Loneliness, boredom and uncertainty
…are among the many plagues of modern existence, but thanks to the internet, we’ve utterly eradicated them. Which is great. Right?
[A note for the reader: I performed this monologue as part of an occasional series called Library Girl at the Ruskin Theatre in Santa Monica, California on December 5, 2021. The theme of the evening was “Speaking of Now.”]
Before we begin, a disclaimer: What you’re about to hear was composed entirely inside my single individual human head. No outside resources were consulted. I didn’t go on Quora, or Reddit, or Facebook… and definitely not Twitter. Never ask anyone anything on Twitter. Because as we know, it goes at-reply, at-reply, Burn In Hell Ugly Bald Jew Who Ruined Will & Grace And You Also Need To Apologize For A Gay-Panic Joke In A Friends Episode From Twenty-Five Years Ago.
I also didn’t use Wikipedia, because as we know, Wikipedia is Yelp for facts. Do I like this fact? I do not. This fact ruined my day and upset my young daughter. I will no longer use this fact, and I’ll tell my friends not to use it, either. Zero stars. Because of all the negative reviews, this fact has been removed from Wikipedia. This fact is no longer true.
I myself was briefly removed from Wikipedia last year. The perpetrator was a man I’ve never met before, someone who one day decided Jeff Greenstein… not worth discussing. The guy who offed me goes by the handle “John From Idegon” — he lives on the border between Idaho and Oregon, which he calls “Idegon,” so dude clearly knows comedy. John is a self-appointed Wikipedia editor with over 100,000 edits. Very impressive. When John reached that 100,000th edit, he was given the coveted Leave The House Award.
Anyway, my page was down for a month, and then a bunch of folks got together, like the barn-raising scene in Witness, and put it back up again. Isn’t the internet wonderful?
That, it turns out, is the question I’d like to discuss tonight. The subjects I plan to address include loneliness, boredom and uncertainty.
I’m lonely. I’m bored. I’m uncertain. I’m a person. To be a person is to be plagued by loneliness, boredom and uncertainty. Should you meet someone who is not plagued by those things, they are not a person, they are an avocado. The avocado is the only species on the planet which exists in a state of perfect contentment. It is alone and bored and confused and it does not care.
Let’s start with loneliness. Kurt Vonnegut once described his early teen years as “building model airplanes and jerking off.” I did not have to Google that quote, I remember it, because to me it perfectly encapsulates the heart-punishing loneliness of the typical 1970s Nerd-American youth.
Now, we just met, but it will probably not surprise you to learn I was a strange child. I talked very early, and I was gigantic. Hence my mom had a neat idea — I should skip kindergarten and go right into first grade at age four. So I’m the same size as the other kids, same intellectual capacity, but emotionally… well, let’s just say I was unprepared for everything that happened to me between the ages of four and… yeah, today.
Nobody much liked The Abomination, so I spent a lot of time alone. I built model airplanes, obsessively read Peanuts cartoons, listened to Tom Lehrer records, and yes, jerked off. As for school, it was… a dichotomy. I’m sure I told my classmates that — “Don’t you agree this is a dichotomy?” When I got any attention at all, it was either over-validation from my teachers or savage bullying from my peers. And when both those things are happening at once, it really messes with your sense of reality.
Which brings us to boredom. Oh, was I bored. I’d tell my mom, I’m bored, she’d always say, “Go outside.” I never understood that. Outside there was just more boredom and some dirt. So I had to invent little games for myself. For a while the best game was a blood-feud with my loudmouth little sister, but then my mom gave birth to twin boys, and suddenly Li’l Sis and I had a common and far weaker foe. Our next few years were devoted to teaming up to torment these children. To the point where, swear to God, we had an index-card file full of carefully-typed-up strategies to cause them pain. So much for boredom!
Finally: uncertainty. I hate uncertainty. I prefer… knowing stuff. My dad was the same way. At the dinner table, he would regale us with Little Known Facts — did you know Kennedy’s secretary was named Lincoln, Lincoln’s was named Kennedy, that whole deal — and if you brought him a tasty fact of your own, he’d give you a dime. So I began devouring trivia books. I became a vast repository of useless knowledge.
As a result, I was recruited for my high school Academic Bowl team, which led to one of the peak moments of my young life. Senior year we clawed our way into the Georgia state championship, and it all came down to one sudden-death question. Now, unlike Jeopardy!, in Academic Bowl you could interrupt the questioner at any time. The category? Science and Nature. The question: “Trees that lose — ” “Deciduous!” We won, the entire student body carried me off on their shoulders, and my bed was filled with delectable cheerleaders all summer.
Loneliness, boredom, uncertainty. We all suffer from them. In my case, they led to chronic low self-esteem, a career in comedy, and a selfie on Facebook with Eva Longoria draped over me which I hope truly destroyed all my former classmates who assumed I’d end up in some fluorescent-lit cubicle somewhere.
But my gosh, wouldn’t it be great if we could end loneliness, boredom and uncertainty? If we could invent — I dunno, a pill, or a yoga practice, or a dietary supplement — perhaps even the avocado! — to banish those feelings from our lives? Wouldn’t that be wonderful? What a brave new world that could be. Imagine it.
You’re living in it!
Friends, we have done it. We have invented something that utterly eradicates loneliness, boredom and uncertainty, and it is called the internet.
No more loneliness — on the internet, y’always got company. No matter how strange you are, no matter how idiosyncratic your interests, you can always find a community of people who share them. Hundreds, maybe even thousands, just dying to talk to you. Maybe you like stamp collecting, or salsa dancing. Maybe you like the idea that Democrats are a cannibalistic sex cult. Maybe you bring your AR-15 to a pizzeria, or a protest. Maybe these are interests better left unshared and unvalidated because they’re corrosive and dangerous — don’t matter! Internet don’t give a fuck! New friends are out there waiting for you!
As for boredom… For many years my favorite film was 2001: A Space Odyssey. Well, when I was a kid you couldn’t just “see” 2001. You had to wait for it to come to your local movie theatre, or god forbid, TV — 2001 on an 11-inch TV. These days, I own five copies of the film in five different formats — but who needs “owning” when 2001 and every other film ever made is right at your fingertips? Every film, every book, every song. And new content (never heard the word “content” before the internet) is being generated (we used to say “made”) all the time. People are Twitching and tweeting and Instagramming and Facebooking and TikToking and Snapchatting and — you see how we have all these new verbs now? That’s because the internet is a firehose of dopamine. You will never be bored. You’ll never have to make your own fun, think up new ways to torture your little brothers. There are whole prefab lists of tortures right there online!
And finally — uncertainty — no longer exists! You know, it used to be a thing if you knew stuff like my dad did. If you knew who the winning pitcher was for the ’69 Mets when they won the World Series (Jerry Koosman). If you knew that the inventor of the polygraph and the creator of Wonder Woman were the same person — my dad loved that, I got a dime for that one. Nowadays, no bar bet need go unsettled — the internet is the ultimate Answer Man, right there in your pocket. And you know what’s even better? In many cases, you can get any answer you like. Do you believe vaccines work, that they’re one of the most incredible innovations of the modern age? You will find 100,000 people who will validate that point of view. Do you believe vaccines don’t work, that they contain a compound called Luciferase which will make you bioluminescent and forever enslave you to the Dark Lord Satan? 100,000 people will happily validate that point of view, too. You can have absolute certainty at all times — that is, if you’re willing to do the research, a meticulous and painstaking process which can often take as much as four seconds to complete.
So well done, Earthlings. We have banished loneliness, boredom and uncertainty, and perhaps in the process learned those were some pretty effective guardrails against mob rule, complacency and ignorance. Oh well! Welcome to the new democracy. Information wants to be free, content cannot be moderated, we power the turbine, the turbine powers us, and it’s growing, and its invisible wires are everywhere. Great job.
A few years ago Douglas Coupland — the novelist who coined the term “Gen X” — came up with a sharp little slogan. In fact, you can buy a t-shirt on his website with this sentiment on it. And it’s pretty darn compelling:
I MISS MY PRE-INTERNET BRAIN.
I definitely miss my pre-internet brain. But in a way, I’m lucky — I have something to miss. I still remember the Before Times. I’ll bet there are a few people in this room who remember them, too. The loneliness, the boredom, the uncertainty. But there are fewer of us every day.
The internet is a tool, like that bone in 2001 — which, if you recall, is first used to kill for sustenance, then for power. Tools don’t have values, only those who wield them do. However, in the case of the internet… who’s doing the wielding? WHAT — PART of it — IS — the TOOL??
Kinda went a little Shatner there for a moment, but I guess that can happen when you feel the whole Enterprise is in danger.
Now, I am an optimist, often foolishly so, and I don’t want to end on a down note. I am not going to lecture you about unplugging, because you won’t and I won’t. I will simply suggest this: when you get those creeping feelings of loneliness, boredom or uncertainty… do not pick up the bone. Luxuriate in those feelings. ’Cause you may not have that luxury for long.
I think you know this is true. It’s a fact now. Until you vote it off.