The Fear of Silence

I’ve been listening to a Freakonomics MD podcast about the effects of Facebook (and social media in general) on our mental health. Some of the studies are relatively old, but interesting.

It’s also interesting that they talk about envy and depression, but not shame.

I don’t think that social comparison is my problem, really. It is the level of snark and meanness. How when someone disagrees with something I write, instead of opening a discussion, they slap with a bit of sarcasm and leave the room – so to speak.

I’ve witnessed people tear into one another in what used to be nested comments, but these days sprawl weirdly under posts as though Meta wants to drag people by their ears into a virtual brawl.

As an adult I’ve never surrounded myself with people who interact this way – casual bitchy isn’t my thing in real life either.

I would have never been friends with Dorothy Parker. There: I’ve admitted it. Consider me uncultivated. Consider me too intimidated to dare.

But the truth is, I’ve never aspired to be her. Not even when ruminating over old, unresolved conflicts while showering.

This isn’t to say that I am innocent when it comes to trying to step on people to feel better about myself. I know I’ve been cruel on occasion. Or tried to be. (The truth is I am not that clever). And I know I can’t blame it on a kind of contagion from social media. It’s just human nature, I think. Honestly, I think it is something I am growing out of, and – yes – maybe growing out of as I grow out of certain kinds of ambition.

For good and for bad.

For the longest time, I’ve thought that the pain I’ve felt when using social media was a weakness on my part: too sensitive, can’t handle wit, take things too personally, too seriously etc. Hell, maybe I am just sour because I wasn’t as good at it as everyone else.

Nah… I don’t know. Yes, and

Wit doesn’t have to be caustic.

I suppose mocking is a useful skill – I mean, it gets the job done. Though most often I am puzzled over why the job was necessary. What’d they do to you?

There was life before social media. Why is so difficult to imagine getting along without it? In “real life”, I do leave the room. For some reason, it seems more obvious to me that in 5 minutes, 5 days, 5 years, whatever it is won’t mean a thing.

But somehow the hurt on social media is more tangible than the hurt in the real world. Maybe especially when it comes from strangers because I have no greater context to put their comments in. How dangerous is this person, really?

Why is verbal bullying considered a sign of intelligence? We know it is no different from slugging it out physically. If it were, we’d never have repeated sticks and stones as a charm. Words fucking hurt.

There’s the dramatic irony for whoever is watching this century’s little drama. Or maybe just mine, who knows?

And my dear friend, Richard. We didn’t meet on social media. In fact, as much as I use it to keep in touch with the people I love, there’s no one I draw my little circle around whom I actually first connected with there.

Maybe I am just one of those people who would rather cross the street and avoid Speakers Corner and the soapboxes there; who would rather have quiet conversations with people who won’t skewer you for climbing up and down from a high horse over the course of being human and wearing blinders of all kinds – in the moment.

It feels like it’s all a game of “gotcha”.

E. and I seem to have the same fight over and over. And I keep asking him – when he quotes something I said back to me – to put it in the context of the decade he’s known me: my personal history, my core values, which he knows. Picking apart a single sentence isn’t going to make communication richer: “But it’s what you really said…”


We had an era of constructionism and of deconstructivism. It seems my whole world these days is decontextualized. Fragmented, and filled with what feels like a necessary noise.

I forget too often where I am standing – that people I would cross the street to avoid may be walking by in their big shoes, with their big needs, that have nothing to do with me.

The trick is to find out what does have to do with me.

2 Replies to “The Fear of Silence”

  1. Like reading a novel here. Journey. Seen from the inside here, time remembering time. Feeling I suppose is my default. Kindness remains a work in progress, speaking for me. Is there always more? (yes and no)

  2. The oddest thing, Ren, is that we met via a good old-fashioned print publicatioin which was benighted enough to interview me. And when you emailed me (and I read the email after having stomped off a beach in a huff after a slight argument with M), I thought Ren was a man’s name. Strange what life brings us – that poetry should bring me a life-long friend is such a gift. Maybe I should start sending you proper letters in the post again.