Sorting treasure from trash in the digital dumpster.
An expert has said: “The Internet is a big dumpster. There’s no guarantee that anything you find on it is true.” Yes. The Internet is a dumpster. That’s the appeal. Dumpsters hold treasure. This is why people regularly lower themselves into these reeking metal containers to wade through piles of garbage: the widely known fact that valuable stuff gets thrown out all the time. You can find unopened bags of Halloween candy, 4k TVs still in their boxes, Mayan artifacts. No surprise there. There are many reasons a person might toss something that’s not strictly “trash” into a dumpster. They don’t know what it is, for example. Or they don’t want anyone else to see it.
I’m not worried about “misinformation” when I log on. And I don’t know anybody who is. (Except the people looking for work policing it.) Something I just Googled: “inform” comes from the Latin informare, “to train or instruct;” hence “misinform” = “to train or instruct in the wrong way.” Well, isn’t doing things “the wrong way” how we innovate? I’m no philologist, but I’m going to go with my gut and conclude that misinformation is good and healthy and can lead to greater knowledge.
It doesn’t matter; either way it’s getting harder and harder to get properly misinformed. (Very easy, on the other hand, to get lied to or have your face rubbed in the totally fake). Forget buying blue checks or rating speeches on a scale of “Pinocchios” – verifying ourselves to each other is hardly the point. The main thing is that we continue to submit to verification by the Borg.
I can feel it when I’m getting algorithm poisoning. I can’t say that regular trips scavenging for wisdom in the junkyard of the unrecommended, unliked, and unmonetized is any kind of solution, but it does provide relief. Maybe for you too?
There’s a young and very successful self-help writer whose reels always pop up on my Instagram. He’s really into the Stoics. He urgently and sincerely wants to sell me on “memento mori,” but looking at his unlined face as he gets worked up about Marcus Aurelius gives me the sensation of having been uploaded to a place beyond life and death. Much better at getting me to think about my impending mortality is Martyn Pedler’s old Tumblr, “And the Man Next to You,” a series of short, poetic entries detailing “the tragic backstory of everyone killed in [1992 Steven Seagal blockbuster] Under Siege.” This is dated 2012, somewhat before NPC discourse, but empathizing with these doomed action movie henchmen can really put you back in your body: “Before every mission, he makes a list... But when you are about to die – when you’ve seen three others sliced up in seconds and know you’re next – your list is somewhat different. Not yet, it says. Just those words in smeared, desperate handwriting that fills a thousand pages, all falling to the floor and lying there unread. Not yet.”
In 2011 David Berman started a blog. At the time this was rare enough that Pitchfork covered it. Menthol Mountains now remains as a kind of memorial to Berman, who killed himself two weeks after his final post, a collection Thomas Bernhard quotes. You don’t encounter Berman here (he rarely posted his own words), just the things he left behind: a video of Robert Klein and Lucy Arnaz performing “They’re Playing Our Song” at the 1979 Tony awards (headed “my only Broadway show”), quotes from the Talmud, an excerpt from “The Gervais Principle III.” Comments were never enabled, so you can’t leave him a note the way people do on Twitter or Facebook. Just old links on an obsolete platform. It’s quiet here.
All is vanity. You simply cannot get enough reminders of this. My favorite “vaccine” (it doesn’t stop the spread, but it might make you less sick) for mimetic contagion is the “Leaked phone messages from ‘80s super agent Warren Klein.” These are well-crafted enough (by Matt Oberg and Jody Lambert) that when they first went viral in 2011, they had to be debunked as a hoax. Now they languish on a small YouTube channel, as much a relic of a different age as the Brat Packers Warren comforts and cajoles; pleading with Andrew McCarthy to take the role in LadyHawke before they cast “Matty Broderick” ("Rutger turns into a wolf by night, Michelle turns into a hawk by day, and you turn into an above-the-title movie star by October") and reassuring Gleaming the Cube star Christian Slater about Josh Brolin's rival skateboarding epic ("He's lucky if he could ollie over a matchbook"). Warren’s breathless dedication to his then A-list clients never fails to cheer me up when my engagement is down. Also cheering (and, at times, chilling) is this thought: maybe the only clout that lasts is the clout we have with our Lord and Savior.