Cyber-Anxiety: The Struggle to Articulate Our Exploits & Truman 2.0

When there is something tangibly off in a moment, and the moment builds until the feeling becomes a pattern and so on, one is left to consider the idea that maybe, perhaps, not to sound completely conspiratorial (although, I definitely am) something has in fact shifted.

A collective, palpable lapse into something different yet unspeakable so far as language (and arguably culture) is wiling to admit and altogether familiar at once. It’s as if the past has not yet removed itself from working memory but you can’t go back. And yet, it’s entirely possible that at this point, only you feel effected by a cultural or social shift because you’re enormously and overdramatic and sensitive to an extent you either embrace or decide to cut yourself off completely. A tendency to feel at odds with the world, the state of as Marx might call his “species being”, or something alone the lines of feeling unsatisfied, put off, or strangely and compellingly in tension with something offensive to your core. If you think I’m describing alienation or if you prefer, “estrangement“, I’m not.

Well, in a sense I am, but what I suspect is in fact the driving force of this revulsion at the prospects of how it feels to live in a psychosocially turbulent environment, considering our concerning tendency to deconstruct and muse in agony at the interruption processes of existential angst is…simply anxiety

If you experience anxiety on a near constant basis, it’s almost safe to assume you experience reality on much different terms. That is not some grand statement to shame either party on the side of those who do/don’t experience anxiety either. Really, it’s just important to, at the very least, acknowledge that as a rule, certain situations, sounds, and yes, ideas, evoke gut-lurching and questionably intense heard pounding episodes to a world that is banal, steeping in levels of comfort that would be extraordinary to any other historical population (you guessed it, this is written from Vancouver, Canada – a safe place to be when you’re a white, middle class university student – there, your daily caloric intake for identity politics until 2:00am tomorrow night). What is worse, these moments of estrangement from the essence of cooperation in the social world, the absurdity of it all, adds it. it makes you question first, yourself, then reality, then you as compatible in this reality (I’m on this step right now) – rinse and repeat over and over again until, defeated, you don’t trust either. 

This was not intended to wind up a depository for ontological strife but, sometimes an imaginary audience seems to be the only place for angst-drain; a screen to absorb anxiety that in essence, it created.  See what I mean why sensitive though? It’s Neo-Emo. I would love to insert a trademark logo on neo-emo but unfortunately I don’t even know how to use a keyboard well enough for it. And that’s part of the problem. With this preliminary level of tech-competency, I still find myself experiencing this heavy and pervasive shift in the psychosocial, social order in relation to technology. In various contexts, the public is seemingly rearranged. The dynamics of relationships do, as you all already know but rarely enjoy reading in words, have been altered to a degree indistinguishable for any longer. And the part I disdain most about this subtle collapse of psychosocial freedom, is that one feels apart but separate from the slight adoptions of principles emerging from the new moral order of the way we perceive one another. No matter the extent to which you participate in creating laws of behaviour, you will enforce them by either pure self-denial of the real or simply being too distracted to recognize.

The mystery, combined with the absolute fascination of developing technology as been evolving continuously throughout the lives of millennials (10+ for our favourite word, and you know which millenials I’m talking about, please don’t evoke identity politics, I have yet to reach a single actual point yet). The reinvention of the terms of cyber-wonder also, in the subliminal realm, stokes notions of cyber-fear. Now, the lengths to which cyber-fear and paranoia break through the id, disregard the superego and overrun the ego vary with, I would argue, the levels of neuroticism in the individual. What you may not realize is that the persisting recurrence of cyber-anxiety, an experience of fearing the unknown; both in terms of potentials for reality and dormant truths about human nature, is that it can be exploited – easily –  by well-executed cinematograph, sound, and mostly convincingly, dystopian musings.

Stoking this cyber-anxiety is TV. Yes, it is the state of things that television, very little of it, but some of it, is somehow harnessing id-level undercurrents of disarray and social disorder and producing an articulation of it, often using prospects of very near social reality/psychodystopia to demonstrate interpretations or speculations. Black Mirror (2011-present) exists as a series of conceptually similar episodes with dissimilar and unrelated plotlines. Each anxiously moving narrative explicates the complexities of cyberculture, social reality, global capitalism, weaponized technology and psychological warfare/enslavement; stoking the fires of our Truman-esque paranoia. This conceptually packaged social commentary involving the near-distant future and finding the terror in the fragility of everyday banality is present, perhaps most thoughtfully, in Sam Esmail’s Mr.Robot (another cyber-thriller gem).

The Truman Show, shown in highschool English classrooms across the country, places you in the familiar yet strange, a median place that feels more peculiar than the new or unknown, likely because the synthesis of past and present have not quite completed. Exploiting the discomfort of spectator culture seems a perfectly effective way to communicate critiques of the changing psychosocial conditions of the post-postmodern world. Black Mirror season 2, episode 2, “White Bear” reinvents the Truman show, extending the metaphor into the now, admittably with more violence. By moving with anxiety from moment to moment, the use of sound and silence, angles and absurdity, the episode deals with that fear you have, the one involving total domination, infection, being totally overridden with code from something else, something external.

The protagonist wakes up, with her memory of self and society erased, and is confronted with a world in which the majority of the population is operating under the control of software written by a cyber-totalitarian conductor, ‘voluntarily’ filming the protagonist’s every move in the pacified, detached and transient state we see ourselves and others doing everyday. Only now the setting is complicated by the violence of those who apparently were not infected by this condition and understand the low-risk conditions of reigning terror and persistently try to kill the protagonist all while droves of zombified spectators film and upload the entire thing. It’s bizarre, demanding that one might consider redressing those recurring cynicism about human nature. The details should be spared but spoiler: it’s all being filmed and uploaded to a seemingly distant reality where the culture has accepted lapsed into accepting spectacles of violence, so long as they are psychologically or geographically unrelated to them, for the sake of yes – entertainment.

Added to layers of speculative cultural commentary regarding a potential multiverse, spectatorship media, normalized violence, dislocation from the self and one another, is a piercingly accurate and intuitively sharp depiction of self-estrangement, self-doubt, ontological anxiety, existential confusion and altogether what we might just call neurosis. A first-person point of view written through the lens of mental illness, the experience of being constantly questioning the trustworthiness of your perceptions and dislocation in the ‘rationalization’ of everyday relationships and experience. The psychosocial order portrayed in Black Mirror translates fluidity, it relates through sound, script, and tension, an uncertainty that obscures the apparently mundane.

Post-Script: Black Mirror is the first show I’ve ever looked up on Rotten Tomatoes but it actually has 100% freshness…which from what I’ve heard, is unheard of (also, ps. what I’ve heard only comes from a Mr.Robot podcast.)
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