If I was as successful at communicating my feelings as I am at avoiding phone calls, I'd be married by now.
— H. Alan Scott (@HAlanScott) April 15, 2014
I tweeted this the other day as a joke. It was inspired because a friend kept calling to discuss details that could have easily been sent over text. I never intended on becoming a 2014 asshole, but clearly that's what has happened to me.
I hadn't thought much about this until I interviewed a guy that makes a decent amount of money masturbating on the Internet (it's called camming). Like me, Jefe (not his real name, because who names their kid "Boss"?), grew up with the Internet. "It basically raised me," he said. It played such a vital role in his life that now he works in coding, from home, far away from daily social interactions. That is, when he's not making bank showing his goods.
During the course of the interview, I realized the two of us actually have a lot in common. His work, both in coding and camming, is done alone, in his apartment, by himself. I'm a writer/comedian; the only actual social interaction I have is when I do an interview or mingle offstage, otherwise I'm protected behind a screen or microphone. I never thought about why I do what I do, why I hate verbally communicating interpersonally with other people so much, until I talked with Jefe about why he cams.
"I'm naturally an introvert, I don't socialize often, I live alone, so I feel it's good for me. It's helped me a lot in my real life relationships. I can make small talk now, I used to never be able to do small talk, it was all awkward stares. I grew up the computer nerd, the dorky kid, the ugly duckling. So camming has really helped me."
Like Jefe, who is also in his early 30s, I grew up a computer nerd, just as many kids of our generation did. Ask anybody between the ages of 28 and 40 when they got the Internet and they'll correct you with, "You mean when we got AOL." Being a teenager then, I primarily used AOL for two things, chatting and porn, most often chatting about porn. Online, I was able to be myself, or any version of myself I felt like being that day. I spent hours talking, searching, and waiting desperately for naked images to load. The loneliness of adolescence seemed more bearable online; at least I had TubThumper13 to talk to after school.
As technology advanced, I grew older and advanced with it in many ways, yet in other ways I let it hold me back. The whole format of how life used to be lived changed, from how we listened to music (or rather, acquired it) to how we dated. Some people were able to find the balance between the real world and the online world, but not me. The freedom of separation became intoxicating; I needed the privacy, even though I wound up in a profession that's all about sharing. I watched friends get married, have children, yet I remained online, reading, watching, writing, but mostly masturbating.
Now at 31, I find my entire life has been behind a screen or a social platform. I've been able to turn my online life into a profession, using my voice in essays, interviews, sketches and on Twitter (of course). "Way to make a living watching porn," Jefe wrote in our first email exchange. He's kind of right. I've made a "career" out of living online, right down to sharing my experience with getting diagnosed with cancer and undergoing chemo.
The Internet has caused us to live in a state of constant masturbatory potential. Do we even know what it feels like to be curious? No, because all we have to do is put "naked" behind a Google search. It's not just porn, it's every pointless list you read, or quiz you take, that #selfie you had to share, the Tumblr you reblogged. We're forcing ourselves into a digital arrested development to the point where someone like me gets frustrated that one of the most important people in my life had the audacity to call me. What was I doing when he called? Probably Twitter, or Facebook, or Instagram, or anything else less important than a connection with an actual human being. Some consume (myself), others share (Jefe), and if we don't find ways to let this distraction enhance our lives, to better ourselves, we turn into 2014 assholes.
The real life interpersonal benefits that Jefe has taken from camming is a great example of using a distraction to better your personal life. Like Jefe, I spent the majority of my life hiding behind technology, and eventually found a way to use it to benefit my life, especially when my life was in jeopardy. Now, I won't cam -- I'm not nearly attractive as Jefe, nor am I as limber, and I'm pretty sure people would pay me to keep my clothes on. I also refuse to judge him, because who am I, or you, to judge someone taking personality responsibility for their own lives, living it the way they choose? I do take heed in the example he sets: that by doing what makes us initially uncomfortable, like masturbating on camera (aka letting yourself be vulnerable), you allow yourself to grow in unexpected ways. Sometimes that growth is interpersonal, and other times it's a certain special kind of growth... down there.
I don't want to give up on technology, it's part of my life, part of who I am. Jefe put it best, "Mark Zuckerberg did our socially arrested generation a huge favor by replacing more archaic aspects of interpersonal relationships with a Like button." That said, I do want to make it work for me so that I can be a complete person. If that means thinking outside the box, and maybe throwing in some old technology into the mix, like a phone call, well, there's something pretty friggin' great about that. So next time you text your buddy, consider calling them, or at the very least FaceTime 'em. (Clothes optional; right, Jefe?)
H. Alan Scott is a writer and comedian based in New York City and Los Angeles. This post originally appeared on Thought Catalog, where he is a contributor.