I’ve been thinking recently ab the new social media trend which feels very reminiscent of the early 2000s formspring/ ask.fm days, and by thinking, i mean to say that i felt a strong visceral revulsion towards it.
So from what I understand, ngl is a new app where people can ask you completely anonymous questions and you reply by posting the question to your instagram story and typing whatever you want underneath it. Its different from the Questions button on instagram story because with that one, the questions asked are still tied to the asker’s IG handle — no, this ngl trend promises true anonymity, though apparently you can pay for hints as to who the asker is, etc.
I have, obviously, very strong feelings about this. I think that when you open your person up like that, you are giving people a hall pass into your attention, which is something that should be guarded carefully. With something like ngl, most people think about the best case scenarios — ie. they hope for a version of their self-image to be affirmed and projected back onto them, they’re hoping for one specific person to ask them something that will then establish a kind of imagined intimacy, or they hope to publicly appear a certain way (intelligent, thoughtful, interesting) through their answers to these questions. but to me that’s very dangerous. you cannot control the behavior of other people, nor their thoughts / attention. letting people say whatever they want to you seems a can of worms: you’re allowing people to plant doubts in your life, whether maliciously intended or not, you’re allowing people to express to you, specifically you, their opinions which are informed by layers and layers of calcified assumptions and stereotypes. the immediate reaction i had to the app was just, no. i dont even want your shoes in my house why would i want your thoughts in my brain.
a lot of my feelings about this comes from specific personal experience. ten years ago when i started hosting i was thrust into the public eye, and it felt as if i immediately split from myself, and became jemimah the person, and jemimah the gesture. suddenly everyone and their mothers were in my business, expressing to me things and behaviors both online and in real life that would be completely unacceptable to say otherwise. singapore is small, so i would perpetually run into people who knew me from the general internet or who watched the show i was on, and who felt it was totally ok to be either overly rude or overly intimate. i remember there was this one time someone went to all the trouble to document every single meal i had posted online and email me with a break down of the carbohydrate and sugar and msg content, explaining to me quite earnestly why even though i looked ugly now, i would be less ugly if i did this and this and this to my diet. that person took special umbrage at my patronage of ramen santouka in clarke quay central, something that stuck with me all these years but didn’t make a dent in my love affair with ramen.
anyway, the email seemed well-intentioned but i can only guess. it was certainly superficially more polite than other emails or DMs expressing disgust at my existence or just gleefully expressing explicit or disgusting shit to me. The worst part is that despite being told to kill myself on a semi-regular basis I actually dont think i got it that bad. i’ve exchanged notes with my other girlfriends and a lot of things that get thrown around are actually horrifying. Anonymous commentors are not afraid to play mother play father. Social decorum or basic decency goes out of the window. at best it’s flabbergasting and stressful, at worst it’s heartbreaking.
And it’s not like i didn’t also have support and love and trust from people who only knew me from a digital arms length. Part of being so publicly accessible was being able to have many long conversations with people I’d probably never meet irl, but who shared their lives and troubles with me after connecting with something I might have said online — to be honoured with that kind of trust is something I dont take lightly. I was very moved by the interest and empathy and enthusiasm from those for whom i was just a collection of pixels on their screen. But every time i got these other kind of messages i remember thinking in outrage, what makes you think you can say this to me? and then finally realizing that of course they can. the difference between can and should is a vast ungovernable chasm and all you can do is hope that people are courteous. which is, you know, a big ask.
which is part of why this ngl trend scares me. i remember thinking years ago that ok fine, i technically knew what i was signing up for, and i just had to accept this as part of the package of a life of privilege that media afforded me. and i learnt very painfully, but very effectively, to disengage from absurdity or walk away from interactions i didn’t want to be a part of. It’s a useful life skill but it’s not something that i would wish upon anyone else having to learn the hard way.
And most of the time, in regular interaction, you won’t have to. Most communication is enacted in an arena where both parties have agenda and power, shit can go down but it can also be dodged/resisted/pushed back against. And at the very least there is some kind of accountability, which triggers both an awareness of social consequence and, i think, a level of self-respect that reminds you that you are not a primordial baboon driven only by its present id, and that keeps you to a higher moral standard in your interactions with another individual.
That, to me, is the key difference between an app like ngl and someone just sending you an anonymous DM with their own private IG accounts or whatever. The complete and utter anonymity of ngl doesn’t just cede control over the conversation for you, it releases the other person from the usual moral standards of what it means to be a normal human being in society. i usually don’t have that much of an opinion about social media trends cos most of them are harmless and transient, but ngl to me seems to be hiding under the same veneer of innocuous fun, but which has the potential to really cause lasting damage. people spend so much of their lives trying to establish a solid center of self-regard as they develop as human beings, and so few people are truly able to remain unaffected by what others think of them. Ngl to me seems like giving a stranger booze and a katana and hoping they dont drunkenly stab the baby crawling around the room, slowly learning to walk.
Anyway. My girlfriends and i were having a long conversation about this the other night, where we were like, man, imagine how damaging this ngl thing might be for all the preteen and young adults online who are just trying it for fun. And then of course the very next day my partner went online and was like, he he we’re getting married this weekend ask me anything!!! And i was like, Shane. Please. But I had a look at the questions people sent him and only one person was kind of shady. I was worried, I asked Shane if it bothered him at all, I was all ready to walk him through the techniques of Not Giving A Fuck About What Anonymous Internet People Say.
But actually I needn’t have worried. Shane has the confidence of a lynx, he just found all of it quite funny. So maybe it’s bc he’s 32, or maybe im overreacting and am only really being retroactively protective over the kid i once was, and maybe kids nowadays are able to cut through and dismiss external feedback that isn’t helpful or edifying to them. Either way. That was my cute lil rant on the dangers of letting people talk shit to you, online or otherwise. I’m getting married this weekend, do not ask me anything.