It was in 2010 when my tutor made me my very own Facebook account and I uploaded my first profile picture. The image was a blurry webcam photo of 11-year-old me at an internet shop, cherishing every second of the one hour of surfing I could afford while dreading the phrase “time out mo na.” Since then, I became hooked on the internet and would always look forward to the next time I could be online.
Now, at 21, I try to stay away from it as much as possible, all in the effort of regaining what little sense of individuality I still can.
See, when you’ve spent almost half of your life literally and figuratively displaying yourself online, it feels like you’re never really alone. This was great for when I felt lonely and could reach out to almost anyone. But then, whenever I wanted to enjoy things by myself, I simply couldn’t. The knee-jerk reaction for anything slightly significant was to whip out my phone and record it for my friends, followers, viewers, and whatnot to see. Having an online profile made it seem like there was always an audience watching — hence, a good performance should always be delivered.
It’s quite ironic, though, how wanting people to pay more attention to you weakens the way you pay attention to everything else. Being able to focus on anything for 15 minutes straight, back in high school up to college — when I finally had my own smartphone and could be online whenever I wanted — was a very rare occasion, a miracle even. Thinking about it now, I can’t help but feel like I crawled my way to graduation with that kind of attention span.
Besides this (and my lack of self-control), I also think the never-ending scroll that is my timeline has made it so much harder to stand boredom and even difficulty. It’s become incredibly easy to move on from something, may it be a touching moment or even some really tragic news, when another thing competing for your attention is just a scroll away. These days, those “don’t scroll past this” chain posts don’t stand a chance against a mind stimulated by the promise of a good meme after another.
These neuroses, however, all just add up to the most concerning observation I’ve only recently been grappling with: how social media diverts my energy from actually improving my life and contributing to my community.
The best thing about the internet for me is how it can serve as a platform for people to raise awareness or even funds for worthy causes. Still, I became prone to believing that the change I was witnessing and contributing to within the online community had fully materialized in real life — in the same way that merely updating my profile picture gave me satisfaction from seeing how much I’ve “glowed up.”
It was such a trap to think that just because I had invested so much time thinking about a tweet or caption, then I had instantly done something significant for a cause or changed people’s minds and, ultimately, made lives better. In reality, the things that create lasting improvement require so much more action and solidarity than clicking certain buttons or reaching a broad audience within the most distracted generation.
And so, here I am, back on the other side of the road, trying to reverse the longstanding effects of having been raised by the internet — in a place that is both a narcissistic paradise and an unlivable hell.
The internet is a bad parent in the sense that it overindulges us. It’s exactly the kind that spoils children with everything they want, from offering so many distractions to giving us all these devices to inflate our ego. Being coddled by its privileges caused us to view the world in such a distorted and unrealistic way, all while we overvalued ourselves and our interests.
But I am writing this as an adult now. Entering adulthood is easing into the fact that you are responsible for yourself and can no longer blame others. I still live with my parents and they do still influence me, but I am slowly learning to recognize and correct the manners and practices I had picked up from them but do not sit well with me. That said, even though I’ve spent half of my formative years online, I can still be mindful of the bad habits I’ve developed, and learn to detach myself from them.
In “Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion,” Jia Tolentino writes that “we would have to think very carefully about what we’re getting from the internet, and how much we’re giving it in return.” I now realize that I’ve been exchanging a huge chunk of my limited time, energy, and brain cells for mostly cheap thrills and endless headaches whenever I’m online.
If you think about it, the internet is really just supposed to be a tool, but these days it seems to have become the opposite: It is tooling us by making money off of our data and alarming screen times. All of this is just the tip of the iceberg, but the last straw as to why I’m spending less and less time working on my online presence, and miles more on my actual presence. Because even though all the internet’s madness easily fits in the palm of my hand, that doesn’t mean it should stay there.