By Greg Moody
Hello, my name is Greg.
And I am an addict.
It’s not any of the classic addictions, though it certainly feels that way at times.
I can only drink so much so often before making myself sick, yet everyone thinks that I drink far more than I really do, as I prattle on about needing a shot, a pop, a snootful, but it never really happens. I haven’t been really drunk for at least 20 years, except for the night I got fired and drank two bottles of champagne before straining them both through my nose.
Cigarettes? I could never smoke more than one or two a day before turning green. If you asked me what brand I smoked, it would have to be OP’s. Other People’s. I was a bum and too damned cheap to buy my own packs of twenty, of which I would smoke two and then throw the rest of the pack away.
I did smoke a pipe and will admit that I still, occasionally, miss it. Then, again, it was a once every six weeks kind of habit and seemed hardly worth the trouble.
I had a two year love affair with marijuana, weed, pot, The Ganja, before an epiphany on a Christmas Eve that led me to the realization that if I kept on, I’d likely spend the rest of my life staring at blank walls and wondering why I could hear the TV set (behind me) and still not see any picture beyond a flat, beige landscape. The remainder went down the toilet and I’ve never gone back.
There are so many others, but so little time, and, frankly, none generating enough appeal to make them worth the effort.
But I am an addict.
And I know it.
I am an addict to what I can only describe as brain junk.
It has only become worse.
It began with mere trivia, bits and pieces, threads and dust bunnies of worthless information, historical oddities and achievement that were easily captured out of “Ripley’s Believe it Or Not” and stored away in the attic of my mind, ready for instant retrieval at a moment’s notice.
I was drawn to them, a moth to the flame of tidbits.
That, however, was merely the start.
From there, the books began to appear, books of lists and almanacs and volumes of odd stories out of American history, insane studies of the most insignificant minutiae of whatever it was I was interested in at the moment, from The Marx Brothers to ancient Rome to the inner workings of The Tour de France.
And there I was, deep in the grasp of addiction, surrounded by my books and notes and magazines of fun facts, pushing the dopamine levels to new highs in my brain.
Still, it hadn’t left the rails. I was fine in my obsessions, I had everything under control, a few too many books, perhaps, a few too many files of random notes and filigree hidden in the basement, but under control, nonetheless. And then, the media, that media I could only access once a day, in a daily paper, on an evening newscast, in a movie or throwaway newsletter on the table of a fast food restaurant, or when I could afford a trip to the bookstore, suddenly began to fade, to pale in comparison to the magnificent deluge of, well, everything, everything, that is the internet and the instant access that comes with it.
Communication with old friends and the quickly delivered gratification of hearing how much they miss you and the good old times you once had, just as you miss time and the good old you you once had, works wonders on the endorphin-starved soul.
The answer to any question about Hollywood history you would ever want to know, is right at the tip of your fingers, ready to dazzle your friends with your knowledge, ready to soak up the instant gratification of their praise.
“How in God’s name did you know that?”
“What, the director of photography for the 1925 Lon Chaney version of ‘The Phantom of the Opera?’ Who else could it be but Charles Van Enger?”
It was at my fingers — instantly — and I barely had to strain a brain cell to search, catalog and retrieve the information.
There it was — and I rose as an expert in their estimation, an annoying expert, for sure, as when I corrected the priest at a funeral who gave credit to the Emperor Flavius for the phrase, “Oh, what an artist dies in me!”
(It was Nero and I didn’t even have to turn on my phone.)
That annoying sound you heard was simply me blurting out the answer as if I was on a quiz show going for the $20 prize package.
I was hooked, gently at first, as the new technologies and applications came on line, then, deeper, as I was recognized by the app dealers to be a chump, ready for a few freebies up top, then, hooked like a Bluegill on 10 pound test line and ready to be drawn from the safety and security of the depths into the murk of a monthly fee.
First, there was the simplicity of the search engines, Lycos and Back Rub and InfoSeek and Ask Jeeves.
Then, came the aggregate sites, jumbling together bits of data, from news and information to celebrity dirt and trivia, like, Buzzfeed, Alltop, Popurls and Weekly.
And, then, as the impact of connections through social media grew, came the idea of going on Facebook and Twitter and reaching out to all the people who watched you each day do your little TV reports, whether they liked them or not.
I didn’t want to go on Facebook at first. I didn’t want to hear, truth be told, from the people who watched each day and didn’t like what I said, did or thought. I don’t know if that is the result of a fragile ego or simply no interest in opinions other than my own (an idea which makes me a perfect fit for modern society).
But, then, I came to love Facebook as more friends from 40 years ago began to track me down, reminisce about old times and remind me that I still owed them money. It was also fun to drive all the young people away from their ties to Facebook, as their parents took it over, and send them off to Instagram, Snapchat, Wheezer and DooDah or someplace that Mom and Dad can’t figure out how to access or use.
It became, more and more, the place to go, first thought in the morning, last thought at night and any quiet moment in-between. I-pad, I-phone, Apple Watch, I was covered from dawn to dusk and even through the night as alerts would sound to tell me that we had gone to war, that someone had died or that Khloe Kardashian was wearing cornrows.
I had to be in the know of even the most trivial trivia, as if my life depended on it.
And, that’s addiction.
But, it wasn’t just the trivia that drew me in. Truly, in the end, that was the least of it. What drew me in, what draws me in now, what brings me back tomorrow, is the ego-stroke endorphins of the instant response, the notion that each bit of trivia, each retrieved and revealed nugget of information, every found fact, every joke, funny photo or point of uncovered Hollywood trivia, brings me a response, a notification, a share, a like, a love, a laugh, a validation in the eyes of those around me, or, more honestly, validation in the eyes of me.
We ALL love this feeling.
I exist and thus I matter — because I posted a picture of The Marx Bros. and 14 people liked it. Or a photo of a statue of Stalin spewing water or a Boston Terrier eyeing a plate of cookies or something, anything, that someone else found, or wrote or photographed or created, that I can pass on, not as my own work, but as a visual representation of what I think and how I’m feeling today.
That immediate response answers that question: do you feel that way, too? Great, the two of us are not quite alone in the world, at least today.
The endorphins flow and all is right with the world for the next few minutes.
I have so come to crave that little high.
We all crave the high, that nudge to the nucleus accumbens and the release of dopamine that goes with the justification of our own cleverness (or the recognition and reuse of someone else’s cleverness). It’s nicotine or heroin with a new delivery system.
I love it.
I crave it.
I need it.
Where else can we find that with so little effort?
You can try to turn away — delete Facebook from an easily accessible I-pad or phone, but one or two days down the road and you’re worried and wistful: are my followers wondering what happened, where I am, what I am doing? Don’t they deserve an explanation? So, you restore all your settings and discover that nothing has changed and no one has missed you and the world moved on and you’re back to the daily routine of look and swipe, look and swipe, wouldja look at that, and share.
Try as you might — you can’t quite walk away, no matter what major project has been hanging over your head since a drunken promise to an editor in 2016.
You find yourself passing the time, passing your life, without thought, staring at a screen and searching for the cartoons and commercials and programs and theme songs and comedy teams and news bloopers and fuck ups and fantastic accidents that will pass the time without thought or conscience, form or matter, a whole world rolling endlessly before you that requires nothing more than your time and your eyes, nothing necessary in the manner of compassion or introspection, physical effort, human interaction or actual commitment to a cause.
And, then, when you least expect it, without thought, someone else picks up a phone, across the room, across the restaurant, on television, for Christ’s sake, and you reach for yours, just to see, to see what you’ve missed in the last thirty seconds of your life.
No matter who you’re with or where you are or what you’re doing — in line, in bed, in the car, in a crowded room — you cannot pass up the connection.
You must answer. You must look. You must check.
I must connect.
I cannot be left out.
I cannot be left behind.
And, so it ends, not with a bang, but a whimper.
The world simply moves on to the next clip in The Great Video Aggregate.
What do you think of me now? Answer within the next 20 minutes to disarm my despair.
My name is Greg.
And I …
I am an addict.