It’s between the hours of midnight and three AM, mostly. That’s when the most heinous stuff comes out; when the most maladjusted parts of ourselves dance like shadows along digital moonlit vistas.
Those hours are the worst.
They absolutely drop off, like alcohol-drenched memories, and I’m addicted to ’em. Can’t get enough. Those pitch black portions of the day, like oily drops in an otherwise sunlit consciousness. I feel like the day isn’t complete without ’em.
Those are the moments when you surf the Internet like a predator, a ravenous junkie, jonesing for something; some fix, something that you’re hungry for, and you eat your way through hours worth of nonsense hoping you’ll find it, hoping it’ll fill your belly so thoroughly you’ll never have to eat again. You fall down wormholes in Wikipedia, wait eagerly for the chime that will let you know someone has responded to your message, massage your eyeballs with impossibly detailed images of the anatomically unspeakable.
Those are the moments when you validate your coffee addiction: when you dream electric instead of REM, when you burn up your eyes so good you warrant your short sighted contact lenses. When those clicks of instant gratification squirt endorphins into your brain like hard shots of liquid gold.
It used to be books, or television, or video games, but now it’s this digital junkyard that is somehow less and so much more than all other mediums. It’s what I can’t wait to come home to. It’s what I kiss goodnight before I fall asleep.
I hope those kisses will bring some kind of relief, in the great electric wonderland, the information superhighway, the insomnia machine, all pinball lights and pornography and vacuous selfies and the tickling promise of validation.
I hope they’ll send me to bed somehow better nourished than I was before, somehow more intelligent, clinging to the scraps and dribble I’ve dumped into my brain in my midnight quest across the Internet; a crown of sound bites driven into my skull like thorns.
There’s religion in there, in the tubes: a God of some sort, a glowing, 21st century Heaven, all white lights and music and angels, only the songs are illegal and you have to pay for the angels (unless you only watch bite sized videos, and the pixilation and pop-ups and viruses might very well drive you mad). Sometimes the angels sing you the songs. They scrape across your screen on wrecking balls in glorious YouTube 1080 HD.
It’s loneliness, maybe. That’s what inspires the wanderings. That’s what makes the machine go. The promise of electric intimacy.
I spent a good portion of high school living through AOL Instant Messenger, chasing shadows and spewing generally inane shit into the machine. Midnight chat sessions, both alien and intimate in ways that would be unimaginable without the Internet. For people in my age bracket, they often replaced sleep and accessorized our faces with grapefruit sized eye bags.
They also fostered our Internet addictions by positively reinforcing our habit. Every once in a while, you found intimacy; you could find things that felt more real than flesh and blood reality, and it would light up your brain like a Christmas tree.
Back in high school, AIM both created social drama and fueled it in ways that are hard to comprehend without the Internet. Angsty away messages quoted songs that somehow better described our state of mind than we ever could, the teenage punks that we were. It occurs to me now that those same songs might have gone a long ways towards creating the angsty mindsets to begin with, and the whole thing might have been a gargantuan feedback loop. No matter. The interactions were exquisite, even if they were cold, and they were cold: the yawning, somnambulistic kiss of a computer screen sending you to bed, even when you thought you were talking to a person.
I’ve never felt so close and yet so far away to the people I was communicating with.
I was a jerk back then, I think. Not in waking life maybe, but in the strange, vampiric half-life the hours between 12 and 3 create, and the Internet fosters. I saved many of those AIM conversations back then, and I still have them to this day. That decision required a slick combination of foresight and masochism; a kind of self-injuring Hail Mary, thrown from my teenage self to my adult self now. They exist on external hard drives for my review, like little time bombs. I open them, and a little part of me flowers with shame. Could I have ever been so stupid? Could I have ever been so fake?
Aside from the maturity gap, Internet conversations in general don’t allow for the little nuances of actual interaction. They flatten facial expressions into emoticons. They eliminate the quiet moments of conversations, replacing them with helpful notifications that the person you are interacting with is typing. They allow you obscene periods of time to qualify your reactions, to readjust your response, to try your damndest to be both literate and earnest. They allow you the opportunity to create yourself, in the thoughtful moments before you have to respond. You can be more or less charming, more or less bold, than you ever are in real life. You don’t sneeze or fart on the Internet. You can be a real gentleman, or a real monster; either way, you’re something plastic, something smoothed over and grammatically immaculate. You’re at your best, and you’re at your absolute worst.
Most meaningful human interactions stumble along in waking life with the goal of eventually reaching levels of earned closeness. Internet interactions, on the other hand, speed all of that up. They hum along with the rapidity engendered by endorphin squirting instant gratification. Closeness is still the goal, but sometimes the process of getting there is messy.
You scratch and scratch and scratch until you’ve broken through the skin, until you’ve cracked plastic and reached some blood. It’s the warm, sticky stuff that lets you know you’re actually communicating with a person. Sometimes, too, you can get closer through the Internet than you can in real life. Anonymity aids the process, as you pick and pick and pick. Sometimes, those clumsy attempts at human interactions actually wound in ways you didn’t imagine.
Back then, you’d drag that shit to school the next morning, and everyone would spend the day clawing through this thick fog of drama that would never have existed if it weren’t for those hours between 12 and 3, and the enabling powers of the Internet.
The electric glow of the computer screen mimicking actual daylight, and your body acting accordingly, convincing itself it should stay up longer, soaking up the sun, running on fumes, becoming a digital junkie zombie, occasionally espousing the brainless shit zombies are known for.
That’s what I was, I guess, in high school: a digital junkie zombie, up all night looking for blood. It was the culture of our youth, as specific as any youth culture before it. I wonder if it’s the culture of the current youth. I wonder if their midnight scavenging is going better or worse than my own.
Don’t get me wrong: I regret nothing about the electric high school interactions I described, not a damn thing. I think, sometimes, love bloomed and wilted in those electronic boxes, and that’s as awful a thing as pimples or your first slobbering kiss, but nostalgia romanticizes it all in ways that make the whole awkward process worth it. It’s evidence that can stare back at my face in the yawning hours between 12 and 3, when I can’t sleep and I need a little religion. A little validation.
Those conversations, and anything else saved in the long memory of the Internet: pictures, videos, comments, essays, all trophies, all scars.
The pieces of myself that float in the electric fog.
Occasionally, they pick at me until I bleed.
Without fail, they kiss me to sleep.