck. I peek at it every few days. It was hard to imagine Twitter being worse than it already was. Yet here we are.
I went to post a few pictures on Instagram yesterday, a sort of November roundup. Instagram popped up a message that said “This would be a great reel!” I wound up closing the app without posting anything.
I am sad that social media is like this now. I know that it has given voice to so many who otherwise would not have had their words heard. I know it has been used for change. But it is a medium that is actively engineered to extract attention from humans for the sake of profit at the expense of the users (us).
I have been happily ignoring social media this month, but every now and then I think about making something for the internet. What if I made a reel? Would it be that bad?
Then I remember why Instagram wants me to make reels so badly: because they want me to help keep you addicted. They want me to make content so that you will keep scrolling so that advertisers will keep paying. I do not want to be part of that machine.
I don’t know how to be creative and connected without being complicit in the evils of the algorithm.
I wish there was a better way.
I’ve been writing this for most of a month now and I haven’t reached any conclusions, but I have reached a thousand words. And if you’re reading this sentence, you’ve stuck with me for all of it. Thank you for that. I hope we can do this again soon.
I do hope you’ll keep writing more than 1 sentence at a time
I’m so grateful for your wondering and writing.