Who Cares: Aggressive Apathy And The Internet Shrug

Body language colors so much of our communication: the subtleties of a facial expression, an expressive hand gesture, an eyebrow raised, the amount of space we place between our bodies and other people. All these tiny physical gestures create atmospheres that color our conversations. There’s the warm gutteral feeling you get when you’re laughing with a close friend, the forced and rigid body language when you’re nervously meeting someone, the side-eye you exchange with coworkers when your boss makes a Caitlyn Jenner joke.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the idea that if non-verbal communication fills the gaps in our exchanges, how does that translate to our online relationships? How do we communicate the side-eye, the awkward spaces between bodies, the gentle shoulder squeeze and the dead-eyed murder stare? In many cases, body language and facial expressions can be expressed through the rapid magic of GIFs and emojis, our new glorious language of internet hieroglyphics that seamlessly marry silliness with genius.

But what about the misfires and the Frankensteins we create through the web? What about the times a specific emotion can’t be translated through a computer screen without reshaping into something else completely?

Enter: The Internet Shrug.

We’ve all witnessed it. In fact, most of us are guilty at one point:

“Who even cares”

“Why are you even posting this?”

“I’m bored”

“Meh.”

“So what?”

“….Okay…”

There’s no arguing the satisfaction of giving someone a stare that makes them feel the judgement of a thousand disappointed church ladies, or a shrug that devalues everything they just rambled about. However, expressing apathy over the internet is an automatic self-contradiction, which I personally find both funny and aggressive.

Once you expend the energy to let someone know you don’t care about them, or their ideas, or their selfie, or the political stance they’ve urgently etched out, your passive shrug has shape-shifted into active commentary. It’s turned itself into the most benign form of aggression, and therefore diffused its own chill.

Our Internet Shrugs have no chill. In fact, not only do they lack the chill they so desperately claim, but they paint us as the saddest form of dispassionate nihilists, the types of people who never openly admit vulnerability and yet expose our loneliness through the policing of others.

This is not an indictment of the eye-roll GIF, or a critique of reasonable discussions between people with different opinions. It’s definitely not a call to arms to give a shit about everything everywhere, because that’s exhausting and impossible and ultimately disingenuous.

It’s instead an exhausted fellow internet-friend holding up a mirror and saying, Can we please stop lying about our emotions through Internet Shrugs that reshape themselves back into passive-aggression?

We don’t have to agree. We don’t have to like each other or care about the same things. Hell, you don’t have to care about anything if you don’t want to, it’s your life to sculpt into whatever glorious Nothingness you relish.

But please, let’s stop littering other people’s conversations with loud shrugs of passivity that transparently betray themselves.

Or don’t stop, whatever. Who cares.