Post No. 225: Destinata Non Grata

Think of the internet as a universe. I’ve heard it described before as an ecosystem – what sentient being, by the way, would accept caretaking responsibilities for such a sprawling, labyrinthine mess?* – but, in reality, it’s a universe. Cold, distant, infinite. In this self-serving and admittedly limited analogy, every person and business entity becomes a planet all their own. Some of these veritably teem with “life”, being located closer to the sun – some of them so prominent (read: popular) they practically generate their own additional heat – though the majority exist in a state of imposed isolation tucked away on the margins, just so many thumbtack pin pricks struggling for light and oxygen against an enormous expanse of black felt. The World Wide Web is our preferred mode of interstellar travel, providing the illusion of efficient interfacing with destinations too far flung to afford travel in any physical sense. Such limitations, in perception and reality, are no doubt exacerbated by current conditions on the ground, in which, with our political differences primed to a level of toxicity that informs and often poisons public discourse, we as a society have been driven indoors to fester and stew in understandable fear of a raging worldwide pandemic. An intolerable number of lives lost, and livelihoods; hopes for stability, senses of security, all shattered. The distance from the center of the universe to those of us – by which I mean all of us – calcifying out on its periphery feels farther than it ever has. Sometimes it can seem the Web is all there is left to connect us.

*Little wonder the f#@%ing thing is policed by robots. Bureaucratic/technocratic logic is pretty much the same wherever you go.

Home and hearth are central to our lives – feelings of togetherness, senses of community. With all that on permanently shaky ground of late, we’re left to find inadequate replacements where we can. It’s hard to imagine a more inadequate replacement than Facebook, the creeping, creepy tech monolith at the center of our current universe that has, in the sixteen years since its launch and, especially, the decade+ during which I’ve been a loyal satellite, subtly insinuated itself into most every aspect of American life. With an ever-increasing reach that extends well beyond its now quaint original scope of posting pictures by the ream of your kids/vacations/kids on vacation, or snooping to discover exactly how much your high school crush let him or herself go since graduation, Facebook has fashioned itself into the single, indispensable hub of American interaction circa 2020. But wait, there’s more. Think of a pie, any pie, and realize that Facebook likely owns at least a piece of it, much more likely a lion’s share, and, quite often, the whole damned thing. Facebook touches not just communication now but commerce, and wields an uncomfortable, unreasonable, frankly uncontrollable amount of influence on public opinion, having overseeded its vast, untended fields where misinformation can flourish under the guise of Free Speech, and, whether or not on purpose, arguably done more than any other single (f)actor to move its audience away from the stated goal of “bringing the world closer together” and toward the ruinous division I alluded to earlier.    

But sometimes I forget myself. You don’t need me to tell you about Facebook. You use Facebook as much as I do, I’ll wager, perhaps more. Perhaps too much. Me too. Often, you wonder whether it’s necessarily the best use of your time. You may even occasionally “take a break” from regularly sampling its various wonders, though you inevitably return. Me too. The thing does have an undeniable gravitational pull. In the end, we are all but so many spinning orbs circling its sun. With less and less occupying our daily lives beyond complications that run the gamut from inelegant to crushing, an already attention-deficient populace has grown even more starved than it was. I can’t be upset at that desperate instinct to connect – about anything, to someone, to anyone, even if you’re not close “in real life”, even if you’ve never met and never will – because I both understand and share it. For evidence of the latter, look no further than the blog you’re currently reading, Over its six years of existence, darkadaptedeye has evolved from unsustainably prolific, practically volcanic, beginnings to a far more sporadic publishing schedule roughly commensurate with its subterranean “Q” rating as a brand, displaying a stubborn commitment throughout to embodying both elements of the phrase “labor of love”. I’ve put more of myself into this silly website than anything else in my life – playing music, romantic relationships, paying work – and for exceedingly little tangible return. It’s certainly been a ride. I’ve invested so much in DAE for so long, that, yes, sometimes I’ve been forced to wonder whether it’s necessarily the best use of my time. I’ve even occasionally “taken a break”, sometimes an extended one, to recharge, or decompress, or to ponder alone endlessly without having to publish my every existential thought. 

Inevitably, I’ve always returned. If I’m a planet, DAE is my moon. Then came COVID.

I love this place dearly. It honestly hurts me to not feel like writing, makes me feel much more a failure than would simply noting anemic web traffic or reading a random crappy comment. Someday I’ll get over apologizing for not wanting to write much of anything lo these many months at home. That day doesn’t appear to be today.** There is, of course, precious little authentic joy in Mudville. As March in quarantine melted into April and then blurred into May, I racked my brain in search of anything relevant to offer on my personal stake in and horrified, evolving reaction to the new abnormal, to my repeated, inevitable frustration. June melted away into a vast puddle of same days mixed one into another like an exceptionally strong if not especially flavorful cocktail. July disappeared in a wisp of theatrical smoke, and then August, and, with it, the summer entire. September showed unexpected signs of life – I do quite enjoy football – but they were only comparative. And now, October – the most wonderful time of my year, every year – just feels irretrievably muted. Unless you write for a newspaper or other established national news outlet – may God bless and keep you if you do – keeping current with Coronavirus commentary is something of a fool’s game. It’s all been said before, and even if that wasn’t the case who needs to hear it – again – from me? That’s why I’ve largely resisted writing o’er these past eight months, because anything I produced carried the risk of evolving into the post you’re in the process of reading, and I only ever wanted to do that once, when there was no other alternative. Rip off the band-aid and be done with it. 

**Like so many of you, quarantine has affected my physiology, and seriously messed with my sense of time. There have been numerous days on which I might have liked very much to write – with little outdoor alternative, I’ve been watching and adding to my blu-ray collection like a fiend – but just felt prohibitively exhausted, constricted, or both. Those days sting too.

DAE readers can be broken out into three general categories: 1) friends or family members with abiding/overdeveloped senses of duty and/or curiosity; 2) fellow web travelers sans rudder or compass who stumbled across the site and stuck around long enough to at least click, if not necessarily read, a post; or 3) folks of either description who survived their initial exposure and nevertheless returned for more. Whatever lane you fall into, my heartfelt thanks, as always, for stopping by. I’m too grateful for your patronage to ever analyze or second-guess your motives, and Jack Lord knows I haven’t provided much reason to return lately beyond ingrained habit. Without you, I am a demanding, unrealistic audience of one, which is not to imply that a total lack of eyeballs would count as terminal for the site, or even a dealbreaker. It certainly hasn’t yet. One thing that can be said about this readership is that it’s grown organically, each person in turn, either via direct links I posted to Facebook or Twitter that led a reader to sign up for the DAE email alert list, by following the “Darkadaptedeye.org” Facebook business page I created to serve as a site marketing aid, or by simple bookmarking/repeat business while on an internet walkabout. DAE never set the world on fire – hubris is a humbling thing to admit – but I’m a writer, not an ad man. Neither those Facebook links nor the aforementioned DAE business page exist in useful forms anymore, for moronic reasons I’ll soon discuss, but that hasn’t stopped people/bots from continuing to infrequently visit, like zombies eventually overrunning the abandoned Monroeville Mall. 

99.98% of the internet remains blissfully ignorant of the florid, underpopulated forest moon orbiting planet Naff here on the outskirts of the galaxy. That was unlikely to ever change without the kind of mass appeal viral intervention of which, as an irretrievably wordy, hopelessly nerdy, patently absurdy, slow-moving literary show-off, I am utterly incapable of triggering on purpose. I write long-form movie reviews, TV reviews, (formerly) concert reviews, lists of pop culture ephemera, and the occasional ponderous essay, each one between 1,250 and 10,000 words in length.*** That’s not the kind of output that can be reasonably spread or easily binged, I realize, and so I tempered my expectations. I just wanted to write, and to do good, interesting work that could in turn be discovered and consumed by anybody who so desired. Along the way, I refined the product visually, bought ads, added pictures and links by the hundred, tags and review index pages, rewrote the site intro three times, and basically tweaked the presentation without mercy, even trading in DAE’s original “wordpress.com” URL for a shiny new “.org” in a misguided effort to increase traffic. 223 times in six years, I linked a just-published post to my Facebook wall and invited my friends to check it out. I similarly tried to make the most out of my Facebook business page and turn it into a community, to little avail. When the Facebook links inexplicably stopped working overnight just as I meant to post #224 earlier this month, I came to understand the limits of the internet’s implicit guarantee of a voice to all its citizens. Even if it is demonstrably, objectively better, a voice on the internet is still only ever as good as its microphone. 

***Well over 600,000 words combined – 609,673 to be exact – not counting this post. I crunched the numbers on purpose, as part of a recent week-long project with the twin aims of anger management and site beautification. It was a much-needed, extended cleansing exhale.

Caring about this site can feel like a losing proposition on its best day. Recently, however, I’ve arrived at something of a crossroads. ‘Twas a long-ago brush with Facebook’s inadequacies that inspired me to launch DAE in the first place – I loved having any writing platform, but grew to despise its transitory nature and wanted personal ownership of my work – so there’s a touch of poetry to the idea that a fresh batch of Zuckerbergian idiocy is now forcing me to reevaluate its place in the galactic order. Had I written this two weeks ago, I’d still be raining straight napalm. In a nutshell, Facebook’s overwrought, overactive robotic content trackers have decided, regardless of history, that www.darkadaptedeye.org is suddenly an “invalid URL”, and that linking post #224 across any of their hallowed pages – even one I’d repeatedly paid them to advertise – was tantamount to spamming their precious consumer base (“spamming” is apparently fine when other businesses pay Facebook to do it to you). Since that fateful day, I’ve logged a dozen separate appeals for sanity to whatever digital dead letter office complaints from non-paying customers go to die. I even initiated but did not complete three new ads in hopes that I might encounter a live support representative to whom I could plead my case, but talking to a genuine human employed by Facebook in 2020 is apparently like getting a Supreme Court nominee to answer simple questions about established legal precedent. If my personal Facebook wall, now scrubbed clean of the 223 DAE link posts I mentioned earlier, has therefore seen its decade+ of total content reduced by, let’s say, 30%, then my desolate “Darkadaptedeye.org” business page is now a smoking crater. Facebook alerts notify me that it still gets scattered visitors, and that kinda embarrasses me. As tourist attractions go, it ain’t exactly the Grand Canyon.

Everybody has problems. Mine don’t amount to very much at the moment. I’m not here to intimate otherwise, or to in any way diminish real world difficulties at a moment in our shared history that I recognize is absolutely lousy with them. The bottom line is that I simply don’t appreciate summary value judgments delivered by invisible arbiters without due process or possibility of appeal. DAE is if not my baby then my garden, something uniquely mine that I could cultivate and tend to, returning again and again over the years, something capable of change that I could witness grow and evolve with pride. Try as I might, I can’t quite articulate exactly how much this site has meant to me, or, in the end, still does. There is a deep satisfaction in completing a post here that I simply don’t feel in my day job writing technical documentation, or in any other aspect of my life, and while it has nothing overtly to do with the readers that exist outside my vaunted personal audience of one, the idea that I now can’t communicate to those people the existence of some new piece of work into which I’ve put DAE’s above baseline level of care and belief just shreds me. I’ve established that Facebook killing my ability to effectively advertise my blog did impact site traffic, though not in any way sufficient to dignify my fragile ego. The whole thing annoys me to no end. The internet may revolve around Facebook, but Facebook is not and cannot be more important than the people it ostensibly serves. 

The intervening month from my “Cobra Kai” post (#223, when the bomb dropped) to this one has been spent at DAEHQ negotiating a souplike haze of moody rumination, punctuated, as with all philosophical crises worth their salt, by moments of acute frustration. Those usually hit me just before clicking “Send” on my latest futile appeal to Support for clemency, or the many occasions on which Facebook’s automated sentries tried to goad me anew into advertising the business page their public relations wing had just finished defenestrating. Which was often. It was honestly a lot. I won’t bore you with the play-by-play. Those relentless algorithms may lack a Disney robot’s heart, the President’s sense of shame, or a four-year-old’s ability to reason, but rest assured they can recognize theoretical revenue heading out the door, and have prepared at all times a straight-faced, scorched earth response. Suffice it to say I found myself wondering aloud if being unilaterally tarred by Facebook’s mechanized morality squad wasn’t some indication that DAE had finally run its course as a site. I played games and watched movies and studiously avoided writing wherever I could. What writing I did do was largely intended to carry DAE to its latest, and perhaps last, milestone post, #225. While Facebook did its level best to ensure I had my political leanings solidified, birthdays straight, and was properly awash in “memories” of far better days, each and EVERY day – in amongst all the ads and memes and regular volleys of heat-seeking spam – I found myself increasingly swayed by the naysaying prosecutor holding court in my head. The defense was busy at rest.

Suppose I did seriously entertain the idea of closing down this site after all. Then remove the word “suppose”, since I did far more than entertain it. An ignominious end to an amiable curiosity, if so. The problem then becomes how to pull the plug with any level of authority, any authentic finality, seeing as I’ve spent these past six years subconsciously constructing a spacious but fairly escape-proof bunker. I’ve gone on multi-month sabbaticals before. I’ve slipped radar at moments when I was so disgusted at DAE’s abysmal return on investment that I felt saturating, overwhelming relief and never envisioned myself possibly returning. But I also never quite said goodbye, and, in time, I always came back to write something new. When I would imagine penning post #225 as some grand, official “farewell”, it left me feeling unsettled and unsatisfied, to the point that it became clear that my new way forward wasn’t “new” at all. Darkadaptedeye is my home; it is my garden; it is my moon, located so far away from the sun that it eludes both search engine and naked eye. But it’s there, and I’ve decided lately that it is worth both building up and fighting for. Again. I’d like to think I’ve never done any less. I appreciate my audience more than I can express. I of course invite anyone interested to sign up for the DAE email alert list located here, which I assure you I cannot monitor and have to accept on faith. But I’m not owed an audience any more than Facebook is owed the daily tribute of my patronage. I’m content to continue building and maintaining it one reader at a time, and enjoy very much our mutual, occasionally intersecting, explorations of distant and even as yet uncharted space.

ABC Family is Dead. Long Live ABC Family:

Post No. 25: Powder Burns and Uncertain Terms

Post No. 50: Iron Maiden Saved My Life.

Post No. 75: Unlimited Mileage

Post No. 100: Centennial Homesick Blues

Post No. 125: Alone in the Dark

Post No. 150: Various Forks in the Road (v.3)

Post No. 175: (In Defense Of) Brazen Idolatry

Post No. 200: Pay Attention to the Road

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