Hey, hi, hello!
Now that it’s just us, I can officially welcome you to Gray Area. I’m sure you’re as tired as I am of people hoping their emails find you well. It’s safe to assume that we are all varying degrees of unwell. And if you’re doing well, writing your King Lear or refining your recipe for beef au jus, I hope you’re keeping that to yourself! These newsletters will be loosely structured around the concept of nothingness, but also the somethings that fill the void. Here’s one something I’ve been enjoying a lot this week:
The banality of modern life has never been more apparent than it is on my Instagram feed during the pandemic. Peers and strangers display their sunlit interiors. This girl’s reading Slouching Toward Bethlehem beside a vase of tulips. Chrissy Teigen is making bread again. 300 more people died of Coronavirus in New York. Dog wearing boots! 30 million Americans have filed for unemployment. A 15-minute yoga tutorial! 7 pm: time to film myself banging on the cookware I bought from Amazon! What better way to make sense of the world than sharing pictures of my well-decorated quarantine dungeon? How privileged am I, to spend my freedom on newsletters and tweets?
German philosopher Martin Heidegger wrote about nothingness as the core of our existence. To contemplate our nothingness is to catch a passing glimpse of the eternal nothingness that awaits us when we die. (Can you tell I’ve been inside for over a month?) And so we post. We post to distract ourselves from the unknown and we post to remind ourselves that we’re alive, as the death toll climbs and sirens wail outside our windows.
The Question Concerning Tamagotchis
As a 20-something woman who has spent a total of five hours learning dances on an app meant for tweens, I’ve been thinking a lot about Posting Under Quarantine. My daily screen time has probably tripled. Yours, too! And your cringe-worthy content validates my cringe-worthy content. I’ll trade you a hastily-edited lip-sync video for a step-by-step vegetable stir fry tutorial. We’ll click the little hearts and tell each other it’s fine. I’ll share the Death Cab For Cutie song I’m listening to. You won’t listen to it, but you’ll acknowledge that I’m listening to it, and then we’ll restart the cycle tomorrow when the dread kicks in again.
This isn’t much different from social media fodder outside of quarantine, but our posts bear more baggage. On the one hand, we’re entitled to feel weird and lonely and to express our weird loneliness through selfies and sourdough starter pics. On the other, who the hell cares about our selfies and sourdough starters?!! Read the room!
Heidegger understood modern technology as a means to an end that never comes, a cycle wherein we continually extract whatever human benefit can be found in the natural world. Technology started out as the act of bringing forth what can be, like seeing a wooden table in a tree. But modern technology, he wrote in The Question Concerning Technology, is so far removed from the tree itself, it only recognizes the tree in relationship to our human lives. Modern technology is grounded in manipulation rather than in observing nature’s potentiality.
Yes, it was 1954 and “modern technology” meant, like, factories. Notwithstanding, the Julia Gray School of Philosophy (JGSoP) finds Heidegger’s theory applicable to social media, as it too obscures the true nature of things. The tulips you bought from Giant and arranged for your Instagram photo are as real as emojis. Chrissy Teigen’s fresh-baked loaf could be made of clay, for all we know! Our friends' faces are flattened on Zoom calls, avatars on our screens under quarantine, like Tamagotchis for us to check on and maintain.
And aren’t we all just Tamagotchis (I’ve been waiting my entire life to type this question) whose needs — or some approximation of our needs — can be met with a few taps on the touchscreen? We can share a picture of a sleeping cat and type “mood” for a quick dopamine hit, order a package and get some hint of the outside world when it arrives.
Well, we did the research, and after 50+ days without leaving the house, it has become clear to the JGSoP that our emotions surpass those of Tamagotchis (this is huge). All Tamagotchis know is their little plastic egg homes. They love the chains they were born wearing! But, while there’s no button for love on a Tamagotchi, at least the game is multiplayer. Nothing feels real right now and social media is a lousy substitute for human interaction. But even if our screen-bound bonds feel like delusions, the rush is real. And that’s something, right? The JGSoP will continue conducting studies for the next newsletter.
The coming Gray Area newsletters will hit your inbox every other week (ish). They will probably deal less in existentialism and more in my own musings. Expect day-to-day minutiae (Why Did That Woman At The Grocery Store Stare At Me Like That? An Investigation), public diary entries (It’s Been Five Days And That Woman’s Gaze Still Haunts Me), pop culture-related rambling (Wait, Was That Woman Amy Adams?), recommendations (10 Reasons You Should Watch Julie & Julia starring Meryl Streep and Amy Adams, Or Else), and maybe some bad poetry.
Some Things To Keep You Sane
-Cat Cohen’s Instagram live comedy show every Wednesday
-Fiona Apple’s new album Fetch The Bolt Cutters
-How To Do Nothing by Jenny Odell
-Yoga With Adriene on YouTube
-Amy Sedaris’ “What’s In The Drawer” posts
-Why Zoom Is Terrible by Kate Murphy for the New York Times
-Embracing The Chaotic Side Of Zoom by Naomi Fry for the New Yorker
Take A Shot Every Time
-You hear or read the word “unprecedented”
-Someone refers to the pandemic as “these crazy times”
-A car company tells you they’re here for you
-Chug your drink if a car company tells you they’re here for you during these unprecedented, crazy times