The Currency of Emotion in the Online Economy

Today, I had an app ask me how my heart was doing. This is something that I thought was normal and fine and, more than anything, I thought it was funny. I took a screenshot and put it on my finsta story, filed it under the highlight “crisis!”, and gave myself a pat on the back for being so ironic, relevant and for doing a good thing for my social media clout. I went on with my day, and then, after a commendable 20 minutes of interacting with the ‘real world’ on my way to the library, I got back on my phone. 

I felt a little guilty about it, but not enough to actually change my actions. So I checked out my Screen Time report for the day, which is perhaps the most sobering thing to happen to our generation since Crocs made a completely uncalled for comeback. Two hours and 16 minutes, it was just barely 1:00 pm. The only thing that stopped me from rounding that report off to a solid three hours is that I started to critically engage with my own patterns of behaviour. I started to look at what I had liked on Twitter recently.

It’s disturbing how long I could go on like this. I couldn’t help but think, “What are we even doing?” By ‘we’, I mean an ambiguous, non-generation where we’re not quite millennials but also don’t quite have Tik Tok accounts. Whether it’s with our “close friends” on our finsta accounts or with complete strangers on Twitter, we are all really just out here trying to navigate crippling emotional pain via shallow online engagement.

I don’t think I can talk about the aforementioned crippling emotional pain and online engagement without mentioning the new astrology app, Co-Star. It seemed like it happened overnight. Suddenly, we were all texting our moms to figure out our birth times so we could know what our rising astrological sign is so we could truly know ourselves. And then we added our “friends” and looked at what the stars had mapped out for them. You can even access day to day compatibility reports with people you had added. I checked the app on the daily to figure out just what went wrong in a recent breakup, and exploit those reports for the comedy of heartbreak on my finsta. In a turn of events, we have officially transitioned to relying on an app to define our personalities and solve our problems for us. Even further, we are relying on an app to tell us what our problems even are. And maybe I’m being dramatic, but if I am, it looks like I’m a far cry from the only one.

I think we think that we’re all doing this ironically. To go back to the beginning of my story, today Co-Star asked me how my heart was doing. I put it on the internet and multiple people responded to it with the laughing-crying emoji. I was validated. “They’re right,” I thought. This is funny, this is normal. 

In the pilot of the new Netflix series The Politician, Gwenyth Paltrow’s character makes a point, “Your generation got the terrible idea that it was best to vomit every thought and feeling all over each other. It’s a pandemic of over-communication that’s led to an absence of intimacy.” This is our issue. We are living on the Internet and our feelings become cyber-space currency. My best friend and I will send each other texts about our spectacles of public sobbing and the most typical reaction is “LMAO mood”. Are we living in a dystopian YA novel where the concept of a feeling has become some kind of extended comedy routine? 

I do think that there’s something empowering in the extended and deliberate ironization of very real insecurities. But does the world wide weeping have us numb and desensitized to those insecurities in a way that is taking our power away?

 I hope I haven’t given you the idea that I’m about to solve this problem, but maybe it’s enough to know that it’s there. Maybe we should start asking ourselves if we spend more time dealing with our feelings or capitalizing on those feelings for the purposes of online clout.  Maybe we should start at least attempting to clean up our friends’ emotional vomit. Maybe it will help us establish some actual intimacy.

And then we can write about that on the Internet.