The past is just a story we tell ourselves

Modernity must be rehashed, rewritten, and re-accounted, this time with their participation.

Thank you for the messages and replies to last week’s piece! That was cool. I’m glad this walkie-talkie is reaching people on the other end, and those people are getting something out of this typed out quasi-therapy sesh. Let me tell you; it’s keeping me grounded. After last week, it feels like there’s something of a narrative structure establishing here at this telenovela of a newsletter. So again, thank you.

It’s just after midnight, and I’m told it’s Autumn now. When reflecting on my day, I still find myself first and foremost defensively measuring how productive a day I had. Is this something you do? As if to buy time before determining whether you had a good day or a bad day, when asked, you jump to “hmm…it was a productive day!to your partner, your friends, or your Instagram Live audience of thousands. Honestly, it could be true; it could be not true… who’s to say, especially these days?

Let’s not call it a good day or a bad day… It’s impossible for me to know the day I had. I did my best and here we are in the future and there’s nothing left to do but make the best next decision. The past is just a story we tell ourselves.

It’s closer to 1 am now and I googled “the past is just a story we tell ourselves” when I wrote it just then and it’s from Her, one of my favorite movies, and specifically this scene from Her and while I’m banging my head against the keyboard for putting myself through the emotional wringer like this so late at night and so early into Fall, watch this. It’s beautiful.

Long story short I didn’t want my story told on Instagram anymore.

I archived my first 8 years on Instagram tonight. Basically, I don’t wish to be perceived there. Maybe it’s because I watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix.

Maybe it’s because there are weirdos who accidentally (or with great intention) like and comment on my Facebook photos in the middle of the night and are not above browsing what’s available to see of me on my mom’s Facebook too. They’re bold enough to leave comments that I presume are meant to read flirty.

Of course I’m not naive enough to think I’ve never been lurked upon, or pompous enough to believe that I’m not guilty of the same. Except here we are in the future and there’s nothing to do but make the next best decision.

Based on what I can control, I personally don’t really want Tyler Scruggs to be a reason people go on Facebook or Instagram anymore if I was ever a reason at all. I barely wish to be perceived.

Instagram sucks anyway. We been knew, sis. Whoever follows me on Twitter knows I’m crazy there. I’ve been there over a decade and I still, um, like it? It’s a hell site but I respect it for not pretending it isn’t one. Besides, I can quit any time I want!!

Facebook I can also probably cut ties with considering it still can’t stop recommending random gay men to add me as a friend. Except I do love Facebook Marketplace. The internet is so broken.

How are you, by the way? I don’t think there’s such a thing as checking in too often these days. Remember you can always reply to these emails. The whole reason I’m posting on and looking at these stupid apps is to talk to you here.

Apart from this newsletter, apart from physical spaces, apart from the social media giants, where are we finding community?

Ctrl/Alt/Del. subscriber Robby linked me to this hilarious, ominous piece from Bookform by Max Read called “Going Postal.” It’s on a book The Twittering Machine by Richard Seymour which is now in my imminent to-read pile. Here are some of the best bits if you’ll pardon the gear-shift.

Rather than wondering ponderously if this is “cancel culture” or whatever, we might ask ourselves: Why the fuck were all these people tweeting? What were they thinking? What were they hoping to accomplish? What was the cost-benefit analysis that led them to think continued participation in social media was a good idea? Liberal and left-wing tech critics like to suggest that we post, even against our own self-interest, thanks to nefarious software design that has been built in service of a multibillion-dollar advertising industry. The right wing has a tendency to blame the incentives encouraged by a hardwired social hierarchy, in which “blue checks” “virtue-signal” to improve their standing within social platforms, even to the point of self-sabotage. Neither answer seems particularly satisfying. Viewing anecdotes of sudden social combustion according to comprehensive, deterministic accounts of neurochemical response, social dynamics, and platform incentives can certainly be clarifying, but such theories are incomplete. After all, Mark Zuckerberg is not pointing a gun at anyone’s head, ordering them to use Instagram—and yet we post as though he is. Perhaps the best lens to examine compulsive, unproductive, inexplicable use of social media is not technical, or sociological, or economic, but psychoanalytic. In which case, rather than asking what is wrong with these systems, we might ask, “What is wrong with us?”

I loved this piece so much I spent five minutes trying to find the author on Twitter until it dawned on me that I had just finished reading about him not being on it.

As people in the streets toppled statues and fought police, people on the platforms adjusted and refashioned the uprising from a street movement to an object for the consumption and reflection of the Twittering Machine. What was happening off-line needed to be accounted for, described, judged, and processed. Didactic story-lectures and photos of well stocked antiracist bookshelves appeared on Instagram. On Twitter, the usual pundits and pedants sprang up demanding explanations for every slogan and justifications for every action. In these concern trolls and reply guys, Seymour’s chronophage was literalized. The social industry doesn’t just eat our time with endless stimulus and algorithmic scrolling; it eats our time by creating and promoting people who exist only to be explained to, people to whom the world has been created anew every morning, people for whom every settled sociological, scientific, and political argument of modernity must be rehashed, rewritten, and re-accounted, this time with their participation.

Y’know at least with TikTok, the name reminds you of the passing of time. It also will tell you after a couple of hours of watching TikTok to take a break. I wish it got less flack. Though it seems based on TikTok, the youth of tomorrow are just as ready to relitigate the past as us olds. The past is just a story we tell ourselves.

Back when we were still changing for the better
Wanting was enough
For me, it was enough
To live for the hope of it all
Cancel plans just in case you'd call
And say "Meet me behind the mall"
So much for summer love, and saying "Us"
'Cause you weren't mine to lose
You weren't mine to lose

It’s a little after 1:30, and I’m told it’s Autumn.

Back when we were still changing for the better, say, when Taylor Swift’s documentary came out in January, I was more empathetic towards the celebs than is fashionable.

Kanye recently tweeted out all of his record and film contracts, revealing his album budgets, deals, everything. It’s a punk rock move if you ask me, but don’t say you heard that from me because talking about Kanye West right now is not politically advantageous.

I’m just saying it’s not-not poetic him and Taylor Swift are fighting over the same issue, approached wildly differently. Rolling Stone explains what I’m talking about better. Did you know he isn’t allowed to tour and perform his music if the composition “differs greatly” from the album master recordings?

I’m thankful I own the masters to my albums. I’m thankful I can remix and revise them however I want. This is me from the past writing this:

In the modern era where pop stars, politicians, and teenagers are all constructing palatable Instagram versions of themselves for money, power, and attention, can you believe anything anyone says anymore? How vast is the canyon between your public presentation and your private motivations? Is it an impossible standard to maintain in real-time? To be self-conscious is to be aware of you and your environment, and maybe you must be strategic in the process when there’s a goal in mind.

The most interesting bit of that Taylor Swift documentary was when she said, “my entire moral code is the need to be perceived as good.”

The world revealed itself as way more complicated than it was when Taylor or I were fifteen. High school is where you’re meant to learn that even when you’re terrified, alienated, vulnerable, and insecure, to fit in, you must confidently and gracefully stand out. You can’t leave the system, and you can’t simply ignore the expectations and pressures around you. But validation from the Seniors and everyone above you is all you crave, even when they’re insatiable, greedy or worse, misunderstand you.

You probably watched The Social Dilemma on Netflix too. It’s a decent documentary, if perhaps too simplistic. But listen here, Netflix; the next time you have a movie starring Pete Campbell from Mad Men as three little A.I. Inside Out type operators, you lead with that pitch, you hear me?

Here’s a newsletter from Verge tech reporter Casey Newton on the doc’s shortcomings, despite being a decent access point for those who don’t like, report tech.

This cartoon super villain view of the world strikes me as a kind of mirror image of the right-wing conspiracy theories which hold that a cabal of elites are manipulating every world event in secret. It is more than a little ironic that a film that warns incessantly about platforms using misinformation to stoke fear and outrage seems to exist only to stoke fear and outrage — while promoting a distorted view of how those platforms work along the way.

You should probably read the whole thing if you have time, but in case you don’t, which — TikTok — you probably don’t, the point is that while The Social Dilemma creates a compelling bad guy in “Social Media,” or more simply, Facebook, it leaves out the exploitation of good-faith, conscious people through radicalization on smaller forums and websites. It’s the whole Internet. Facebook may be a Goliath at this point, but it’s not the only adversary. It’s still a pretty big one, though.

On the other hand, meet Sophie Zhang. She was a data scientist who was fired in August and left this month in the fashion increasingly popular among departing Facebook employees — which is to say, quite dramatically. 

Craig Silverman, Ryan Mac, and Pranav Dixit scooped her 6,600-word farewell memo in BuzzFeed. Zhang wrote:

“In the three years I’ve spent at Facebook, I’ve found multiple blatant attempts by foreign national governments to abuse our platform on vast scales to mislead their own citizenry, and caused international news on multiple occasions,” wrote Zhang, who declined to talk to BuzzFeed News. Her LinkedIn profile said she “worked as the data scientist for the Facebook Site Integrity fake engagement team” and dealt with “bots influencing elections and the like.”

“I have personally made decisions that affected national presidents without oversight, and taken action to enforce against so many prominent politicians globally that I’ve lost count,” she wrote.

Mastering the geopolitics of each country and rooting out every influence operation that pops up while also policing hate speech and misinformation while promoting free speech and interpersonal connections is a mind-bendingly enormous task. But it’s also the task that Facebook, by virtue of its huge investment in growth and fighting off competitors over the years, has signed up for. 

I can’t take seriously a film like The Social Dilemma, which seemingly wants to hold one company accountable for every change society has undergone since it was founded. But when someone takes her employer to task for the things she found on its service — and she leaves with a feeling of blood on her hands — that’s something different.

So yeah, I don’t think I personally need Instagram that much, and if I do, then maybe I shouldn’t. I tie it with so many negative emotions and experiences. It’s given me opportunities, yeah. I’ve made money as an influencer, and that paid rent sometimes. That’s cool. It came at an extreme cost, however. I think the drive for money, the drive for followers, and plain cultural clout intoxicated me too. I think I stepped on feet along the way to the new shiny thing.

It’s closer to 3 am than I’m willing to admit. I’m told it’s still Autumn.

I, too, once believed that love would be burning red, bringing it back around to Taylor. Maybe passion is part of love, I thought? Even when it didn’t feel right, appearances had to be kept, often for survival’s sake. What if it can’t be controlled, ultimately? Are we stuck in these cyclical abusive relationships forever, despite whatever ones or apps we might flee? Is it ultimately just for the stories we tell ourselves and each other?

What if we can’t help the dopamine addiction and relentlessly keep tapping and tweeting Molotov cocktails into a void that promises to love us so long as we dunk on any friend or dweeb with a blue checkmark by their name that comes our way.

Have you ever heard the excitement in someone’s voice when they just came across a cute person on Instagram, DMed them for a bit, and now they’re getting coffee later? I love that. I want to keep that.

You see, popular things excite me. I’m fascinated when people loves something. I love love. Whether it’s memes or blockbuster movies or novelty country-trap songs, or Kanye and Taylor, I love it when people are head-over-heels in love with, I don't know, stuff. I live for the hype—the hope of it all.

It’s not so much that I’m incapable of excitement. It’s just that to be excited now is to also be anxious you are being naive or worse, passé.

This, in turn, transforms into a love for the drama. I think it gets to that point perhaps when we separate ourselves as spectators—the drama’s entertaining when you’re not part of it. I swear I don’t love the drama; it loves me.

There’s always a way to find legitimate reasons to dislike things. Whether it’s based on personal preference or style, or deep-seated triggers -- certain forms of communication, or certain lifeforms capable of communication, work better than others. And try as you might, you may not express yourself correctly. The message might not get across.

When criticism is leveled against a person, and not the institutions or systems that produce selfish, isolating, ego-driven decisions, we let those systems get away with it.

I’m not sure what I fear more: being a victim, or knowingly entering a victimhood mentality because it’s in some way advantageous.

When we’re victims of abuse and gaslighting, our perseverance, strength, and resistance can reinforce our abuser’s narrative that they didn’t do anything wrong to us. The past is just a story we tell ourselves, but when it’s our past, it’s the story.

I’ve lived in eight states over the last ten years. That’s a fact that only matters because I say it matters when I need it to tell a story. When I say I live on the Internet, it’s because the only publically traceable lineage of my existence is on these apps and the servers of these corporate giants. Apart from my music, and by extension, my writing, which again I am thankful to own.

It’s a little after 3, and if I don’t sleep, I’ll miss the first day of Autumn.

If you’re still with me, thank you. Please let me know you did by clicking the red heart at the top/bottom of this if you don’t feel like writing back? No? Ok that’s fine I don’t need the dopamine.

I recognize you’re probably reading this in the morning or during the day, and if this was meandering and tangential, that would be par for course with this newsletter, but I can’t help but hope I got my point across to someone, somewhere. I live for that shit.

Here’s part of the letter Taylor Swift attached to her record folklore.

A tale that becomes folklore is one that is passed down and whispered around. Sometimes even sung about. The lines between fantasy and reality blur and the boundaries between truth and fiction become almost indiscernible. Speculation, over time, becomes fact. Myths, ghost stories, and fables.

Fairytales and parables. Gossip and legend. Someone’s secrets written in the sky for all to behold.

In isolation my imagination has run wild and this album is the result, a collection of songs and stories that flowed like a stream of consciousness. Picking up a pen was my way of escaping into fantasy, history, and memory. I’ve told these stories to the best of my ability with all the love, wonder, and whimsy they deserve.

Now it’s up to you to pass them down.

Tyler Scruggs is a writer, musician, and millennial swashbuckler navigating the digital frontier through internet content like this and love songs for your Zune. He brews his own coffee now and doesn’t feel it’s safe enough to go to the movies as much as he might like.

Feel free to validate him on Twitter (@TylerScruggs), Instagram (@Scruggernaut), and YouTube.

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