Marissa Skudlarek brings us part one of a large article, and hence we’ve decided to let her have a week out of turn. We think you’ll agree, it’s worth it.
I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. Sure, I’ve got a busy month ahead of me: I’m directing a staged reading of my play The Rose of Youth on March 29, and my new translation of Jean Cocteau’s Orphée performs at Theater Pub on April 15. But I think what’s really pushing me over the edge of sanity is that, in addition to working on my artistic projects, I feel a compulsion to keep up with the endless stream of information that appears on Twitter, Facebook, and the internet in general.
That’s why I suspect that, even if you’re not as outwardly busy as I am, you might be feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, too. Do you, also, suffer from the Fear of Missing Out? Are you, also, caught up in the cycle of reading the essay about the topic du jour, and then reading what other people are saying in response to the essay about the topic du jour, and then feeling like you should prepare your own brilliant, incisive critique of the topic du jour? Do you feel like it’s impossible to merely enjoy things anymore – that if you enjoy something, you should broadcast your appreciation by writing an essay about why you like it so much? And, moreover, if you find something at all offensive or problematic, do you feel like you have a grave moral duty to write an impassioned-verging-on-hysterical condemnation of it?
Because I feel all of these things, and more. Briefly put, we’re living in an information deluge, and the salt water is starting to fill my lungs. Indeed, the physical sensation of feeling overwhelmed is similar to that of drowning: a shortness of breath, a clenching in the chest, a mad desire to run or escape or just flail around. (Otherwise known as “the precursors to a panic attack.”)
At other times, my reaction to the information deluge is not panic but paralysis, verging on despair. In part, my despair is that I’ll never catch up with everything, never read all I want to read, never know enough. But I also wonder if our addiction to cultural commentary and over-analysis directly leads to a sense of despair. I think about how I was a brooding, unhappy teenager; in my diary, I overanalyzed every detail of my high-school drama. Only years later did I come to understand that my brooding exacerbated my unhappiness, rather than assuaged it.
Could the same thing be happening now? Whenever something becomes successful or popular, cultural commentators tear it to shreds, analyzing its every detail and using that as the basis for sweeping judgments about The Way We Live Now. Or they’ll seek to undermine it, telling you why it isn’t very good or shouldn’t be popular in the first place. But after something’s been torn apart or undermined, what’s left of it? That’s right: messy shreds and fragments.
And then, if information overload is driving me half-mad, why the hell am I calling myself an arts writer, hoping that you will read my column, telling you to visit my personal blog and my Twitter feed? I worry that unless I have something brilliant to say, my writing will just waste your time and contribute to the cacophony of the world. This thought, in turn, only causes me to feel more desperate, more panicked, more paralyzed.
These days, there’s more information and commentary out there than ever before. Computers have made it easier for people to share their bright ideas and live the life of the mind, should they be so inclined. Still, I feel that I’m living cerebrally, which is far different from living mindfully. The unexamined life may not be worth living, but the over-examined life can make you feel like there’s nothing to live for.
Marissa Skudlarek is a San Francisco-based playwright and arts writer. If you’re handling the information deluge better than she is, you can find her at marissabidilla.blogspot.com or on Twitter @MarissaSkud.