What If I Don’t Want to Be Perceived?

Photo of a tall stop sign shot at night, from below, that says "Arrêt". Buildings, parked cars, trees, and snow-covered streets in the background. Grey sky above.

What I am struggling with the most about social media these days is that it feels as though we have to make ourselves the centre of whatever we post, and most of the time, I don’t want to be perceived.

I want to share my art, but I often don’t want to be seen. I don’t want to be at the centre, but there’s this pressure to be. It feels as though no one will be interested in my art on its own, that it has to come with an image and personality people will be drawn to.

I’m not trying to cultivate a mysterious image. I just don’t want to be in front of the camera anymore.

A handful of years ago, I made myself the centre of a YouTube channel. I got in front of the camera all the time, and after some practice, I became comfortable with that. Yes, I’d often cringe at the way I looked while editing, but eventually, I became inured to the experience of my face not looking how I think it should.

I now have little desire to get in front of the camera, but I feel like that’s what today’s internet demands. With the massive rise in popularity of the micro-video, it’s like we’re all expected to be in front of the lens, making ourselves the centre of whatever we create. The algorithms reward this specific format while every other type of content doesn’t measure up.

I think blogs are dying, or are already dead, and that makes me sad. Images aren’t as relevant anymore unless you’re making them move. The written word must be spoken now, and you, the speaker, must be on screen.

What you make doesn’t matter as much as how you appear.

Am I “Old Man Yells at Cloud“? Am I dating myself? Am I aging out of the internet, disconnecting from its pulse? It all moves so fast. I’m becoming a relic of the past. Wait, is this how boomers feel?

I feel this attachment to the older internet, to the way things used to be. I want to keep writing on my silly little blog even though no one reads blogs anymore. I want to keep posting on Instagram even though apparently Instagram is dying. I still don’t really “get” TikTok. I’ve tried! It’s weird because I used to love making YouTube videos, but the micro-video format doesn’t resonate with me in the same way. It doesn’t feel long enough for me to get into the meat of my ideas. I also don’t like how the videos happen at you so fast. I get overwhelmed! I want to slow down. I just want it all to slow down.

Maybe this is simply what getting older is—gradually becoming less connected to what is cool and hip and happening. If we are not already Old Man Yells at Cloud, then Old Man Yells at Cloud is our future. That’s where we’re all headed. We got comfortable with the way things were when we were young, and we want to hold onto that as we get older.

I also find it wild that what it means to be a writer has evolved so radically throughout my lifetime. The internet has been a real game-changer, and the game won’t stop changing. Maybe this is why I still don’t understand what kind of writer I am. The definition of what a writer is keeps evolving. I can’t pin it down. The options for sharing my work shift every year, every month. How am I supposed to stay on top of it all?

After my stint as a YouTuber, I realized that I wanted to focus on my writing, stop getting in front of the camera and start hiding behind walls of words. This feels more natural to me, but it’s as though there’s this call to step forward and show my face again. I don’t want to answer, but I wonder if this might be sabotaging my work.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with getting in front of the camera. There’s nothing wrong with putting your face or personality at the centre of what you create. I’m not writing this essay to shame the people who do that. What I am frustrated with is how this currently feels like the requirement for being online. I know it won’t forever. I expect it will shift again, maybe back to the way things were in the blogging days of the internet or to something else entirely,

but I feel like where we are right now is incompatible with who I am.

I think what I’m really getting at here is that it’s scary and frustrating to be confronted with the fact that you’re getting older. You’re getting older, and the things that once made sense, like how people use social media, don’t make sense anymore. You’re getting older, and the youths are making fun of people like you, and you don’t even understand enough of the context to know what they’re making fun of you for. You’re getting older, and the world you grew up in ten years ago is vastly different from the world today. You’re getting older, you’re a struggling artist, and you’re not sure you want to be perceived because that means giving the world a front seat to you getting older. You can’t keep up. What you do is becoming less and less relevant, but you stick with it because it’s what you know. You start to have some compassion for the generations above that you and your friends used to make fun of because it’s starting to happen to you too.

I don’t think I can tie this essay together with a reassuring ending that perfectly addresses these overlapping issues. Frankly, aging is scary, and we live in a culture that is very anti-aging. Much of the internet is run by capitalists who sell our time, attention, and mental health to the highest bidder without concern for the damage they cause. We’ll never go back to how the internet was. We’re probably overly nostalgic for that anyway, seeing it through rose-tinted glasses. We’re all going to keep getting older. As individuals, we cannot control the larger culture online, only how we respond to it. This could mean leaving social media, dialling back our use, or being more intentional about how we use it. Social media isn’t going anywhere anytime soon, it won’t stop evolving, and it’s unlikely to become any less ruthlessly capitalist. I cannot control this beast of a machine, only when and whether I choose to ride it.

Perhaps the secret is embrace. Perhaps I must accept what is happening to me, fully and in its entirety. Perhaps I must lean into being irrelevant and unknown. Continue to type away on my blog long after blogs have largely vanished from existence. Continue to post what I want. Ignore the numbers. Make what brings me pleasure, and say to hell with the rest.

Be this obscure, aging Millennial dweeb with a tiny platform that puts out weird art in perpetuity.

Continue to be a writer as the definition of what that means keeps changing. Figure out what being a writer means to me rather than try to keep up with what it means to the world. Only allow myself to be perceived when I actually want to be. Embrace my existence here on the margins, in obscurity, where I belong.

Published by Sage Pantony

Sage Pantony is a writer, poet, and zinester. They write about gender, sexuality, mental health, trauma, creativity, and the best ways to cook eggs. They are the author of several zines, including a trilogy about transitioning as a non-binary person. Sage’s work has appeared in publications such as Coven Poetry, Idle Ink, and The Varsity. They currently reside in Tiohtià:ke/Montréal with their pet dinosaur, Peter.

4 thoughts on “What If I Don’t Want to Be Perceived?

  1. I love this post. Yes getting older is super weird because you don’t feel older inside. You still feel relevant to a time that appears to have passed. Things keep moving and we keep moving too but with a more fixed sense of what we like or want. Getting older is inevitable but staying curious even about aging can keep our attitude young. That seems to be the key, staying open to the new. That doesn’t mean we have to keep changing to be the “new”. Setting our own agenda and pace is ok too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, I really like that! Staying open to what is new without feeling the need to change ourselves to fit it. Perhaps there are ways to carry both the old and the new within ourselves.

      Like

  2. A lot of us are pining for the Internet of old, where to reload the inbox on your browser required the whole page to reload, not just one section of the web page. Where a glitch on MySpace allowed us to freak out with our newfound CSS design skills. Where one or two people could desire entire websites, not have one specialist for the UI, one for the front-end programming, an entire team for back-end programming. The pixels of RuneScape and always reloading pages of Neopets, and not the posh whatever of today’s online games. Where are phones were meant for talking, texting, maybe mp3s if we were willing to shell out an “expensive” $300 down. (MrMobile’s “When Phones We’re Fun” series on YouTube I go nuts whenever a new episode drops. Never could obtain all those suave Nokias, but boy did I lust for them.)

    Since 2014 my email tone has been the antiquated “You’ve Got Mail”, my text alerts the traditional Nokia SMS alert, and for my ringtone I have some remix that blends the original Nokia tune mixed with the original iPhone Marimba tone. I would rather deal with Windows 7 instead of 10 or 11. I use an ad-blocker and sometimes reader modes to keep whatever I read or watch devoid of the ads that seem too often to display more on web pages than actual content, unlike the good old days.

    But I also did miss out on the early days of the smartphone revolution, because I had Windows phones instead of iPhones or Androids, so I never got to play all those cool games from way back when. I never got into Napster or Limewire, but I did rip all my own mp3s because I wanted the better quality that pirated tunes often lacked. (And would have no problem returning or selling my CDs at a loss.)

    But I mix nostalgia with the new. My iPad Pro is literally my computer. It’s easier to bum off my folks’ Netflix account than renting a dvd or off iTunes. Streaming music allows me to listen to more tunes than I ever had a chance to explore as a kid, teen, or young adult. There’s shitloads more info about being lgbt than when I was in my early 20s. Discord has helped me make friends from all over (and even try moving out to Montana), and makes communicating with global friends more easily than even on Facebook. I keep the old vibes of the older days of Youtube alive by only following people who make (albeit quite slick) videos about things they love. I still text quite a lot. Usually a modern take on older ways I used to do things.

    Best of all, the Internet helps me keep in contact with those friends I may have lost over the years. Too often happened to me when I was a kid; would travel, make friends, try to remain penpals, but we’d all move or fade away. Trying not to let that happen anymore.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. How I miss the always reloading pages of Neopets! Unfortunately, I missed out on MySpace. I’ve heard it wasn’t as popular in Canada as it was in the States. My friends and I all had Piczo sites for a time, a website that has since been purged from the internet, which I consider to be both a good and bad thing (I cannot look back nostalgically, but I’m also relieved the stuff my 13-year-old self created has been scrubbed from existence). And yes, imagine paying only $300 for a phone now! 😛

      Does the nostalgia of having these older tones on your devices bring you some comfort? And yeah, I can’t stand those sites! Not only is 3/4s of the page taken up by ads, you also get those pop-ups that seem to be getting more and more difficult to close. I know they need to make money to survive, but jeez!

      Oh, I remember Limewire and all of the viruses I unknowingly welcomed onto my computer, haha. I actually didn’t have a cellphone until I was 18 and went travelling on my own for the first time. I’m grateful I wasn’t attached to a phone for most of my teen years. I think things would have been pretty different if I had been.

      Yeah, I’m in favour of mixing the old with the new. Keep the things from the old internet you liked and only use the things from the new internet you actually enjoy. I think that might be the secret. I’m also a fan of music-streaming, Discord, and gay shit. That all gets to stay!

      It is certainly easier to connect and stay connected now than ever before. That’s great for long-distance connections of course, as well as having to isolate for periods during this forever pandemic. Though I still prefer in-person interactions to online ones, I can’t deny that the internet has saved me from extreme isolation over the past two years.

      Liked by 1 person

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