At first glance, I seem like a pretty typical 24-year-old dude. I am a bit nerdy, love both Star Wars and Star Trek (don’t hate me, there’s room in my heart for both), and enjoy hot chocolate paired with a good book.
By most accounts, I’m pretty mild. In an era previously defined by large parties and social gatherings, my ideal night was a night in with a couple of friends playing board and video games curled up with cozy blankets.
To be blunt, people scared me.
They didn’t scare me because they can be awful. The worst part was when people were great. I didn’t know when the curtain was going to come down. I had a fear that people were just pretending and waiting for the opportune moment to strike.
If I didn’t believe they were just presenting a facade of their life, I felt small compared to their radiance. I had the privilege to be around people doing extraordinary things, and here I was, still in my hometown, working a job I fell into out of necessity.
In all senses, I felt inadequate and on edge.
With the benefit of hindsight, I now realize that is an irrational and highly pessimistic way to look at the world. Still, it was my reality for two years during the pandemic. It’s not like my worldview radically shifted, and I became enlightened during these two years.
People still scare me, but slightly less so.
Want to know the craziest thing? Writing is what helped me start to be less scared of people. An activity typically seen as an introvert’s delight helped me step out of my shell and begin to reconnect with the world I had closed out.
The process was not painless. In reconnecting with the world, I had to face some harsh truths and sort through a lot of rubbish in my head.
Overall, I’d say it was positive. Writing forced me to start consuming content again to relate with the world, examine my own biases, and seek out lived experience in things I had written off as “frivolous” when pursuing my career and higher education.
Part of Creation is Consumption
We can all agree that the past couple of years were kind of a dumpster fire, right?
My response to cope with all the gloom and doom was to dig three holes (1 for my head and two for my headphones) and proceed to stick my head in the sand.
I’m not going to lie; tuning out the world for a while was great. I didn’t have to worry about a pandemic that seemed like it was going to end. I didn’t have to worry about the consequences of policy decisions I disagreed with. I didn’t have to worry about the alarming damage done to our planet.
Unfortunately, ignoring a problem doesn’t make it any less real.
Gradually, I had to start consuming content again to know what was happening in the world. Without that basis of reality, my writing would feel fake and out of touch.
The world I had largely ignored for two years came knocking. Not only did some of the more exciting or unique things come back to light, but so too did the dreadful skeletons I had put in the closet.
If you’re wondering, I’ve decided that my skeleton’s name is Frank, and he likes a propeller hat.
In my excavation, I discovered some truly amazing things. I saw a scientific community that produced incredible advances in medicine rapidly. I saw my beloved community of makers that stepped up to help with shields and ear savers during the first surge. I saw a rise in citizen science and an interest in science policy.
Unfortunately, my excavation uncovered some dark truths as well.
I had to reconcile with the realities of inequality in our workforce. I had to reconcile with continued social and racial injustice. I had to reconcile with the mental and social damage my beloved technology was causing in our society.
At heart, I’m a techie and geek. I love the inventions of the modern age. Smart home? Sign me up. New video game? Hell yeah, I’ll play! These things have formed the core of my identity since middle school.
I thought I knew my relation to them and where they stood in connection to the world, but their position changed during my “blip.” The time gap forced me to reexamine my two favorite things. I had to understand how what I love could be harmful or dreadful for someone else.
Examining my beloved coping mechanisms was not an easy process and is constantly ongoing.
I realized that technology could have horrible, unintended side effects — like biased AI algorithms. I realized that some parts of geek culture were built upon harmful ideology. I realized that, like all idols, the gold was just plating, and standard brass was beneath.
It was not an easy pill to swallow, but now I feel less guilty about my love of technology and geekdom. The fundamental issues with these items did not make me love them any less. It simply made me more aware of the ways they were flawed. Isn’t that true love, love despite any flaws?
I can now consume content related to these things again with my eyes slightly more open. They are not unassailable deities but human creations with all the benefits and shortcomings that confers onto them.
A bonus of starting to consume content again is relating with others. Part of the reason people scare me is that I feel I cannot connect with them. I felt the most disconnected from others during the two years I ate, slept, and breathed, “work, school, sleep, repeat.”
By cutting myself off from the “inessential,” I also cut off a big part of my empathy and my ability to relate with my co-workers.
Now that I have to consume content to write, I can connect with my coworkers and friends again. I am slowly building bridges with people through shared experiences.
Writing is Announcing my Biases and Preconceptions
If you couldn’t tell, I had significant issues to sort out once I started writing again.
I realized that I had accumulated a lot of dust and debris inside my head over the past two years. Not only was my ability to use rationality a bit foggy, but I had also collected the opinions of others I never dealt with before my self-imposed exile — which I now had to sift through.
Through writing, I can take a step back from something and attempt to observe it as is. I believe that this is especially useful when writing about something I love. As a writer, my job is to convey the essence of something in a compelling way.
Of course, my biases and perceptions invariably come in like fun-house mirrors, distorting my view of the object. The distortion is partly required to make unique and compelling content. If I don’t inject my perception into a piece, you’ll likely read some other writer who does.
My biases and perceptions don’t have to be debilitating, though. Writing past them can become a meditative exercise. They are not like glasses I can take off, but I can train my vision to diminish their importance.
When I started writing again, I could feel these preconceptions creeping into my view. One significant bias was that I thought video games were neutral, like technology. I now believe it was a naive assumption.
Video games are equal parts of technology and culture. While some strive to be morally ambivalent, all make a statement through their production and sale. They cannot be seen as passive media.
Video games are imbued with the ability to change mental patterns in our brain and deliver striking messages through their interactive nature (see Spec Ops: The Line for a prime example.)
Consequently, video games are not neutral. Instead, they are another form of art. They are a way for us to understand our current society, reflect, and aim for something better. This is a dramatically different view than I had.
Stepping away from video games, a big part of tech is constantly cycling an old but functional gadget for a slightly faster, slightly shinier one. As someone who cares about sustainability, I recognize this process is unsustainable. As someone who loves tech, the latest gadgets excite me.
Reconciling these two opposing world views is still something I struggle with. I agree that we should strive to improve technology, but we should learn how to do more with our tech without falling for shiny object syndrome.
Many would not share my view. Many see the discarding of working but outdated tech as essential for progress. I believe this view is mostly wrong. There has to be a way to develop better technology without contributing to a cycle of churning.
Again, this dramatically differs from my earlier view that all tech is neutral and the more gadgets the better.
Of course, what do I know? I haven’t worked in the tech sector directly. Until recently, I was not even interacting with tech (circuit boards, microcontrollers, and code) in a hands-on fashion. My lack of experience leads me to the last way that freelance writing has helped me become more whole.
“Authentic” Experience Demands Lived Experience
One of the biggest things that publications push for is the idea of “authenticity.” I think the term authentic is a bit loaded and problematic, but I’ll save that critique for another dialogue. I replace authentic with lived experience.
During the pandemic, my only focus was work and school. At the time, it accomplished the mission but had left me a bit hollow and one-dimensional.
I realized that when other people were discussing pop culture or their interests, I could not relate. I had replaced all that made me unique with what was essential. I had disconnected from any hobby that I loved to chase “success” in the form of a career and higher education.
Since this realization, I have slowly learned to chase my interests again. I started freelance writing in equal parts out of necessity and curiosity. I had always liked to write as a way to clear my mind. Maybe I could use this exercise as a way to make money?
As I write this, I just achieved my first paid article — a point of personal pride. However, if I’m not careful, this will just devolve into the career trap once again.
Thankfully, freelance writing has a built-in counterweight. To be relevant, you need to have the experience to draw from. Many articles that cannot be replicated by increasingly sophisticated AI writers include personal experience.
Ultimately, we want to connect with other humans — if we aren’t strictly searching for information. This drive to connect with another human can only come when someone is willingly vulnerable and shares their personal experiences; as a result, I have to live my subject matter to write in a way that resonates with others.
Due to this realization, I have slowly taken up hobbies and am on the road to becoming whole again. I have started to read and draw both long-lost relics from my past. I am learning to crochet for the first time — a secret desire. I am also playing with tech and robotics — something I have wanted to do since childhood.
All these experiences allow me to add character and expertise to my writing.
I now believe that all my hobbies are not “frivolous time-wasters” but essential parts of my creative process. Writing just may have saved my hobbies and saved my soul in the process.
So, freelance writing forced me to acknowledge how I viewed the world, reengage with a world I largely ignored, and seek out more lived experiences.
I won’t pretend that journey is all sunshine and rainbows.
There are many days where I still yearn for the blissful ignorance I allowed myself to have during the past two years. It ultimately is not productive for me or my vocation, so I must not let that happen again.
Despite the rough road, I am thankful for writing. It provides me an outlet to get my thoughts out, some pizza money, and a pathway to knowing myself again.
I started freelance writing to earn some side cash. I gained a deeper understanding of myself and a pathway to heal emotionally as a result.