I’m thinking a lot about the internet these days. I literally owe my entire career to it. And yet the very real harm it causes is unreal.
It’s 2:36 AM as I write these words, and I can’t sleep. I went to bed early tonight, which is always iffy under the best of circumstances. I woke up after midnight, got up to get some water, and checked my phone.
I know, I know.
But it was then that I learned that Dooce had posted a long, unhinged blog post (I originally linked to it but removed the link because I refuse to give fuel to hate and bigotry. It’s out there if you want to find it. But I don’t recommend it) where she went full TERF. And blamed it on… her love of Black people? And equated her eating disorder with being transgender? And also, ADHD doesn’t exist. And something about orgasms and The Wire. It’s a hot mess.
I realize that a large subset of you don’t know who Dooce is. Her name is Heather B. Armstrong, and she was, back in the early days of blogging, someone who gave hope to a lot of us. She had a blog in 2001 (at least 2 years before I did), and when her employer found out, they terminated her. She went viral before that was even a thing, and being fired for having a blog became “getting Dooced.” We weren’t just bloggers then – we were fighting for free expression, man!
She was an early mommy blogger. Then a lifestyle blogger. We followed the stories of her kids, her divorce, and then her single life. Along the way she had a nervous breakdown and attempted suicide and wrote a book or two.
I was never a huge fan, but to be fair, I wasn’t her audience. People who would later read Brene Brown and Glennon Doyle read Dooce. But she was a huge influence and inspiration to all of us. I admired her transparency, her boldness, her carefree writing style. It is horrible to learn that someone you admired from afar is less than they purport.
Early in my career, I told a friend of my admiration of a semi-public figure that the friend knew well. The friend smiled and said, “Then for your sake, I truly hope you never meet him.”
I didn’t “know” Heather, just like most of you don’t “know” me. You only know what I share. But I do know people who know her, and they tell me this isn’t a surprise – that this has been building up, and that she is mentally unhinged and needs help. That last part is pretty obvious.
There is a way in which the voyeurism of the internet is seductive. We get to watch the lives of other people unfold, and they get the enjoyment of being watched. As a writer who lives life as a public person, the tension between what to share and what not to share is always there. It is made harder by knowing that the posts where I share something dark and personal – my divorce, my flirtations with suicide in the past, my failures – get the most interaction.
I have no doubt this dumpster-fire of an unhinged transphobic post will be the most read thing she has written in a decade.
It’s possible to set up a negative reinforcement feedback loop, where you are constantly searching for the most outrageous thing to post next. Add drugs, alchohol, or mentall illness into the mix, and it is a time bomb.
There is so much potential for harm with this medium. And yet, I believe there is a way to do this well. I know I want to do it well. I want to model healthy boundaries and yet be able to reduce the stigma around mental health. I want to use the small platform I have in a way that builds rather than incites, that creates rather than destroys. There is value here.
I need to remember that.
What I wrote this week
Seven years ago tonight, our lives changed.
Renee, who was on the heart transplant list, had gotten the call. And this time, it wasn’t a false alarm. This time, it was real.
I am the worst promoter of my work, but even I recognize that of the literally billions of people on the planet who did not read anything I wrote last year, the most common reason they didn’t wasn’t that they don’t like my style, or they disagree with me politically or any other logical reason, but because they simply do not know I exist.
So, here is an up-to-date list of the projects I am currently working on. At least this way, I can say that I told you.
I think 24 hours as the default unit of time is a mistake – I try to take a more seasonal approach these days. It doesn’t matter what you do every day. It matters what you do most of the time.
Last week, I stress-bought a waffle maker. As middle-aged crisis, traumatized by a pandemic, living through the collapse of civilization, stress purchases go, it was inexpensive. And on the plus side, on Sunday, I made waffles. Highly recommended.
Here are three articles I read this week that all inform how I think about the internet and social media these days.
Meta Tweaks Facebook App To Act More Like Tik Tok (They did this to get around privacy issues. Nice. I hate it here.)
NB: I went back to sleep after I wrote the above, around 3:30 AM. It’s now 8:30 AM, and after coffee and a few clarifying edits, I’m sending it out as is. It’s not my best work. But the passion is there, and the pain. It’s honest, if nothing else.
Let’s be kind to each other, OK? And work to build something wonderful.