[Editor’s note: Every week New York City’s own Andrew W.K. takes your life questions, and sets you safely down the right path to a solution, a purpose or — no surprise here — a party. Need his help? Just ask: AskAWK@villagevoice.com]
About a year ago, I started using more social media on the Internet. At first I found it somewhat intoxicating — a new way of connecting with people and finding out quickly about breaking news. But now I’ve grown tired of the negativity. It’s a constant stream of fighting, name calling, shaming, and just overall vile behavior. You’re very active on social media (one of the reasons I started using it, actually) and I’m sure people send you negative shit all day just because they can. How do you not drown in it? Is it possible to be on the Internet and not start to hate humanity?
— Hope Fading
Dear Hope Fading,
The computer is a mysterious extension of the human spirit. The development and ongoing advancement of computer technology has allowed humans to achieve a truly magical breakthrough. We now have the ability to manipulate and customize just about every aspect of day-to-day life. And while computer power can be applied to a seemingly endless array of human experiences, it seems that this technology has most obviously impacted the nature of human interaction.
Despite how far the computer, Internet, and social media have come, they’re still in the relatively early stages of development — maybe even the infantile, pre-adolescent stages. Just like with human toddlers, one of the most exciting and empowering developments for a young person is the discovery of the word “no.” When a child first learns that they have the ability to say no, they usually get hooked on negating just about everything around them. “Do you want to take a bath?” “NO!” “It’s time eat dinner now.” “NO!” “Give your grandma a kiss.” “NO!” “Do you like this game?” “NO!” In a world that’s truly overwhelming for all of us, especially a young child, having the ability to say no — to cancel out, defy, and deny — is an extremely helpful and comforting tool. We can all agree that there’s simply too much in the world to process and experience, so we do have to pick and choose what we say yes to, and no to.
So, like a very young person first experiencing the excitement of saying no, we’re also enthralled by the new powers of the computer and how we can interact using it. But just like the “outside” world, there is way too much information being offered to us “inside” the computer. Saying no and lashing out at the overload is a natural, if not understandably immature, reaction. It’s also fun and thrilling. The combination of anonymity and physical distance allows us to behave in ways we wouldn’t in other situations, like face-to-face interactions. It reminds me of how we behave when we’re driving, and how we interact with other cars and drivers as though they’re not entirely real.
It’s a less-than-human state of mind due to the bizarre nature of being enclosed and detached from another person. And computers share a similar detachment combined with extraordinary power, just like the automobile gives us. I’ve definitely done and said things to other cars while driving that I never would’ve thought to say to someone walking down the street. And the same goes for the Internet. When my friend first got an Internet connection, we spent hours going to chat rooms and saying crazy and often times negative stuff to other users. We would laugh until we cried, and it all felt very natural, even if it was a little mean. But we couldn’t imagine that the other people we were chatting with would take it personally. How could they? None of us knew each other personally or had any idea who we were talking with. That was part of the fun.
As these new technologies mature, so will the ways we use them. now find it boring to go to chat rooms just to mess with people. And just think — most current versions of social media are still only a few years old. Eventually, people will grow tired of using computer power for petty teasing, and will use it for more practical and useful applications. That’s already happening all over the Internet.
Remember that all feelings and behaviors and interactions count as energy. It could be good energy directed towards an object, a situation, or a person, or it could be bad energy. But either way, it’s energy. You can harness and use negative vibes just as easily as positive vibes. That’s the key to transforming bad things into good things — just like a wizard using alchemy to transform lead into gold. The stronger your resolve, the more you can take all kinds of feelings and experiences and use them to further your own dreams and desires. This is why politicians try to get issues split into two sides, so that people can argue and generate even more energy and power towards the issue and the politician.
When people hate something, it doesn’t necessarily bring it down — it often times makes it grow stronger by giving it more attention, more energy, and more power. The time we spend thinking about something, criticizing something, and talking about something — especially with passionate emotions involved — the more energy and power we feed that thing, and whether we like it or not, that sustains it. How many times have we found ourselves engaging in the same arguments about the same two-sided issues? How many times have we found ourselves obsessing over how much we hate a certain celebrity, cultural issue, or political situation? We’re giving our sacred and precious energy to that thing we hate, and many of those things are counting on your hatred to further their own dreams and desires. Who are you giving your power to? Most of the time, it’s better to fight for what you love, and not waste energy fighting against what you hate.
Look for the good stuff going on, and don’t get too focused on the bad stuff. In any area of life, you can easily find negative bullshit to fixate on, and the more you look for it, the more you’ll see it. Bad vibes can suck you in and give you tunnel vision, where all you see is darkness, cruelty, and suffering. But it’s just as easy to look for things to be happy about — things to make you smile and feel good about being alive.
Ideally, life shouldn’t be an ongoing struggle to see the glass half-full, but rather an appreciation that there’s a glass at all. Life itself is a positive experience, and all that comes with it — including haters and teasing and bad vibes — is what adds texture and dynamics to this absurd adventure. Without a full range of emotions, feelings, and experiences, life would be boring and flat. That doesn’t mean you have to put yourself through a bunch of negativity just for the sake of it, but it means that when you inherently come across bad stuff, you don’t take it to heart, don’t take it too seriously, and don’t let it ruin your day. Having a positive mindset isn’t about feeling happy all the time, it’s about having the strength to keep living life as best you can, even during sad or negative times.
Most of all, don’t get bogged down by bullshit. See beyond the nonsense and realize you don’t have to have engage or have an opinion about everything. Sometimes we just don’t have to care so much. hat’s not being ignorant, it’s being focused on what matters more to us. Keep your energy and valuable time focused on what you want, not on what you’re bummed out about. The people you don’t like shouldn’t have the power to make you feel bad. Don’t let bullies and haters have the satisfaction of getting under your skin. And if they do, take that pain and anger and harness it — use it to strengthen you and to push you forward. Work so hard on what you love that you don’t even notice the assholes anymore. We won’t let anyone stop our party.
More:Ask Andrew W.K.