Apr 26, 2024, 06:24AM

The Rise of the Weirdo

As internet algorithms lead us to increasingly indistinguishable content, the only way to stand out is to be truly weird.

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Years ago, many people posted photographs on Facebook of what they were eating. I saw all sorts of meals, homemade, in restaurants, from carry-outs, various desserts, lobsters boiled alive. Later, at the beginning of the Covid period, when reports of toilet paper shortages and videos of customers fighting in supermarket aisles appeared, a second type of photo appeared, the proud toilet paper possessor. A couple of these stand out in my memory: one was of a five-foot high pyramid of toilet paper rolls, and another was a series of photos documenting the photographer’s personal use of toilet paper. These photos would show empty cardboard tubes symbolizing a roll fully used.

These two types of photos reveal the absence of a third type which I’m sure will one day make its long-overdue appearance. The step from one’s dinner, to that of a used toilet paper roll logically suggests a photo of a toilet filled with food digested and proof of a rectum well-wiped: one’s documented excremental act.

If, as Jean Paul Sartre wrote, “Hell is other people” then the cyberworld has the solution, block them out and concentrate solely on yourself. Modern reality encourages selfishness. One result I’ve noticed is a marked deterioration in conversational skills. In a time when someone responds to a post with a thumbs up, a smiley or crying face, or a heart, when messages take on the form of unidirectional telegram-like shorthand, it was inevitable that conversation would suffer.

One of the problems may be that portable telephones lend themselves to the limitless extension of the personal space. Who hasn’t seen someone, oblivious to the world around them, speaking loudly into a cell on the street, in a restaurant, or elsewhere? I often see what I assume to be a schizophrenic talking to themselves but not sure until I determine whether they are wearing wireless headphones. While on the phone, I’ve heard people urinate, defecate, burp, cook dinner, use their computers, eat loudly, water their plants, and do the dishes while they waited for a pause in what I happen to be saying, the cue to speak. This is something I don’t recall from the days of desktop telephones.

The self-centered principle is at work everywhere. Matt Taibbi, an investigative journalist, pointed out that with the advent of cable television in the early-1980s, news programs, in order to stay competitive, broke with the tradition of “evening news for everyone” into a wide variety of targeted news markets, each having a particular slant, all the gradations from the extreme left to the extreme right. We went from Walter Cronkite’s universal “And that’s the way it is”  to people screaming that the other side of any argument was held either by conspiracy theorists or sheep-like followers of the party line.

The principle’s also found in internet algorithms that constantly feed you back to yourself; click on a video and you can be sure you’ll be “fed” variations on it constantly. I imagine the same will soon be true with chat bots which, knowing your internet history, will tell you what you want to hear. It’s becoming impossible to escape ourselves.

This trend is leading to The Rise of the Weirdo. A weirdo, in my definition, is a person who lacks the social skills to see that their idiosyncratic behavior is not a universally shared norm, i.e. essentially an adult child. They can’t see that taking off your shoes and putting your feet up on a chair while wearing socks unwashed for three weeks isn’t done in a civilized world. They’re unaware that rolling one’s nipples between thumb and forefinger while talking to you is something for a private setting. Or saving their toenails in baby-food jars or talking publicly about shaving their pubic hair. The weirdo sees the world as their audience, where nothing they can do is objectionable.

In the early-1990s someone I knew in Baltimore told me the following story. At about two a.m. one night he got an excited phone call from a guy he knew saying, “You’ve got to see this! Come over right now!” He asked him to tell him what it was over the phone, saying that he was in bed, sleeping. But the guy insisted words wouldn’t do it justice. My acquaintance got up, dressed, and drove over. As he pulled up in front of the guy’s house, he saw the porch light go on, the front door swing open and out came the guy running, carrying what looked like a large dinner platter. He ran up to the car and said “Can you believe it? Isn’t it amazing?” On the platter was an unbroken length of human excrement around two feet long. This happened pre-Facebook. But if it happened today and a photo was published, it could start trending.

  • I was unaware that publicly "rolling one’s nipples between thumb and forefinger while talking to you" had become such a phenomenon. I guess I need to get out more.

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  • Hi, thank you for commenting. I didn't mean to suggest that it had become a phenomenon. That's just one example of one man's personal space being unconsciously extended beyond what I feel are acceptable boundaries. The list is endless.

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  • Excellent point Dick and putting aside the example from my previous comment the theme of your article rings true. There has been a deterioration in public etiquette and social standards in recent years exacerbated by the use of the smart phone and social media and the trend accelerated even further during the Covid pandemic. What we are seeing is a form of narcissistic personality disorder where the main objective is to get social media clicks, likes and followers regardless of how inappropriate the behavior is to the public. The more off the wall the stunt the more clicks. Acting respectfully in public takes the back seat to outlandish behavior and clicks, likes and followers takes precedence over consideration towards others.... Underlining all of this is a breakdown of moral based value systems in society which in previous generations encouraged self control and helped to restrain narcissistic tendencies.

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