This is not a story of loneliness, rather it is a reflection of the digital world’s impact on the corporeal, offline one. This is a prompt to re-think daily patterns, routines, and your personal relationship to your technological devices and online presence. How much is our online presence an ideal of who we want to be? How likely is it that we will achieve this? Isn’t the time we spend fabricating a ‘perfect’ image of us wasting the time we could spend actually living up to our potential?
It was a sunny winter morning, when I decided that this would be the day, I would change my life forever. I had been up until 2 a.m., mindlessly scrolling. No more of this. I will delete all my Apps, or, better yet, turn off my phone and start living for myself. I used to have dreams of becoming a social worker, but slowly, my life shifted to the screen and time passed quicker than before. My existence online began to swallow up who I was in the physical world and I started living by what others wanted to see, what looked good online, not by who I wanted to be.
I spend most of my free time scrolling. Seconds, minutes, hours – letting days pass me by, observing and envying others of their bustling and exciting lives. Swiping left until I swipe right. Meaningless conversations with strangers. Double tapping my way through acquaintances, good and bad. And I, in turn, make sure to share all the presentable, joyful moments of my own life, feeling a sense of pride for what I represent in my feed. I shared a black square on Blackout Tuesday, started watching TedTalks long before they became mainstream, track my Fitness on Strava, donate to suggested NGOs when a natural catastrophe or conflict goes viral, and regularly get #BookTok suggestions on my For You Page. I receive tons of notifications from news apps, too. Although I rarely make it past the headline, it gives me a sense of pride – I don’t think any of my friends have a digital New York Times subscription.
Over the years, I have come to accept that my life is supposed to be one where drama is left to be experienced strictly through my beloved streaming subscriptions. In fact, I have watched every season of You, frequently over-identify with the Love Island contestants, even shed a tear when Peaky Blinders was discontinued and The Social Dilemma was probably one of the most revealing documentaries I have ever watched. At night, when I turn off whatever show it is I am currently binge-watching, and I can see my own reflection staring back at me from the black box, the loneliness catches up with me.
I know I am not who I am online. But I am always online. So, who am I, when I am not online?
What I do know is that this morning, I will reclaim my life. I will work on meaningful connections offline, finally go to the theater, take a trip to the beach, attend a pottery class,
and read that book that has been collecting dust on my bedside table. I will free myself from the hunger for validation that seems to never be satiated, from aspiring unattainable illusions of life from deficiency.
At the end of the day, this is who I want to be, really.
I unplug my phone from the charger and place it on the table in front of me. The screen lights up, showing a notification. Someone has tagged me in a post. I start to scroll. A group chat, the weather, a new clothing haul, 10% off my next order, an earthquake in Syria, home decor ideas. It’s time to Be Real. I ruffle through my hair, grab the book from my bedside table and open it somewhere in the middle. I tap the notification, and all thoughts disappear.