I really thought I had a point to this but I think I forgot.
some rambling thoughts on artificial intelligence, writing, terrorism, and OCD.
I’ve been thinking a lot about what the point of Psychology Onions is and the short answer is that I don’t know. It’s absurd! It’s relatable! It’s hilarious! That’s how I’d like Psychology Onions to be described, at least. When I first started writing this newsletter, I was really excited about the idea of explaining myself and why I am the way I am to the people who know me and the people who know know me. But I think I’m starting to realize that people don’t really care. Not in a they don’t care type of don’t care, but more of a they care more about how you are, not why you are type of don’t care. When I first started writing Psychology Onions, I was also excited about telling dumb jokes and using humor and absurdity to try and normalize mental illness. Not in that mental illness for internet clout type of mental illness, but more of a 13-year-old boy, checking the front door over and over and over and over again because he thinks he’s a pedophile and the police are going to arrest him type of mental illness. I wanted this newsletter to be for 13-year-old me. For 18-year-old me. For 25-year-old me. For 95-year-old me, maybe, when I’m an absolutely ripe bastard. I don’t really know what that means, but I suppose to me it sometimes means writing about how ERP is basically psychological-edging or how that John Mac Ghlionn guy (who wrote the New York Post article comparing an OCD sufferer to a terrorist) is a genuine d*ckhead (who also probably murdered and ate his family).
Honestly, John—what’s more absurd: your terrorism stuff or my cannibalism stuff?
There was this night in 2018 that I think about a lot, when my wife and I were living in San Francisco, when I had been in a particularly big OCD spike for a while and it had been particularly grating on my wife. I was in this paranoid I’m being investigated, terrified I did something illegal, petrified I’m a pedophile, eat two sleeves of Oreos for dinner, inflatable mattress on the floor because I’m too contaminated for a regular mattress, leave the office to go home to use the bathroom and then go back to the office, spending my nights awake, checking, obsessing, ruminating type of OCD spike. And on this particular night in 2018, my wife had had enough and we got into this big, loud, blow-up fight. After we yelled at each other for a while, my wife stormed out of our apartment and—at some point in the evening—ended up calling my mom. My mom then called me and said something to the effect of don’t f—ing lose Emma, you stupid, genuinely-stupid little shit—she’s the best thing that has and will ever happen to you.
But after my mom called me, I didn’t run down after Emma and promise her I’d get help and figure my shit out. Instead, I stayed in our apartment, on my computer, trying to map out every security camera at every airport I’d ever been to because I’d convinced myself I looked at child p*rn at an airport at some point in my life so I had to become certain that—even though I never did this disgusting thing—if I had done it, wherever I might have been standing, at whatever airport I might have gone to in the past seven years, there was no way a security camera could identify my face at the same time I was ever looking on my phone and tell (based on the angle of how I might have held my phone) what was actually on my phone’s screen.
I’m not a terrorist, John. I’m just scared.
Sometimes OCD winds up and punches you so hard in the stomach you vomit but a lot of times OCD just kinda jabs you in the stomach repeatedly, in the same spot, over and over and over and over and over.
I think what’s most frustrating about my OCD and my mental health in general is that all I want is to hang out with my wife, hang out with my dog, be happy, be healthy, travel, get a house, run, eat oats, hike, get high, fix my truck, see my parents, my sister, my family, my friends, my wife’s family, know that my wife and my dog and my friends and my family are happy and healthy, do nice things for people, make money, do cool shit, and be incredibly handsome and well-liked by everyone I talk to. That’s all I want. And also I want my writing to be a success and make enough money for me to do it full-time and for it to make me happy and give me purpose.
I’ve had this gnawing fear for a while now, this persistent agitation, that this newsletter I jumped all in on will fail and it’ll be a failure that will ultimately affect my wife and I. AND THEN—the stable job (that I left to pursue my dream of becoming a writer) will be replaced by A.I., my writing will be replaced by A.I., and I will have fucked over everything my wife and I are trying to accomplish. How I’ve responded to these anxious thoughts has been to listen to every podcast about ChatGPT and read every article about Bing A.I., watch every video about artificial intelligence and research every development and go back and forth, back and forth, comparing my writing to A.I.’s writing. And as I’ve sat with this feeling, I’ve thought a lot about how technology in general is this huge, incessant content area that has contorted and mutated and morphed itself into anything and everything it can to keep me ensnared and transfixed and miserable. I’ve had this gnawing fear of technology in all its forms for a while now and its been the ideal fuel for my decades-long everything is for nothing mental bonfire.
I’m still trying to figure out what the purpose of this post is, but I’m now about 1200ish words in and still waffling on what that is. I could try and reassure myself about A.I. and ChatGPT and try to make myself sound profound by saying something akin to “humans have intuition and angst and awkwardness and anger and fear and artificial intelligence will never have those things,” but I am not entirely sure I have any intuition and while I am fearful, I don’t know if that makes me any more perspicacious. Perspicuous? Perspiucousiousuaus?
I could also double-down on the “John Mac Ghlionn stabbing and noshing his family” bit, maybe throw in another stupid poll, maybe make a GIF?
I could do that, but I won’t.
Psychology Onions is (and will always be) all about respect, civility, and sophisticated, New Yorker-esque humor.
Also here’s the GIF:
Instead, I think I’ll end with this: the internet has been the perfect kindling for my OCD. My OCD has found many, many things to latch onto—but the internet is always there, infinite and uncertain. And right now, the obsessing and the checking and the ruminating and the ritualizing are keyed in on A.I. and chatbots and large language models and machine learning. But there’s also been cancel culture and Twitter and Facebook and data storage and TikTok and privacy and clearing data history and WebMD and medical forums and Instagram and iCloud backups and digital photos and Reddit and online legal advice and security cameras and geolocation and emails and Slack and the NSA and government surveillance and Snapchat and destroying iPhones and iPads and SIM cards in the backyard with a hammer.
When I was thirteen, my sister’s friend’s brother was wrongfully accused of possessing child p*rnography and the CBS news show 60 Minutes did an entire segment on it. Every day since I was thirteen, every day since I watched that CBS 60 Minutes segment, this idea that I will be wrongfully accused of possessing child p*rnography has harassed me—sometimes by winding up and punching me so hard in the stomach I vomit, but a lot of times just jabbing me in the stomach repeatedly, in the same spot, over and over and over and over and over.
Artificial intelligence might be this Next Big Thing that completely transforms our world and our future and unlocks some higher level of human intelligence in truly dazzling ways, but I think it’s gonna be a no for me. The internet has been tough on me and—even if A.I. is truly as compelling as they say it will be—I may have to decline.
I appreciate the offer, but I think I’m good.
This post is Part 3 of a multi-part series: The Internet. Be Afraid. Read Part 1 and Part 2 here:
Part 1: An open letter to Big Tech
Part 2: Let's see ChatGPT fuck my wife
Some resources and links that have helped me
Missed my last Psychology Onions post? Read it here.
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As a fellow OCD haver, I really feel you. It’s so not easy opening up about your most painful, irrational intrusive thoughts so I admire you for that! Totally agree on the Internet being the worst thing for enabling compulsions (and that New York Post article was infuriating 🙄)
I wonder if this might be helpful: http://endoftheinternet.com/