Repetition only works in fiction

Re-posted here from Medium for my own archives. Feel free to ignore.

Again. Again. Again.

It’s the mainstay of every narrative genre. In romance you have the persistent suitor. In comedy you have the running joke. In the heroic journey it represents the protagonist’s perseverence in the face of adversity. It’s the iconoclast fighting for truth, justice, and the American way. In plotting it’s an essential part of the narrative rhythm. In the story’s structure it’s what enables foreshadowing and emphasis.

But anybody applying these narrative tropes to real life wouldn’t be a hero. The stubborn romantic lead becomes a stalker. The idealist becomes a fanatic. The epic hero is a psychopath.

Writers use repetition — prominent events that echo one another — to represent and symbolise the quiet foundations of our lives: persistence, patience, and grit. These understructures are unobtrusive and invisible. They are daily, hourly, and by the minute. They have no outstanding — epic — moments because they are a constant. They are not events. They are either qualities of your life or they are not.

By collapsing a symbolic representation of the moments of our lives with the personal interactions of our lives, social media brings these narrative tropes into our social circle.

Where they don’t work.

Instead of representing and symbolising the quiet foundation, they replace them. What used to represent patience generates friction.

Having convictions in your personal or work life is laudable. Stick to those same convictions online and it people start seeing it as a performance — identity construction — at best and as provocations and trolling at worst. Every person I follow online who sticks to their guns has become a polarising figure, drawing as much wrath as they do draw support.

You can’t cash in your convictions in exchange for a calmer, more easygoing online life because that draws as much rage as persisting in them.

The only option seems to be non-participation, keeping to the more trivial, less substantive topics in social media and making sure that you have no real investment in your engagement in them.

Is it possible to stick to your guns without pissing people off?

Is it possible to participate in social media on substantive topics in a constructive way?

Is the world we’re building — where people only engage with and communicate with the like-minded and the similarly concerned — really the only way forward?

I really don’t know.