A Tip For Living Well: Mute the Word "Trauma"

Can you read this word: ******? Neither can I

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One of the boons of having corporeal form is that it imposes certain limits. Henry Kissinger will die one day, for example. Arguably the best, least death-related of these limits is that in real life, you can’t hear that much. Some tragic figures have radar hearing that picks up on whispers from far away; sorry to them. But many able-bodied people go about physical reality like the boom mic in a really long Robert Altman scene — most sounds around them fade into the fuzzy background, throwing focus to just one or two signals at any given moment. This physical capability is how one hones in on a single conversation in a loud, crowded room or notices the beeping of a garbage truck on a Sunday morning. Sometimes that’s great; it’s usually better than the alternative.

The internet is not like this. With the right search term, you can hypothetically eavesdrop on anything: an anti-natalist birthing forum, a Letterboxd reviewer saying they want Harold and Kumar to “double-team them so bad,” even an article in The Atlantic. Experiencing Twitter in particular is like wearing a giant ear trumpet (or, as Chris Hayes put it recently, like having the ears of the all-hearing fennec fox), which is why it can be handy to tune some of it out. There are many approaches to this, but this blog is specifically about the “mute” function — which, if you have a Twitter, is probably familiar to you. You may have muted some words yourself. It’s a great way to minimize encounters with terms like “mercury in retrograde,” “dudes rock,” or “ted lasso.”

Recently, one of my coworkers shared a Twitter thread to the Gawker Slack. It was from a woman whom I will identify only as having a name just slightly less stupid than mine. She had written several tweets, out of which I could only read one. It looked like this, except the final tweet was legible:

I don’t know what this woman was talking about. But it wasn’t hard for my coworkers to figure out why; there are only so many words that repeat six times in seven tweets. One of them wrote: “Tarpley, did you mute trauma?” Yes, don’t remember when, but I’d highly recommend it.

This is not to say there’s anything wrong with the concept of trauma. There are lots of solid reasons to have, in the words of Merriam Webster, “a disordered psychic or behavioral state resulting from severe mental or emotional stress or physical injury” — if you fled war; if you’re a rape victim; if you’re the kid who got called “It” and then wrote the book A Child Called “It.” Notably, that guy does not have Twitter. There is an unverified account in his name, but it hasn’t mentioned trauma. In fact, it has only tweeted once, to say “im dave pelzer.”

Many people have trauma and they are valid, to use another word you can mute. But on a platform that encourages the repetition of buzzwords and joke formats, it’s easy for a phrase to disseminate so widely it detaches from its original meaning as cleanly as the bones of a dude who rocks too hard. That has happened to trauma. Just this past week, there was trauma in Justin Bieber, in dating a super hero, in hypersexuality, in not going to church as a kid, in the Disney Channel animated series Amphibia. I’d say that’s too much trauma, at least to read about on public transit. I’d rather keep my trauma in real life. Then at least I can tune it out.