How do networks shape the way we approach the world in the age of information overload?
It only took a couple of minutes, after having welcomed me with a broad smile, to hear him say to the owner of a bar I frequent: "since the pandemic, I decided not to watch any news, I don't want to know anything; why?"
We have experienced different emotional responses to the latest crises: what in some people manifests itself through fear (especially in those who feel more vulnerable), in others is symptomatised through apathy.
That's right: we are exhausted. This is perhaps what unites us most between generations at this moment in time. This shared weariness is, moreover, not only fed by an overload of bad news, but, especially, by the anguish caused by knowing that we are powerless (at least individually) to make a significant change in what is not working.
But when everything-is-too-much, what in general for older people can be translated into the gesture of changing the channel, for zoomers and millenials -who have been switching off the television for years- requires a much more extensive renunciation. The price of "not knowing anything", then, is to stop participating in our modern agora, something that most young people (consolidated prosumers and crossumers) are unable to maintain.
On the one hand, we are no strangers to the escapist impulse: that's why we have seen the triumph of cultural products that don't make us think too much about our immediate reality. I am thinking in particular of The Sims 4 or the Animal Crossing™: New Horizons fever during the quarantine period. I am also thinking of how the audiovisual scene has decided to completely ignore the mask (thank God!). However, it is not enough for us to opt for fictions that ignore the current context or to have abandoned the act of watching an entire newscast for traditional media to avoid soaking up the latest events that slip through our timeline. How many times do we quote an event that we remember reading about but are unable to remember how it reached us? How many times have I said "yes, the other day I was doomscrolling through I don't know what app when I found out that [...]"? More than surfing, young people are immersed in the net: the Internet is a liquid that envelops us and impregnates us with violence and banality. The triumph of the algorithm has turned a vertical thumb movement into a homogeniser of the cropped look of the new Miu Miu season, shortages, Bridgerton spoiler, light reaches five hundred euros, make-up tutorial inspired by Euphoria, Mariúpol burnt, everything you (don't) need to know about NFTs, headline: ""It's now or never": the UN sets 2024 as the deadline to avoid climate catastrophe".
The Internet is a liquid that envelops us and impregnates us with violence and banality.
And while all this is happening, our material conditions push us to foresee a future condemned to precariousness. In one of the latest letters to the editor of El País, it is denounced: "we (young adults) are seeing how life is slipping away from us and nobody seems to care that we are forced to work 13 hours a day for a salary that does not go above 15,000 euros a year no matter how much we ask for it, that we have no possibility of emancipation".
This is something that Eloy Fernández Porta captures well in Los Brotes Negros, reflecting on our bodies and "how they are asked to be disciplined by day and exalted by night: productive but also Dionysian". He continues, "LinkedIn and Tinder are in contention". As Bárbara Arena points out in an article for Vogue, "the difficulty is that, in addition to keeping on the move, we are invited to be perpetual witnesses to tragedy. We must include tragedy in the kaleidoscope of our normality.
To which we might then ask, how do we deal with frivolity? Ainhoa Marzol explains for the CCCB, that in times of confinement "an exhausted Wojak saying "yes, honey" became the flagship of tiredness for facing the same thing over and over again". I don't think the analgesic power of memes lies in being just another form of escapism, but in allowing us, precisely, to "look squarely" - in Marzol's words - at a "traumatic time" and create "sincere narratives" through humour. Moreover, a study published by the academic journal Psychology of Popular Media, which she herself cites in her text, concluded that "memes that particularly relate to a highly stressful context can help support efforts to address the element that causes the stress". The codes may have changed, but humour has always been with us in times of distress.
The technological revolution and its consequent contribution to the democratisation of information has, on the one hand, undoubtedly been positive. On the other hand, allow me to question its benefit, or directly, to put to you the following question brought to my screen by Twitter user @locedoveclarke: "are we living through one traumatic event after another, or are we just the first generation with global communication and social networks, and the world has always been this horrifying?
We are exhausted, saturated. Hardly anything seems to surprise us anymore. In an earlier key, one sighs and vindicates: "I [we] just been going through a lot lately, man". And likewise, one of the differences that I find most significant from previous generations is the degree of our sense of self-responsibility vis-à-vis our upbringing about, well, everything. We have coined the problematic, the cancelable. It's clear that we young people are swinging between the idea of decadence and regeneration: we are aware that there is a lot to change (the axes of oppression are multiple: misogyny, classism, racism, sexual orientation...) and a lot to protect (mental health, climate...). To which we can add: if we don't save the world, all is lost. We young people are shipwrecked (but not shipwrecked), but the reach of the Internet, a vast ocean of conception and (dis)folding of content, is of little use to us if we do not manage to make it fit in with our capacity for assimilation.