Monday, 25 March 2019

Social Media and Quantifying Attachment | Responding to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

Social Media has an odd presence in my life. Part of me loves it, loves the voice it brings and the silence it allows. Social media is a place where I'm allowed to come alive, or to sit in the shadows, and both are not just okay, but right. Sometimes the apps can seemed to be turned up to eleven with no 'volume down' button in sight. But the worst part about social media, in my eyes, is the fact that it creates a sense of immediacy. It often demands a response, a comment on everything I've seen, watched, read, or witnessed. What did you think? If you don't write about it, did your experience matter?

When I finished Hank Green's debut novel, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, I was in the kitchen of my parents house. I moved home six months earlier, after being away for four years doing my bachelor's degree. In my parents house, even the act of reading is voyeuristic -- whenever you are reading within the house, you are also being looked at, looked for, or at the very least noticed. Unless I was locked away in my bedroom, I was on display for all to see, to witness. Even then the question of "where is she?" permeated a locked door. As I finished the book, I was racked with tears. I couldn't keep them in any longer, and I found myself gasping for breath dramatically, but genuinely. Honestly. 

My mom walked in to the kitchen to turn off the lights before heading to bed when she saw me there, re-reading the final lines of the book for what must've been the tenth time, still sobbing. She bore witness to her twenty-two year old daughter, at the mercy of the hardcover in front of her. I was, in her eyes, having a breakdown. She wasn't totally wrong, but I digress. I was broken open, and gushing. She came over to me, and I explained to her, through my tears that they were happy tears. That I hadn't felt so moved by a book in this way in so long, that this book was special and my god was it the most important thing in the world to me at this moment.

Green's novel, centered around April May, a girl in her early 20s, and the possibly robots, possibly aliens, she finds and names Carl. The book, both a science fiction spectacle, and a heart wrenchingly contemporary tale of social media and fame, defies accurate description in my eyes. When I finally was able to tell her why I was crying, it made no sense to her. As I tried to tell her, tried to describe the novel's plot, and the characters, and the impact of the ending, she didn't understand.

So I went to Twitter.

My tweet was vague, oddly worded, and did nothing to properly convey the way in which I felt about the book. Of course, I tagged Hank Green, as what is Twitter for if not semi-narcississistic and attention seeking tweets, and then never really spoke about the book again. I told people in my life how much I loved it. I tried to write about it in my best books of 2018 wrap up. It didn't really suffice. I went searching for lovers of the book, but after every review I read, I got defensive. "Of course (insert element of the book) was amazing, but you've not talked about the best part!" I would think as I shut down each review or YouTube video. But even I didn't know why I loved this book so much. I couldn't properly articulate what this ellusive 'best part' was. I appreciate the genuine nature of the book, and the irreverence of it. I loved the relevance, and the fantastical elements. I loved the honesty of the characters, and how I didn't always like them, but I always cared for them. The science fiction elements made this story seem just far away to be safe, but the reality behind the conversations surrounding fame made it seem too close for comfort.

But I still didn't know why I liked the book so much. What was it that had me in tears? Why have I thought of the book every day for almost five months?

I used this lack of knowledge to excuse my lack of a review. I'm a blogger, I review books. Breaking books down to more basic parts and rating them is kind of what I do. Therefore I couldn't review the book until I knew how to break it down. But why was this one so tough? I wrote a thesis essay on my favourite book of all time. I gave an entire seminar on my favourite character from a children's book. I've been able in the past to voice my love and appreciation for art and literature so easily. So why had Hank Green stumped me?

Must have pin for the social media junkie
The more I think about it, I think it has less to do with the book, and more to do with my desire to quantify my attachment to it. It's not enough to be left speechless, there needs to be a number, a score, a rating attached to it to mean something. In our world of 2019, the downfall of Twitter is it's constancy. It looms large in the brains of so many people and it asks for us to give reviews, updates, first impressions, etc all day every day. Live-Tweeting is a verb. The pressure that Twitter broadcasts is the energetic embodiment of 'pics or it didn't happen' and I find that frustrating. It asks of its users to reduce their thoughts down to 140 (now 280) characters. But what I've noticed more and more, as people have turned away from blogging and more to Twitter and Instagram, is that these  platforms ask us to let those characters, those tweets, those Instagrams, be their last word on the topic. A first impression becomes the only impression, in a sense. And this has permeated into my blogging life.

With all that said, here it is: I loved this book. Hank Green wrote a book that struck my heart and possibly changed it forever. The book is smart. It's honest. It's painful and funny and exciting and quiet and every other adjective I can think of. It defies categorization and it refuses a rating. I think of this book every single fucking day and I cannot imagine a version of me without it. I loved this book and I refuse to let the pressures of quantification presented by social media to force me to break down this love into parts.

Our love, appreciation, thoughts, fears, frustrations, joys, and cares cannot, and should not be constantly reduced to these miniscule reviews. We should allow these emotions to take up space, allow them room to breathe and expand and grow. I think the pressure for compact thoughts comes from a want to both quantify our attachment, but also an impatience to listen to others thoughts and this is something we as a culture need to practice. Something that I need to practice more. 

It's time to let thoughts be thoughts, to let Twitter be like a tasting menu, and blogs to be a hearty meal. It's time to sort out my priorities. Better late than never, right?

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