So… I’m writing a book. And I guess I’ve been sort of in the middle of writing several books for a while now without even realizing it, but this is the first time I’ve actually for realsies planned from the start that what I’m writing is indeed trying to be a book.
And it’s been pretty rad, I’m not gonna lie. I’ve accomplished almost nothing, but I finally allowed myself to do something with an idea that I’ve been playing with for years and it feels good. I also did a lot of “research.” Some of this meant actual research, like pages of hand-written notes on notable events from 2015 and conspiracy theories and all that good good, but a lot of it was a different kind of research, too.
By which I mean, of course, that I stalked myself mercilessly. I took notes on my old Instagram feed and checked my TimeHop every day and laughed at my hilarious old tweets and reread all those old Pretty Little Liars reaction posts. I did the thing in the Derek Walcott poem. I greeted myself arriving at my own door. I took down the love letters from the bookshelf, the photographs, the desperate notes. I am, in real life, a sentimental things hoarder. Turns out I am this way on the internet, too. At the time, these were just time wasters. I knew that even then. But I think I also sort of knew that the one really great thing about social media isn’t social at all. It’s a time capsule. It’s not just a prophetic lyric, it’s the angsty ass reason I felt like I needed to share it. So I diligently did my research and I thought about why this was true and I came to a theory.
It’s the moment behind it. The catty photo captions, hashtags like inside jokes mumbled under your breath, the scrolling desperately through 23 hour old Instagram story views looking for the name of the person who was meant to see it before it expires, silently laughing at incorrect Sylvia Plath quotes on tumblr in class, tapping through 300 second snapchats of nothing from your best friend to kick some boy out of her very public best friends, live tweeting a season finale and spending hours scrolling through fan theories afterward, all of this stuff that was technically wasting time. That’s the life in between the classes and the long shifts and the allnighters in the library, all patiently curated to look back on not-longingly later. The sub-social social life. I look back on it all now and it’s like a roadmap to these times in my life. I can remember what mattered to me, then. I can trace the fireworks and fizzled ends of non-relationships, sense the mental breakdowns behind self-deprecating shields, feel the feels. That’s worth something.
Something else occurred to me in my “research.” This stuff is fleeting. Social media is all algorithms now. Snapchat BFFS are no more. IG stories last as long as you want to keep them. Nobody watches a series as it airs anymore because nobody has cable. Twitter is all politics and jokes about depression now. It’s only been a few years, but things have already changed so quickly. We have the entire lifespan of social media in our lives and that is a really interesting thing to think about. I don’t use social media for the same things I used to (thank God), but there’s already a certain nostalgia for these things as they’ve changed.
And moreso, happily, I’ve changed. My relationship with social media has changed. I spent a year documenting entirely different things in a separate, more calculated way. I paid more attention to strangers and little to semi-acquaintances. I learned a lot about the things working in the background of the algorithms. I studied them like it was my job because other people cared about them and I wanted to understand why. All of this was weirdly refreshing, and now I’m tired of that too. I think it can be somewhere in the middle. Mindful documentation, a good Lightroom preset, but still the life beating on beneath it. Something to stalk ten years from now, or even 6 months down the road. Time flies when you’re maniacally taking pictures that you don’t ever post (until now. Prepare yourself).
I know so many writers that scoff at social media, at writers who build their entire persona around aesthetic “poetry” posts, that I never really gave credit to what an incredible generative tool the collective conscience of it can be until now. 2009 Tab is so still so tangible, so alternate-universe to me already, and yet still so accessible. Imagine how she’ll seem to me in like 10 years when this book is finally finished?! I like to think 2029 Tab will be happy that I didn’t wait until then to try and capture what is already fleeting now. I like to think she’ll have lots to say about these moments, these pieces of me that weren’t actually time wasters at all.
Sit. Feast on your life.