Virtual Weirdness

Pleasant Progressive1When I was in elementary school, my best friend Devon and I used to host long play dates at each other houses on weekend afternoons. Each time we got together, we played a made up game that involved lots of handmade props and really cool voices—from what I remember, it was a combination of our best shot at British accents with a sort of adventurer plot in a made up world. We’d act out scenes of this imaginary world, using our fake voices and making up new rules as we went along. It was all very silly and weird, and I loved it.

Unfortunately, by the time we hit fifth grade, Devon fell in with the cool crowd and left me and our awesome play dates in the dust. Her new friends cared more about parties and the latest cassette tape than using accents and making up wild plot twists in an imaginary adventure game on the weekends. It wasn’t the first time I’d lose a friend to social climbing, but it was one of my earliest memories of realizing that in order to be “cool,” I couldn’t be quite so weird. Heck, as I reflect on the rest of my secondary education, it feels like one big lesson in how to fit in, sit still, and quiet any quirks that might get in the way of not standing out.

Funny then, that it seems the cool thing these days is to be as unique and quirky as possible. The Internet is alive with weird and silly videos. Guilty cats. The Harlem Shake. There are thousands of peculiar gifs and creative photos. Bloggers proudly describe what makes them unique and offer “do it yourself” guidance to help others follow this trendy, eccentric path. Weirdness is exalted as an important characteristic of success, at least in the virtual world—so much so that I think I might be at an advantage using my bed as a ship and shouting at imaginary sea monsters than trying to write thoughtful political posts.

As we shift to a more virtual existence, and along with it more and more access to litanies of oddness online, I wonder whether the emotional experience of quirkiness has remained constant. To put it another way, as oddness is no longer weird—and particularly as we experience weirdness in an increasingly virtual way—are we getting the same fun out of it?

To my mind, laughter is a physical expression of emotion that grounds us and roots us in our bodies. You could say that laughing makes us feel human—it certainly gives us a break from over-intellectualizing everything we take in and just feeling our way through the experience. A quick example: you read an article about the debt crisis and think, wonder, worry—it’s all heady stuff. You see a cat fall off a window sill because it fell asleep and react with a smile or chuckle—your body responds. Laughing involves the amazing interweaving of the physical and emotional together, and it keeps us out of heads, even for just a moment.

So, I guess my question is even more specific: has the mass proliferation of virtual oddness lead to a disconnection from our bodies? It’s tricky. I would never argue that we’re not really connecting online. Virtual relationships are just as real and meaningful as face-to-face experiences. Laughing at wit or irony online seems as good as “real life.” But the content itself is seemingly unending—and I wonder if it has contributed to a dullness of our senses that may be interrupting the flow of how we interact with material on an emotional level. And as content creators, do our weird and creative talents in the virtual world follow similar “real life” experiences?

I’m not drawing any conclusions, only asking the questions. And they could very well be the wrong questions. The elementary school me would not have felt the need to wonder whether playing weird, made up games with my friends felt good. But the adult me wonders if my relationship with creativity has shifted because of my online life, viewing hundreds of eccentric creations—and whether this has resulted in a sort of emotional numbness that may ultimately impact my understanding of self.

With love,
The Pleasant Progressive

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