Twilight on the edge of the Mojave Desert. A jackrabbit the size of a terrier loped into the middle of the road, where I stood outside my parked car. I made eye contact with the animal and it stared back brazenly before darting off. I hadn’t realized it was possible for a rabbit to look mean but that one sure did. Huge crows flew overhead and a rooster called somewhere in the background. All around me, dozens of Joshua trees writhed eerily in their fibrous, fire-resistant bark. In the distance a wiry feral dog, maybe a coyote, eyed me opportunistically.
The starkness of the California Desert was a counterpoint to the mist of perplexity back home. My life was going well on the surface but underneath things weren’t clicking. My work at Fight! Magazine, which had begun as an attempt to ferret out the nobility of an obscure and eccentric sport, was I feared, devolving into mere sophistry. I had becoming copywriter not a journalist or artist. I was disheartened by the legion precisely tuned psychological manipulations that were the stock and trade of media and which seemed necessary to keep the culture functioning. The tidal wave of knowledge, disinformation, art, banality, wisdom, absurdity, beauty and vulgarity that was the information culture had behind it, I dimly perceived, some force directing it forward towards an unknowable end, propelling it through the momentum of a billion chattering voices. What was it into which everything was being so rapidly absorbed, an invisible hand bidden by a new global mind?
Social media, the great boon to marketers, journalists and revolutionaries, was turning individuals into brands and what is a brand but an illusion, an agreed upon construct. We had become our Avatars. Everybody was playing everybody else, managing images, wearing masks. It was a thin reality and slipping into nihilism but people couldn’t log off long enough to realize it. Those existential crises you hear about really exist because I was having one and it was a doozy.