Essay Online

Search History

I purchase things I instantly regret.

By Paul Dalla Rosa

  • June 01, 2022
Portrait by Stephen Kilpatrick
In our Search History series, writers expose the disparate webpages in their recent past.

I’m writing this on my notes app. I believe it’s best to abject oneself at great speed.

When I close my eyes, I often see a screen. I’m spending too much time online and I think it’s creating certain psychopathologies, lately aphasia, which as a writer is cause for concern though it does feel very modern.

I’m thinking of a line from Chelsea Hodson’s “The End of Longing.” I can recite it by heart. “Show me the best thing you’ve ever seen, I said, and he opened his Internet browser.”

The Century of the Self | YouTube

I don’t know if they infringe copyright, but it’s incredible how many documentaries you can find and watch on YouTube. The resolution is almost always capped at 480p, which, watching on a MacBook without my glasses, makes everything take on a kind of archival haze.

Recently, I had a bad trip. I don’t want to go into detail, but I believed there was a stranger inside my house. I felt the stranger was a malevolent presence. If I looked at certain objects of furniture in a certain way, I could see him crouching in my living room. I put The Century of the Self on, thinking Adam Curtis’ voice would be calming. It wasn’t. I watched images of horrible things; Nazi rallies, riots in the street, Hitler’s visage flashing on the screen in red and white. All the while Adam Curtis makes pronouncements, intoning on “savage, dangerous forces hidden inside all human beings.” I highly recommend it.

SSENSE, Farfetch

I am constantly besieged by SSENSE emails, Farfetch emails, FWRD emails, and Vestiaire Collective push notifications. I try not to look at them but sometimes I do and click on a link that leads to “Latest Arrivals” and then see some of the ugliest clothes I have ever seen. Monogrammed polo shirts, hyperinflated logos, rubber-soled sneakers, tank tops with a single nipple cut out, sweatsuits that cost thousands of dollars. Occasionally I message the links to a friend. I scroll through them to train myself out of my desires. I can fail. I become covetous. I enter a baser state. I purchase things I instantly regret, then days later shamefully try to return them and, if that fails, sell them at a loss on Depop or Grailed.

The Downward Spiral | Spike

I love Dean Kissick’s Spike column. I don’t want to be harsh on Dean but earlier in the year I was getting impatient with him. He released one column that was fiction and the next was a guest spot. It was a good guest spot. I almost emailed him to say, What’s the deal, but I trusted he was up to something good. He’s since returned with a review of the Venice Biennale and a tour through the fog of content. What’s Dean been up to? He’s trying to enchant us. It’s working, or at least it is for me.

Contain Podcast | Private RSS link 

I’ll admit I don’t listen to every episode. A friend told me they have so many podcasts to listen to they often listen to them at double speed. This seems perverse to me. I am happy with my limitations. I accept them. During Melbourne’s lockdowns, one of the longest lockdowns in the world, I would sit in my courtyard, listen to Contain, and wait for Venus to appear in the sky. As I write this, Venus is beneath the horizon but Contain seems to be at its zenith. There’s a series on Byung-Chul Han with Emmalea Russo that I’m enjoying. Jordan Castro did an episode recorded live at the Met Cloisters talking about “evil” René Girard. Michelle Lhooq spoke on the nightlife of Singapore, secret parties hosted by millionaires, Italian bankers snorting coke.

Gaga Daily | Twitter

It’s a Lady Gaga fan account. I don’t even follow it, but because I visit it often, an algorithm tailored to my browser history serves it to me again and again. Actually, writing this, I realize it isn’t one Twitter account but a legion of Twitter accounts I see with similar names, interspersed with tweets from Lady Gaga’s official feed. I find Lady Gaga, particularly when she’s on a press tour, to be almost hallucinogenic. Lady Gaga performing at an IKEA parking lot in 2008. Lady Gaga promoting her Top Gun tie-in song: “In case you were wondering if the plane in the #HoldMyHand video was CGI… it was real!” She’s a professional. She knows how to sell and understands that the defining characteristic of publicity (or even news media) is that something said in the past doesn’t have any bearing on something said in the present. It’s this dissonance that allows her to say that selling perfume with her face on it is deleterious, and then later market Gaga-branded Oreos. I have a lot of affection for her. The gusto. I often read the transcripts of interviews or watch the clips and think the words tabula rasa, then I forget myself and watch the clip again.


Paul Dalla Rosa is a writer based in Melbourne, Australia, and the author of the debut story collection An Exciting and Vivid Inner Life. His work has also appeared in The Paris Review, Granta, McSweeney’s, Meanjin, and New York Tyrant.