Malaise and the Metaverse
As a travel platform, we at Trippin are enthralled by the beauty and nuances of physical locations and cultures. However, as the world evolves, the digital realm has opened up new virtual terrains for us to explore. Over the course of this piece, our Black Culture Editor takes a look at these digital locations and their zeitgeist.
If you're searching for the truth it’s likely you won't find it on your feed.Your notes app and social media post drafts are where the magic exists, it’s in the thoughts you consider just a little too perverse to share with the rest of us. With a quick scroll through mine, you’ll uncover gems like “Lars Von Trier’s Nymphomaniac, but all the sex scenes happen in the metaverse” or “the smallest distance in the world is the one between cringe and post-cringe”. Both of those statements feel far more honest and true to where I am as a person than anything I have shared online in the past few months. Something strange happens when our digital personas take the wheel. It’s as though the masks we wear in our physical lives to conceal ourselves from the world rapidly expand into full-body gimp suits revealing only what we perceive to be the most enticing segments of our psyche.
I’m just old enough to remember what the internet felt like in the late noughties and early tweens, the moments just before we did away with virtual anonymity and digital footprints weren’t as bound to personal brand-building projects. I remember LimeWire where everything was free. I remember rushing home after school to read Carles from Hipster Runoff satirically lamente about everything from Lana Del Ray to Slutwave. I remember Napster, Omegle, Pirate Bay and playing chess on MSN with my crush. I remember when digital artefacts had a neo-surrealist aura and cyberspace felt like a realm of infinite possibility.
Stuck in an eternal doomscroll, haunted by the memories of my early days online, it's clear its landscape's drastically changed. Enclosed by borders erected in service of capital, the internet's magic has receded. LimeWire, following a litigation-induced decade-long hiatus, now exists as an NFT platform championing the financial security at the forefront of the push for artificial scarcity through the restriction of reproduction. Tumblr, a graveyard for pillaged aesthetics. SoundCloud, a vessel for labels to plant and promote artists and the democratic ideology behind many of the aforementioned decentralised peer-to-peer platforms has been reconstructed by tech oligarch Peter Thiel-backed platform Urbit, who promises its users ownership of ‘digital planets’. Today every tweet, TikTok, reel and image is carefully crafted with monetisation in mind. The gamification of discourse is in overdrive, bolstered by the public display of numeric value signifiers such as ‘likes’, ‘shares’ and ‘comments’ subconsciously restricting what we upload. ‘Anti-capitalism’ is delivered to you in soft pastel gaussian blurred infographics, sandwiched between images of this season's e-girl promoting her latest NFT and reels from grindset guru Gary Vee coercing you into sacrificing your soul at the altar of capital.
A prevalent response I've encountered to this shift among fellow terminally online Gen-Zers, is a desire to ‘log off’ and ‘touch grass’, internet terms for retreating to the physical world and searching for the sublime. However, the digital realm is far too prominent and sprawling a landscape for such a simple form of resistance to serve as a panacea. If all the Web3 hype is to be believed, simply logging off feels too much like sticking your head in the sand at a moment when it appears we are rapidly accelerating towards the complete merger of the physical and digital worlds. Ensuring cyberspace is not captured by a techno-capitalist singularity is essential.
I met a girl on a night out in the English countryside who in a conversation around Brexit offhandedly said: “If you force a ball underwater, it’ll bounce back two times harder.” In that conversation, she was referencing 2016’s mass resurgence of British nationalism, but history’s shown you can sub in just about anything and the statement stands. In today's digital landscape, it's the suppression of many aspects of the human condition. However, on the fringes of cyberspace, there appears to be a percolating desire for new modes of digital being, seeing and worldbuilding. It is taking shape in what has been labelled “shitposting”, posts written off as detractions from the main conversation, or “schizoposting” stream of consciousness onslaughts often delivered to your feed in the form of 40 consecutive tweets.
These posting styles, bathed in irony and often categorised as ‘unhinged’, have existed online in a phase of internal negotiation for years but have recently begun finding their footing in mainstream discourse. The often politically incorrect undertones and initial prevalence of ‘shit’ and ‘schizo’ posting on 4Chan, Reddit and more recently with edgelord cryptofascist NFT cults have made them synonymous with alt-right trolls. However, there is nothing innately extremist about the format itself. I would argue these fractured modes of digital being tell us more about where we are as a society, scattered, disjointed and alienated, than the majority of the content we encounter daily.
Instagram account @moma.ps5 run by Indiana-based DJ Alosio Wilmoth, adopts this posting style but with a distinctly leftist slant. Wilmoth's posts are coated in language that may be unintelligible to those not ‘in the know’ but shine a light on the ills of society through personal, ironic, humorous content. They quickly jump from class consciousness to the history of house music, and then to the downtown NY art scene and beyond. In one post Wilmoth writes: "Can’t wait to have a mental breakdown in a room full of white people and call it art" which got me thinking, what if we collectively had tiny ‘mental breakdowns’ on our little corners of the internet? What if we all became ‘quirked up shawties’? In our rapidly evolving digital terrain, longing for a time before the phrase ‘personal brand’ was commonplace in our lexicons is not going to change anything. However, allowing these unfiltered expressions of personhood to occupy the centre of our collective gaze creates room for the possibility of a less personal brand-centric digital landscape.
Much like the submissive states we currently occupy, the libidinal aspect of free expression is not lost on me. I have no illusions that this form of digital resistance is free from potential misuse. Nor do I think it will be our sole saviour in the battle to exist holistically online. However, incorporating these blossoming modes into how we express ourselves and disseminate information on a large scale may be essential in constructing a more accommodating digital realm. They could allow for a degree of vulnerability and openness to emerge freeing us from our tight, little pixel-formed latex suits. Hopefully, with the right amount of revolutionary patience and aesthetic tinkering, these modes of communication could push us past the capital-centric enclosure we are witnessing online.