There’s just too much
Feeling overwhelmed? Here's a guide to stay afloat
Sorry it’s been a little while. Things have been a little frantic in my world.
I woke up, started scrolling through Twitter, and decided I needed to send this to you.
It’s an essay from Webworm contributor Hayden Donnell about being overwhelmed in the world. It’s cutting and funny as fuck and I hope you enjoy it.
This was a newsletter I sent out last month to paying subscribers, but I want you to see it too.
There’s just too much
an essay by Hayden Donnell
I was waiting for my 2-year-old son to finish his breakfast when I saw the tweet. “What is cheugy?” asked The New York Times.
“You’ll know it when you see it.”
A familiar heaviness set in. Somewhere in the depths of my prefrontal cortex, a bell tolled. An ancient tomb door creaked open, ready to usher in new information. But then, something unexpected happened. The door slammed shut. I put my phone down and cleaned up the horrible remains of some Weet-Bix.
In New Zealand, we have a glut of radio stations devoted to playing music that’s either more than 20 years old, or sung by Adele. They have names like The Hits, The Sound, or more evocatively, Magic Music. These stations are a good place to visit if you need to calm your nerves with a heavy dose of Stevie Nicks.
They’re also essentially safe spaces for a Boomer generation that spends most of its time complaining about safe spaces. Outside people might be raising issues with rape culture and racism, but on 104.9FM they can wall themselves off in a 1970s time cocoon and listen to Neil Diamond croon “Girl, you’ll be a woman soon” in peace.
I never used to understand that urge to start living in the past. It’s not just music. My grandparents never really learned to use a computer. My parents’ generation can open Chrome, but only to use Facebook, which has lured them in with the promise of grandchild photos and unfettered racism.
Somewhere in life, these people stopped taking on new information. In reality they might be hoarding houses and concocting plans to transfer the homeless into offshore prison colonies, but in their minds they’re still wearing flares and protesting the Vietnam War.
I didn’t want to live that way. Lately though, I’ve begun feeling my own slow drift into irrelevance. It started out with little things — not recognising the band names on festival lineups, finding it hard to understand complex memes — and grew from there. Now it can feel like an iceberg has broken off. I’m on it, peering at the modern world, occasionally making a half-hearted attempt to paddle back.
The effort is futile. Every day, I have to squint harder to see the point I left off.
Part of that process is unavoidable. At 35, I have almost as little connection to teen culture as Jerry Seinfeld did when he started dating 17-year-old Shoshanna Lonstein in the early ‘90s. For me, joining TikTok would have a similar energy to a 21-year-old boyfriend turning up at a high school ball.
But mostly it’s just that there’s too much. Too much information. Human brains are designed to know the location of the nearest pack of sabre tooth tigers and possibly remember the names of our children. We’re not equipped to handle the cacophony of information hurled at us every day by the five megasites left on the world wide web. It would take a degree in epistemology just to properly vet the information I read on my phone before I get out of bed each morning.
Yesterday, I spent 10 minutes trying to decipher this one tweet:
It’s about someone called Merrick, and their situation is complicated. There’s too much to know and not enough time to learn. A thriving cottage industry of journalism has sprung up to address that problem. Taylor Lorenz, Charlie Warzel, Ryan Broderick and David Farrier are all part of the coterie of Millennials and Gen Xers trying to explain the internet to an audience of their exhausted peers.
Their work is often pointless because of a second problem: there’s too much to do.
New Zealand doesn’t have the cruel system of a less developed nation like the US, where women are forced to stagger into work still bleeding from the stitches they received post-birth, but it’s not exactly Sweden or Estonia. Here, one parent is entitled to six months of paid leave, after which you’re usually on your own until your child turns three and enters early childhood education.
While it’s tempting to say ‘this is Sparta’ and send your 6-month-old into the wilderness to survive on wild honey and raw kiwi meat, most parents opt for daycare, or in our case, juggling days of childcare and work.
That’s hard, mainly because our 40-hour work week was invented for a time when single-income families were still economically feasible. After 200 years of upward wealth transfer from the poorer and middle classes to the wealthy, that’s no longer the case.
Every daily task, from going to the gym and cleaning the dishes to providing your child with a fulfilling start to life is now meant to be shoved into a disappearing sliver of time when you’re not sleeping, commuting, or attending Zoom meetings.
That’s also true for non-parents. Younger people own a fraction of the wealth their parents did at the same age. Rents are spiralling upwards, in step with house prices. Workplaces demand more and more. Dolly Parton has rewritten 9 to 5 as 5 to 9 for a Squarespace commercial. When he’s not forcing them to pee in Evian bottles, the world’s richest man is making his employees endure 10.5-hour ‘Megacycle’ shifts.
Meanwhile, influencers are posting #riseandgrind. Many of us feel worn down by an unending process of extraction. It’s left us diminished and unhappy, searching for the best use of the 14.6 seconds of unallocated time remaining at the end of each workday.
That space is precious.
It’s all we’ve got.
When someone comes along asking to fill it with a lesson on the meaning of cheugy, it’s easy to understand the temptation to click the X at the top of the browser, and retreat a little bit further into the past.
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That will give you access the full archive — recent pieces include my conclusion to The Pretender series, and a very long newsletter on medical and wellness misinformation. There are also dives deep into the world of Tickled and the aftermath, ruminations on OCD and memory and essays about the art of leaving a party. About 200 things. Enjoy!
Update: The author has since learned that cheugy means something similar to ‘basic’.