The feeling of online is ennui
Time spent online is largely time spent feeling jaded, with brief interruptions for grimaces (seeing a bad post) and half-smiles (seeing a good one). Rare is the content that can evoke a genuine feeling. And yet, there’s so much of it! Given that most of us are connected to the internet most of the time — desktops and laptops at work and school; smartphones at work and school and home and anywhere else that has a viable cellular connection — that means mindless boredom has reached an unimaginable scale, and that it’s simultaneously way more profound than it was in the ’90s, when it was a dominant cultural force. (And anyway, now that everyone’s online, good posts are becoming harder to find.) That uniquely internet feeling can be isolating in a way that’s hard to describe; I think it’s why social platforms exist, and why the main virtue of the ‘net is relatability, which is just a restatement of the human need to connect. This is all a long way of saying that it’s easy to feel alone, even when you’re with everyone else on the planet.
Enter: Screenshots of Despair, a blog dedicated to finding the bleakest unintentional poetry online and in real life. People submit what they find, and then the administrator — Josh Kimball, who’s been running the site since 2012 — posts the screenshots.
The year Kimball founded the blog, he spoke to TechCrunch about what it meant. “I think the screenshots inspire pangs of real isolation,” he said then. “To me, the best of these screenshots are supposed to be practical social media interface elements, but they read as inadvertent commentary on one’s entire existence.” And then: “Everyone has felt these pangs before.” He’s right that those feelings of isolation are just about universal, which is why the blog has been relevant for so long — who hasn’t been inadvertently informed by a computer that something’s missing from their life?
Another Twitter account / blog, Humans of Late Capitalism, does much the same thing; it’s a chronicle of life under capitalism, as told through pictures of our current dystopia. The site reveals the boot stamping on our faces forever. Capitalism, naturally, is another isolating force.
Like its peers Humans of Late Capitalism and Screenshots of Despair, the Twitter account DaShareZone is another take on the weirdly specific isolation the internet provokes — though it depicts it through leaning in to relatability. The account tweets pictures of skeletons engaged in very raw activities, with captions that are so mundane as to be profound; its only real character is the “Admin,” as though it’s an old school forum.
DaShareZone’s admin is one of us. They’re depressed, bored, and alone, and yet still trying to “keep kicken ass.” The struggle to stay alive and motivated has rarely been so clearly delineated. Posting is only a means to connect, and it’s easy to substitute those fleeting engagements — likes and RTs — for the real thing. Though that’s not always a bad thing, it does deepen the listlessness of online life.
There’s no solution to this, and anyway I don’t know that it even should be solved. The internet is real life, after all, and the only cure for being online is logging off.