I really don’t know what anyone cares about anymore. A lot of people seem happy to talk almost entirely in catchphrases they’ve cribbed from Instagram infographics and Twitter threads, and adopt aggressively strident views on whatever happens to be topical this week.
Some writers seem happy to write this way too, stitching together clichés and constantly rehashing decades-old talking points (the fall of the girlboss!) in a theatrical way, as if nobody will be able to tell.
I read pieces that say things like: “Emily Ratajkowski is being judged as a mother?! Well, quelle surprise! Women are judged by everyone, whatever they do!” And I think: why is anyone writing like this? Who is this for?
It’s not the content I’m talking about (I have no opinion on, and no interest in, topics like Ratajkowski’s parenting abilities, but others are welcome to); it’s the tone. This kind of shrieking, “Battle stations, everybody!” quality about subjects that shouldn’t inspire this level of emotion. It reminds me of the bit in every sci-fi film when the spaceship is about to crash into an asteroid, or is under fire from an enemy fleet, and a great wailing noise sounds and a red light starts flashing and the entire cockpit lights up. “Red alert, red alert!”
And then, of course, there are the panics, the collective heartbreaks that seem to happen in response to events that don’t really warrant it. Geronimo the alpaca is a good example. As I write this, the most viewed story on the Guardian website is about the late Geronimo. He has just been put down by government officials after he was forcibly removed from his home in Gloucestershire, the piece says. He had tested positive twice for bovine tuberculosis, but his owner (a veterinary nurse) said the process was flawed and he was healthy. Whatever the truth of it is, it is hard to explain why Geronimo attracted the level of attention and support he did (his fans call themselves “the Alpaca angels”).
The outpouring of emotion, the fact of Geronimo being the most viewed news story – it doesn’t feel real. Geronimo seems like a vessel for something else, almost as if people want something tangible to feel heartbroken about. We live in a time of constant, imminent-seeming existential crises, from the destruction wrought by climate change to the endless cycles of financial crises. New issues seem to arise all the time: pandemics, the fact that there are toxic ‘forever chemicals’ in everything, whatever is happening in the world of computers and data collection. It feels like a strange and panicky time to be alive.
But this sense of twitchy anxiety about the state of the world seems to be transposed onto smaller problems. From Geronimo to the concept of a houseshare to Jameela Jamil’s silly tweets, the flattening effect of social media – in which every event from foreign wars to a TikTok video of a cat walking around the supermarket on a lead is presented in the same register and format, in which everyone is a star in their own solar system – does not help anyone to keep anything in perspective.
In an interpersonal context, too, it can be easy to lose perspective. We are encouraged to see other people as receptacles for our neurosis and discomfort, rather than as people who often feel as lost, scared, lonely and sad as we do. If we don’t like someone or they do something that annoys us, it is because they are ‘toxic’ or they’ve breached some moral code (as if we all share the same one, anyway). It is true that other people can be sources of trauma and harm, but I genuinely believe most try their best not to be. I don’t really know what we owe to each other; that’s one of life’s big questions. But I think we can do better than assigning a word that describes poisonous chemicals to human beings.
I don’t like the millennial tendency to whine about capitalism when you have to fill out a form, do an internship, take the bins out, or do anything else that is a vaguely annoying thing to have to spend your time doing. And I don’t like the trend for acting as though life, for every generation before us, has come with a clear set of instructions; as if feeling lost and scared about the future is a modern phenomenon and not the human condition. Naff jokes like “Ha ha! I probably can’t buy a house at 25 like my parents because I’m buying too much avocado on toast, right ;)” and cheesy ‘millennial’ books with titles like How Do We Know We’re Doing It Right? make me want to abscond from society.
But I understand that there is something heartbreaking about feeling you have been promised a future that never materialises. I couldn’t read the recent IPCC report. I thought there would be more of everything, that life would be easier. I feel like we have all these new ways to talk about how hurt we are, but we haven’t really gotten any better at not hurting each other. Everything is fucked.
I don’t really know a way to get past it. I get out of it a lot. I read. I go running. I don’t read the “Battle stations, everybody!” pieces. Sometimes I think I might start going to church again (I grew up Catholic), and then I go and I feel like it was the solution to everything and decide I will go straight back the next chance I get, and then things come up and I’m busy with work and it seems like it was a stupid thing to do in the first place. I write, which is the most engrossing thing in the world to me. I look for distractions, basically.
You might have better ways. Maybe you meditate. Maybe you write to your MP a lot. Maybe you keep a faith (whatever faith it is) better than I do. Maybe you don’t fly anymore. I don’t have the answer, but I think trying to keep a sense of perspective is a start.
Rachel Connolly writes about politics, culture and technology.