Palma de Mallorca

Man at Night · Palma de Mallorca, 2019

It’s the time of year for lists. What people want, what people like. The year—and, since 2019, decade—in review. What was good, what was better. Most will be read 1,000 times by the author while the audience will skip down to No. 1, make a judgment and close the page.

I get that we’re neck-deep in accelerationism, and while I can relatively handle the absolute chaos late capitalism is extolling upon the world, the little social trivialities surrounding time drive me absolutely insane.

For example, every now and again I’ll forget to delete the photos on my phone and it will send me a push notification attached to some blurry gradient of neon lights I shot through a half-full vodka tonic on one of the days that ends in Y: You have a new memory!

The fuck I do.

It was a warm night, later on in my stay. For being the Mediterranean in late Spring, Mallorca had a cold snap after I’d arrived. My friends in Portland were wearing shorts and I was in Spain wearing layers. The weather broke as everything does eventually and I found myself frequently taking the bus to downtown Palma at night. Five months sober, I’d taken up tobacco as a way to stave off drinking. The night was blustery and I could barely roll a cigarette, much less get it to light, so I walked into the wind until my face was as sore as my feet. A man my age in a suit stumbles toward me along the oceanfront. I’ve been him before, I am him now, I’ll be him again. We pass without a word and I cross the street in to town and head to the bar.

American culture is actively embracing a status quo of revisionist history.1 Between the individualism propagated through stigmas like Haters gonna hate and the grotesque mob mentality of censorship that is Cancel Culture, discourse and debate are being replaced with dismissal and ignorance.2

In our hypernormalized world of focused social media, acting out a future narrative of the past matters more than what actually happens in the present moment. Society is increasingly living in anticipation of the update, plotting ahead not for meaning but aesthetic.3 What happens now can be edited out later. Retrospective lists define what was liked—not in the moment, but after everyone had a chance to sit down and talk about it.

A single image is no longer a photograph but a Memory.4 People are PR campaigns. What happened is only what is shown to have happened; the rest is the narrative—captions or graphics expressing a note of time, waiting to be shifted by the echo that is the archive of history.

      Notes
  • This makes sense as American society is basically founded on such a principle.
  • This isn’t to say personal empowerment against outside criticism isn’t important or that calling out bad behavior is a bad take. It’s that mentalities which promote isolation from critical thought and aversion to communication that could potentially contain conflict is a dangerous path to start down when it comes to society at large.
  • So naturally a 2019 trend was ‘unedited living’ and I just can’t
  • This is an important distinction because Memory is a part of our being that has such power, to call photos on a phone memories is inevitably going to distort how the brain defines the concept

The last time I was in Spain, I’d met Marcel. We were staying at the same hostel in Madrid for a few days and became fast friends. He was more ambitious in business, but Canadian so his presence was polite instead of superior. We lead a group through a day of drinking in the park, exploring the Prado, and bar-hopping between matches to drink & socialize while watching the World Cup. We bought weed from some shifty Peruvian in a dark alley and put my Kill The Precedent stickers on every ATM that passed.

Marcel

Marcel and Daniella · Madrid, 2014

It was this remarkable few days that I will never forget. We exchanged e-mails and talked once or twice but the truth was that when he asked me what my Facebook account was and I said I didn’t use the site, we both knew the chances of us interacting past this time was slim. It’s the way of the road if you don’t have social media and there’s nothing wrong with that.

I remember Marcel as a fun and complete individual with a cutting sense of humor and a distinctly matter-of-fact way about himself. If I were to have had Facebook at the time, or if I were to sign up now, I’d begin to associate him with what I observed his likes, dislikes or projections are. That’s no way to think of a human being, it’s nothing to call a memory.

OWS

Occupy Wall Street · San Francisco, 2011

All my life I have enjoyed observing people at various scales; individuals, collectives, governments, nations, the world. Now observation feels more like a curse. All of this looks so sad. The commodification of our nature, the gamification of our lives, the ennui masked by conspicuous consumption, the rampant addictions broadcasting advertisements of product-based solutions featuring all the smiling and beautiful faces knowing full well it’s money and lies that force the entire machine forward. (And, of course, the fact most people passively accept this and simply try to live through it, seething in debt as they watch opportunity vanish in a glow from the powerless throne of a couch cushion.)

It’s why this deluge of The 2010s In Review! lists are so depressing. What happened in the past 10 years? Everything got fucking worse. Way, way worse. Liberals became conservatives and conservatives became fascists. We still aren’t dealing with the climate crisis. Inequality hit like a sledgehammer as wealth consolidated. War was there at the beginning and never ended. Art was just a joke for the rich. Big Tech grew into the worst of our nature. Mental health, addiction and suicide became impossible to ignore. America set up concentration camps where children died. Economic despair was both shunned and normalized. Police violence continued largely unpunished and notable violence by white extremists in America remained unclassified as domestic terrorism. The government continued to act in the interests of business and finance before the people. Brands leeched nostalgia to sell shit. Everyone was constantly waiting for the end of the fucking world.

But Facebook and Instagram made our daily lives advertisements. And advertisements only have smiling faces, perfect weather and product placement. So while the world caught on fire and protesters went to jail instead of bankers and drone strikes just became A Thing We Do Now, everyone had to keep smiling for the camera, completely self-aware, posting year-in-review lists featuring mediocre streaming entertainment since media consumption is the only thing everyone seems to enjoy anymore. It’s no wonder everyone’s going fucking insane.

Jan 1

New Year’s Day · Big Sur, California, 2010

Ten years ago while living in San Francisco I lived by making decisions based on what I’d imagine my future self—one ten years in the future—would have wanted me to do. It’s how I ended up waking up on New Year’s Day in Big Sur on a camping trip / second date. It’s the part of me that was taking pictures, the one thinking of the present through the frame of the future; the one where everyone is smiling. (Had Instagram existed at the time, they would have been posted photos.)

Of course, ten years later I still am glad I went on that trip. It’s just strange looking back and wondering if I’d even considered—or simply disregarded—that a version of myself could exist that was devastated when that particular relationship ended. That the version of me that actually came about could be a possibility at all. To be honest, I haven’t a clue.

I don’t know exactly what is different between who I was then, or who I was thinking of who I would be now, and I can’t be sure either is a good thing.

If anything has changed over the past decade, it has been the further encroachment of power and influence into our lives. Capital has crept into every aspect of individuality. Political theater has never been more real and there is a pervasive sense of resignation among those looking past the next social media update or news cycle and into the future.

And while there is a chance some things could go right, the psychic stress about to be undertaken at a national level over the course of this election is not making 2020 look much like a welcoming place. (Plus, there’s the inevitable deluge of terrible puns about vision to look forward to.)

It is growing more difficult to live in this world. It seems time itself has become an endless assault on the psyche. Institutions are fraudulent, media is a drug, art is a lie, and everything revolves around money. But we’re all writing our lists because that’s what we do and the brain in my phone is telling me a disposable snapshot is a Memory.