“I don’t have to tell you things are bad; everybody knows things are bad; It’s a depression. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their jobs. A dollar buys a nickel’s worth; banks are going bust. Shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter; punks are running wild in the streets…We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat.
“We sit watching our TVs while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes — as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be.
“We know things are bad; worse than bad: They’re crazy…We sit in the house. Slowly the world we’re living in is getting smaller. And all we say is ‘please at least leave us alone in our living rooms and let me have my toaster, and my TV and my steel-belted radials, and I won’t say anything — just leave us alone.’
“Well, I’m not going to leave you alone, I want you to get mad. I don’t want you to protest, I don’t want to you riot. I don’t want you to write your congressman; I don’t know what to tell you to write. I don’t know what to do about the depression, or inflation, or the Russians or the crime in the streets. All I know is that first I want you to get mad! You’ve got to say, ‘I’m a human being, goddamnit! My life has value!”
Howard Beale was a prophet. Paddy Chayefsky, who created the character of Beale, won the Academy Award for his screenplay for the 1976 film Network., and everyone knew Chayefsky was on to something. And more than he, and more than we, could have imagined — but things got worse. Much worse.
Human connections don’t exist anymore; everyone’s scared of the real world. In the real world we can’t go back and edit our comments or Instagram a softer glow around our faces and that terrifies us. Without the validation of “likes,” and “shares,” and retweets footnoting our lives, our very existence is invalid. We live in a phony world and we’re making it phonier.
Everyone’s commenting in a rage over the title of an article that no one’s even read. We’re all so busy rehearsing our own internal monologues we don’t even hear the argument, and we don’t even care. No one even reads anymore. Libraries shutter every day, and we hail the conveniences of our Kindles and our iPads and our Amazon accounts, and we don’t even see that our conveniences have made our lives inconvenient. We support corporations because we want it now, while families sweep up the detritus of their dreams and shut down their bookshops. We upload a book and we upload a movie, and can’t get through the preface or the opening titles without tweeting about it, and checking our five email accounts. And when we’re done with the fifth, we go back to the first. And what have we done? Nothing.
Now isn’t good enough; we want what’s next. Nothing’s fast enough, nothing’s bright enough, nothing’s new enough. We can’t focus on conversations anymore; we can’t listen to people at restaurants without checking to see what other conversations are going on in our phones and our laptops and our tablets — what someone said about our latest tweet, or our latest status update, or what people think our new goddamn shower curtain we pinned on Pinterest.
Our attention spans are pulp. Our conversations revolve around what our friend said online whom we’ll never meet, and our new beautiful Hawaiian girlfriend who’s actually a middle-aged Filipino man robbing us blind. And we sit there at dinner with our friends, and we sit there in our living rooms with our families and we think about the fake people we love, and we think about the products that the algorithms tell us will finally make us happy. And we sit there and dream of something else we want, and somebody else we want, and we dissolve into a dystopia of disconnection and dissatisfaction.
It’s happening now: People are getting married continents apart by-proxy via Skype on their cellphones. People are kissing the screen and people are applauding in New Delhi and New York over a newly sanctioned legal union. That’s the new reality. We’re no longer present and it doesn’t matter.
Instagram is the new Twitter because 140 characters is too much for us to follow, so we stare at pictures worth a thousands words that no one was ever going to read in the first place.
We document everything and everything is documenting us. We command our Google eyewear to photograph our birthday cake, we command it to film our rollercoaster ride, and we command it to show us our Facebook news feed while we walk on a beach looking at online images of sunsets more color-saturated than our own. Well, the sun is setting, the sun is setting on our lives and we’re so involved in other people’s lives, we haven’t noticed that we don’t have lives of our own anymore.
I want you to go to your Facebook friends list, and I want to find those people you don’t know, and I want you to get rid of them. I want you to free yourself of the hangers-on, and the catfishers, and the phonies, and the friend collectors, and the sycophants. And get rid of the noms de guerres. Because that’s what this is — it is a geurre — it is a war; a war on your attention, wasting your energy in the feckless ether.
I want you to stop thinking that pink ribbons heal sick breasts, that red ribbons lighten the lesions, that yellow ribbons bring troops home if only you place the image on your Facebook wall for one hour. I want you to stop thinking your god will cure a terminally ill child hooked up to life support if only she gets enough “likes.”
I want you to know that God does not have a Facebook account and he doesn’t make deals on Facebook based on social media shares. I want you to know there is no God in the machine, and the only ghost in the machine is phishing and false hopes. I want you to stop the magical thinking because the only magic is in thinking for yourself. I want you to donate your time, and donate your money to causes that actually matter, causes that are real, and I want you to stop buying into superstitions.
I want you to go to your Twitter account, and I want you to stop screaming your own soundbites into the communal well just so you can hear your own echoes. I want you to start following legitimate media and learn something, and ditch the media whores and the reality stars you’ve made into millionaires.
I want you to check-out of checking-in on Foursquare. I want you to stop being a product patsy and stop checking-in to your Krispy Kremes, and your McDonald’s, your Walmarts and I want you to think about the checking accounts of Walmart’s employees who earn less than a living wage and to keep it that way, their bosses gave over $6 million to lobbyists last year to keep their employees impoverished. I want you to know that with every check-in, every badge, and every mayoralship, the fever pitch of “Who gives a shit” is deafening to everyone who sees it.
I want you to put down your phone and stop photographing your food and I want you to start talking to the human being you’re sitting with. I want you to put down your iPads, and your smartphones at televised events that are actually being filmed by professional cameramen, because it makes you look like an idiot. I want to you stop photographing and filming musical performances and I want you to start experiencing them. I want you to check out of checking-in, and I want you to check back into your own life.
I want you to get mad, I want you to get up from your computer, I want you to turn off your phone; I want you to stop living in a virtual world and stop letting corporations run your life. I want you to pay attention.
You’ve got to get mad at the algorithms, and the machines that run your life. You’ve got to get mad at the hours you’ve wasted checking your emails, your Facebooks, your Twitters, your Instagrams, your Foursquares; and you need to know that there’s only one thing for certain: The day will come when you will cease to exist and you’re wasting the time you’ve got left.
I want you to say — in the words of the Howard Beale — “I’m a human being, goddamnit! My life has value!” I want you to know that value does not exist in the virtual world; that value is real. Shut it down, turn it off, and tune in to life.
You’ve got to start living in this world while you’re still here, and you’ve got to stand up, and you’ve got to say, once and for all: I’m as mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!