I am almost completely incapable of forming my own unique opinion on anything. Whenever I hear a new record or watch a new movie, I ignore my immediate reactions and quickly search for a packaged, already thought out, articulate response to it. I used to trust my opinion. I used to believe whatever point of view I had on something was going to be the correct one.
But then something happened. I started to question myself—started to adopt other people's thoughts and doubt the validity of my own. If being ignorant is bliss, then being well-informed has become somewhat of a curse. The Internet has created an accepted hive of acceptance. Genuine opinions are matriculated through a handful of people who we've deemed worthy of setting the tone. They dictate the mood, we nod in accordance, dance and then move along 'til they change the song.
When a new album drops, I can't tell my friends how I feel about it until I see the Pitchfork rating. HBO's newest Sunday drama? What’s Andy Greenwald's critical opinion on how it compares to The Wire? Was that the greatest series clinching buzzer beater of all time or nah? First, let me check what basketball Twitter says. What's my favorite #menswear blog's opinion of the most recent ____ x ____ collaboration? That restaurant looks good, but what's Yelp got to say about it?
While no thoughts come out of a vacuum, personal conjecture is definitely formed in the cozy ether of internet influence. Looking toward others is an easy way of having a critical point of view on something. Why go through the work of creating an original thought when you can just RT someone else's?
Consumption of opinion still remains a pretty low risk activity. You read, watch and listen to things and continue to live your life whether or not you choose to apply them. If what you learned is applicable to your current social situation, but people disagree or have issue with it, you can just defer and say it was what some blogger said.
Go ahead and blame our teenage angst on not knowing any better. But our twenty-something ennui? We think we know too much.
In this day and age, opinion remains a cheap and inflated form of currency. The "Greater Fool Theory" in the stock market means consciously making a poor investment with the knowledge that you can flip it for a higher price to "a greater fool." The sneaker resale industry has made a killing off of this. We buy opinion at bargain rates, not because of its intrinsic value to us, but because of its perceived worth to someone else. Simply put, it's easy to make it rain influence on people. The more opinion we print and the more critical thought becomes ubiquitous, the less value it retains. Popular opinion turns into worthless German coins in the 1920s. What good is a hundred dollar bill if we can all print them at home?
The irony of irony has come so full circle that the only way to have a unique thought is to go against popular opinion, which, in some strange way, often means siding with popular opinion. Say a new album comes out and you're trying to articulate how you feel about it. You peruse Twitter and determine that the general consensus is "it's straight George RR Martin: Fire AND Ice." You scan your favorite blogs and read a few critical disseminations of it. It largely conforms to your very broad opinion and eloquent thought of "it’s pretty sick." But then so do all of your friends. And so do all of their friends.
The course of discussion revolves around you guys reciting the same thing, mostly going in circles, echoing the same sentiments, because people tend to befriend people who share the same values. So, how the fuck do you craft a unique thought in a never-ending feedback look? How do you mine that rare $$$ tweet that no one else has thought of yet? How do you reach an insightful insight if we all own opinions like Monopoly money?
Our individual quest to stay relevant is both exhausting and confusing. You're constantly trying to match a metaphorical pace car, while simultaneously trying to look like you're exuding very little effort: "Of course it's easy to maintain this eight-minute mile," but in reality you're winded and your shin splints are killing you. We're so concerned with the appearance of indifference that no one can actually tell that we want to win the race. We all want to look like we're nonchalant, but, really, we're all very chalant.
And it's all come to the point where we fear our own opinion. As easy as it is to attain someone else's, I'm finding it insanely difficult to make simple choices, or to even hold my own with any sort of conviction. The Internet has turned our brains into mush: part neurosis, part insecurity, part ADHD, part who gives a shit? My knee-jerk reaction is to sometimes just tune out. It's the same sentiment that explains why people have a hard time getting into a TV show that's four seasons in and has a huge following. There's an inherent pressure to feel something and follow its narrative and if you don't agree, well, then you're Kenny Powers fucking out. It also explains the anxiety you get when your co-worker wants to show you a "funny" YouTube video or when you're tasked at picking a restaurant to eat at.
Do you trust your own judgment enough to assert your own thought without having to check what someone else thinks? The notion that our generation is a bunch of insufferable sheep with no real value to provide to society sucks. We went from being influenced by a handful of communities to being influenced by thousands of them. This onslaught of information has made us so self aware that we're not sure if we "like, literally, like something" or if it's just "meh." Excess of knowledge has made us so apathetic that we're kids given keys to the candy shop, but we can't find anything sweet to eat.
Go ahead and blame our teenage angst on not knowing any better. But our twenty-something ennui? We think we know too much. Hopefully, when the dust finally settles, we'll all be able to do something cool with the wealth of knowledge we have, instead of just trolling the shit out of each other.
Nickolaus Sugai is making sure someone feels the same way. Follow him on Twitter here.