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Living in Contemporary Western Society: An Experiment

Tahlia Palmer: Steady Eye

Living in Contemporary Western Society: An Experiment

Andrew Ryan

I have very, very little idea about what is going on in the “news” at the moment because I am conducting a personal experiment: I have deactivated my Facebook account, I ignore emails from pop culture websites, I don’t check news websites, I don’t follow news things on Twitter, and I only see the front cover of news papers when I am standing at a particular spot at the counter of a particular place at which I occasionally buy tobacco.

I didn’t actually look at it as an experiment until after it started, but now I have no choice but to see it as such. Once a thing is named a thing, after it was named nothing, it will remain as exactly that thing with that name in your eyes — until it is named something else, of course. Names evolve and change with the society they are tied up in, and then the meanings do too, but that first name? I reckon that’s the most important one. This particular thing of mine has got a name now, and it is Experiment.

SO. That’s what this is, even though it started as a snap-decision, based on gut instinct and a tiny bit of practical thinking, based on research I’ve done on the subject: “Mannnn, I feel a bit shit, I’d probably feel so much better|||and lead a far more fulfilling creative-and-book-reading life|||if I rid my experience of that ugly, manipulative, consumer-research-machine monster-of-a-website.

(Please make some time for this Radiolab podcast, about the “trust engineers” of Facebook.)

Result Number One:
I have missed every gig that has happened since I deactivated the account, except for Laneway Festival and my friend’s birthday party gig right after Laneway Festival. At Laneway, I had no idea if anyone I knew outside of my immediate circle would be there, and knew nothing of the social-media-driven-experience of any who may have been there. I spent a bit of time alone, I spent a bit of time hanging with my crew, I got a bit sunburnt, took a few photos and drank a lot of vodka from Pond’s rider because I was a little bummed out that I only got to hang out with my bestguy for a few hours before he jumped on a plane for the second time that day. Sigh. At Alan’s birthday party gig, I bumped in to a lot of people I knew, took a few photos, and was offered many glasses of whiskey, which I accepted because I was already too drunk to want to stop drinking. Sigh.

Result Number Two (A):
I feel like I used to talk about my frustrations arising from Australian political happenings with pretty much everyone I know, and pretty much all the time. Since quitting Facebook, it has barely come up in conversation, and I have no idea which articles my Hundreds of Acquaintances are reading. Only two friends I speak to regularly have asked me if I knew about that thing that happened with the Australian Liberal Party recently. I didn’t know anything except that there was some leadership weirdness. The less involved I get in the minuté of the special brand of show-pony, surface level political shit published in mainstream media — even the stuff published on a bunch of the independent media websites — the more farcical I am perceiving it all to be. Thus, I am less inclined to get angry and more inclined to laugh and scoff at the absurdity. It’s amazing. It feels so good!

~~~HOWEVER~~~

Soon after the deactivation, I began to experience increased anxiety, and big, dark throws of depression. I nearly decided to go on a walk to the desert; something I realized, even as I was working out the logistics of it, was a legitimate suicide mission if I did it at any point in the next 12 months; the idea was a dark, desperately misguided expression of my desire to extricate myself from this world of branding, marketing and advertising.

There were many contributing factors to my badfeels (…sometimes I drink too much when I’m anxious…) but one thing I knew for sure in those angst-ridden, mixed-up, scaredy-cat times was that one of the big contributors to those feels was the near cold-turkey break from my biggest supplier of instant social gratification, instant validation, and instant sense of belonging. For about a week, maybe longer, I felt what could easily be the most lonely I have ever felt, possibly on par with the week I spent most nights up on the roof of my house in Footscray, with Dr. Brown-Liquor pressuring me to dive head first on to the street. I’m very glad I didn’t. I reckon my family is too.

Instant validation gratification though: I am not completely free of the habit. I get a little bit of a fix from Instagram now and then, but it’s a different communication medium, it’s a different platform, it’s a different coding. It also has a far, far fewer amount of field experts working on how to make you feel more socially accepted on it. It’s just not the same, man.

How it IS the same though, is that every time the thought of deleting my Instagram account pops up in my psyche, I can feel a big fluorescent-light sign saying “FOR THE GREATER GOOD” flashing on and off in my brain. You know what, brain sign? I think you’re right!

But, like… what if my old mate Self Destruction is the guy playing with those light switches? Social media is a powerful force in the careers of creative individuals in this day-and-age after all…

Perhaps my experiment will prove something important, whatever the outcome may be; at least to myself, if not to others.

~~~

Result Number Three:
My national and international political reading has fucking DWINDLED, has become much more considered, and much more refined to things that truly and deeply relate to my interests. In the last week or so, the only two reports I have read concerning political things were about:
a group of anarchists in Spain who are currently being detained as “terrorists”

and

THIS::: a group of elders and leaders of this country’s First Nations have issued a manifesto of demands.

I believe (and also really, really feel and think) that things like this are incredibly important to be aware of. These are the things that can lead to uprisings, to wars; they are true and real and raw expressions of oppression. None of this: “Oooooooh This Just In: no one wanted to go up against Tony Abbot for leadership” bullshit. NO SHIT NO ONE DID. Those guys know that sooner or later shit is going to hit the fan in this country, they know that their government is in complete risk if leadership changes, that their pocket lining is in complete risk, that they will only remain in power until the majority realises they can have it better, safer, more sustainable. And: they know it is only a matter of time before everyone else figures it out.

Quick notes:

1. If terrorism is the act of terrifying victims, then a government being terrified of anarchists encrypting their emails is pretty indicative of the weakness and fear of that government. They don’t even know what was in those emails. What the fuck is wrong with not wanting complete strangers, especially those working for the government (USA intelligence agencies have completely unfettered access to all the online data from over-seas users of wesbites run by companies such as Google, Facebook and Amazon) to have access to your private communications? How perverse is the political authority of this era?

2. The people of the First Nations of this land have every reason to demand a change of governance; not only in terms of the implementation of a republic, but also in terms of a complete re-structuring of the way this country is run. Where are the conversations about this potential future in Australian media? If we were truly a humane nation, this conversation would be on the lips and fingertips of many.

3. Lawrence Ferlinghetti comments on “the enormous capacity of society to ingest its own most dissident elements”. How much of this new dissidence can be ingested, and how quickly?

~

There is a lot of work to be done. Pretty glad I’m doing more now since I deactivated my Facebook account.

Love,

Tahlia

P.S. Everyone reading should set aside some time to watch Adam Curtis’ latest documentary, called Bitter Lake.

It gave me the best insight I’ve ever had in to the Middle East’s current political situation. Highly, highly recommended for every human living in and amongst Western society.

Also, if you complain that it is too long I will bite your head off and spit it in to our oily, oily oceans.

xxx