There is a robot that controls my life. It algorithmically determines my interests, manages my social circle, and measures my popularity.
It fills up all the empty space in my mind, until it feels suffocating to even think. It seeps through the cracks in my skin and strings me along like a puppet.
Conviction surges through me as I continue to scroll, conviction that I know isn’t mine. Conviction that if I cease to scroll, if I cease to double tap, if I cease to consume, I will cease to exist.
And while the robot does control my life, it also gives me power. Simple grids spell out the entirety of someone’s life, a profile reveals someone’s entire personality - this robot has connected us under its tyranny, in a way we were never connected before.
There is a common misconception that teens compare likes, comments, or other figures generated by today’s robots. But we don’t. We compare lives.
It’s good to see friends thriving, wonderful to see rivals failing to turn out any good content. But even better is knowing exactly where you fall within the order of society.
There are people living lives better than me, people that give rise to a new layer of self-hatred and frustration with every new post, and there are people living lives worse than me in terms of online engagement, who I can’t help but pity when I look at their following.
Of course, all of this is restricted to internal dialogue inside my head, hour-long conversations with the robot that no one needs to know but me. But don’t let that fool you, I don’t think I’m the only one who does this. In fact, deep down, I believe that this is a universal experience between all teens, even if that means we’re all crazy.
Nowadays, with a tap or a swipe or a zoom, you can learn someone’s entire life story. That’s what technology has allowed for, and it’s something that you best get used to because it’s never going away.
But is it really someone’s entire life?
No. It’s only slices, slices they choose to show, slices carefully curated for the attention of others. Not a single person in the world shows their entire lives on social media.
So why do we still pretend that they do? Why do we still use these slices of life to decide our entire view of people?
Once I realized this, I began to become wary of the robot that hovered over me and lived inside my phone. I wanted to get away from it, to pretend like it didn’t exist. But having lived with it encompassing my entire life for so long, I didn’t really know how to even do that.
Nowadays, I am still fighting a never-ending battle between my own mental health, and the part of me wanting to feel the conviction of scrolling endlessly through other people’s lives.
I like to believe I’ve gotten better at it, but it is still just as much of a struggle to stay away from social media as it was at my worst point.
In the end, knowing that we can’t get rid of this robot that now has been fully integrated into every part of society, we can only hope to find a way to use it that doesn’t hurt us, to wield technology as a tool, rather than a weapon.