The art of being unhinged online

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In what is now known as preparation for a successful career in the ASUC, I briefly had a Twitter account where I would post unhinged thoughts. However, I felt like being unhinged was welcomed, even expected, on this platform. So, I deleted my Twitter, and have instead been putting text posts on my Instagram story.

They’re like tweets, but worse. They’re C- jokes on a platform designed for photos of brunch. This includes posting the worst tattoos I see on dating apps; my address and directions on how to break in and punch me in the face; and my app ideas. If any tech gurus are reading this, have you considered an app where you find someone to drink the milk you bought for one recipe, won’t use again, but don’t want to throw out? If interested, I already have the ad campaign figured out (and there are unconfirmed rumors Fred Armisen is planning to star as the milk). 

Entertainment is becoming increasingly democratized as a result of social media and the COVID-19 pandemic. As well as posting more, I’m consuming more — content from my friends, from my acquaintances, from random people on the internet. Eventually, entertainment could become especially localized, and we’ll be consuming more and more of our neighbors’, peers’ and co-workers’ content. Through this development, the consequences of local or niche fame could be felt by many.

Rather than attempting to sound smart or make a grand point, I personally find that the strategy to avoid controversy online is to lean into absurdity. Unhinged and absurd content serves as a rejection of the corporate image of social media, and it can be wielded as an important tool — in a way, absurdity is a form of art in and of itself. It takes the curated, perfectionist image many of us cultivate online and flips it into a display of imperfection. The art of absurdity makes us all look more human on platforms that are used to project distorted images of how we want to be seen by others. Leaning into this general absurdity with a wink and a nod pokes fun at the platform’s artificiality.

If you’re making online content trying to be taken seriously, either as an expert or an authority figure, you may run into issues. This is because, at its core, social media is a nightmare clown convention where all the attendants get a free phone addiction and nothing else. As my fictitious grandfather used to say, it’s better to dress as a clown at the clown convention than come in a three-piece suit. 

I genuinely do not believe that my internet presence will ever be an issue in my career because we are at the point in which most of us will have personal, embarrassing content available online. This will be the new normal, and in order to retain the level of worker talent they’re accustomed to, employers (with limitations that will prove hard to define) will need to have liberal attitudes toward this. I’m also not overly concerned about my social media or internet data, especially when I see it used in such amusing, inefficient ways — my recent experience with a toilet plunger purchase comes to mind. 

Upon moving into my apartment this August, I realized I forgot to buy a toilet plunger, so I bought one off Amazon. This is because I find the idea of going into a store, looking at toilet plungers, having to choose between them, walking up to a cashier to sell me said plunger, then walking into the streets where I can be seen by others twirling it around to be a fate worse than death. What if I run into one of my professors while I’m holding my plunger? My ex? Carol Christ? What would they think of me then? That I use too much toilet paper? What would they all say? “Wild night planned, huh?” 

Anyway, as a consequence, Amazon thinks I’m crazy about plungers. I cannot tell you how many plungers they have tried to sell me. For a week, my email inbox looked like that of someone who buys and resells toilet plungers for a living (something I’m sure someone is doing while making more money than I ever will). Corporations aren’t smart enough to know that I probably am not going to buy ten toilet plungers for my studio apartment, and I doubt the United States government or any prospective employer knows how to effectively use most of my data either. 

The information any of us wittingly or unwittingly put on the internet will be stored and potentially used by corporations or future employers. But how will they interpret and respond to this data? How might an employer treat an employee (or a prospective one) they know has a niche Twitter account, meme page, TikTok or YouTube account? 

My guess is that most employers won’t care, but there will certainly be more moments when unsavory or controversial content circulates and threatens the job security of an average person — just as we’re experiencing now with the rise of cancel culture still mostly relegated to mainstream celebrities.

But for the most part, when you can’t count on anonymity, you can count on apathy. As we all begin adapting to a world of local online controversy in which more people become amateur creators, social norms will have to evolve because being unhinged online is too fun to quit.

Contact Ryan McCullough at [email protected].