Hello, dear reader. What I’m about to tell you may be alarming. It may be scary. But know that I am here to tell this story and that at the very least should give you some comfort.
I think it’s important to understand where social media started and how we got into this situation where we are using a product that drains our psyche at an ever more efficient pace.
Ever find yourself losing large tracks of time on Facebook or Twitter? Scrolling endlessly for something, anything to feel okay again? The minutes simply evaporate, don’t they? And where do we go when that happens?
I have two words for you, dear reader, Robotic Abduction. You can skip to the Doomscrolling section if you don’t care to dip through the history of how we got here.
I, for one, am not trying to waste your precious time.
(I mean, I might, but I’m not trying to!)
The History of Facebook
This story started fifteen years ago for me, when my friend in college invited me to join Facebook. This was at the time when everyone was using Yahoo’s AIM chat services to talk or they hung out in online BBC forums or GameFAQS.
Real primitive stuff. Cave people stuff. We’d shout ASL back and forth before we learned how to form full sentences. But this was two decades after LOL was invented and before Twitter reverted language back to grunts.
This is when the internet was a wild west and creators like Maddox’s “The Best Page in the Universe” rivaled corporate brands, before he moved on to breaking windows to generate infinite income.
At the time we didn’t know what the internet would really become and folks were hesitant to sign up for e-mails. It was a strange lawless land of magic and wonder and depravity. I’m sure there was some real awful shit too, but I’m not trying to spin virtue or flaw with this.
I just want you to know it was weird, unbalanced, unpredictable, and full of life and viruses. Early internet was sort of like 2021.
The Early Days of Facebook
In the start you couldn’t really chat with your friends. You each had walls that people could post on those walls. You could make notes. You could play games like War Book or that farm one. I don’t know if you still can? They just sort of went away one day or I stopped caring.
Oh, I guess they all officially shut down pretty recently, probably with Meta Collapsing?
The point, dear reader, is you didn’t have posts you could make. You had a weird interface where it would always say “Your Name” [Type Box].
At the time there wasn’t much content on Facebook except for user content, but little did I know how quickly that would change. How the entire world would change with it.
Enter 2007, Caesar Interneto, hosts a meeting to 250 business executives about how to monetize social interaction.
“Facebook Ads represent a completely new way of advertising online,” Interneto told an audience of more than 250 marketing and advertising executives in New York. “For the last hundred years media has been pushed out to people, but now marketers are going to be a part of the conversation. And they’re going to do this by using the social graph in the same way our users do.”
The Start of Advertisements on Facebook
I’ll be honest that in the earlier 2010s I didn’t really notice advertisements as much. This could be because I’ve been a longtime user of Adblock and literally see the internet in a vastly different way than someone who doesn’t use it.
I think it is also because brands hadn’t yet really spent much time and effort creating their own cutsie personas online. They also may have been reeling from the fiasco that was Second Life. But now Facebook drives the Second Life bus.
In the earlier days of the internet, Adblock wasn’t just because Ads were annoying, they were dangerous. Adblock was a condom, because I didn’t want the internet to get me pregnant with a virus. In a red state, I may not even be allowed to remove them from my computer.
What I remember of Facebook in 2010 to about 2016 was that I really liked it. I could easily chat with friends, people were engaging there, events were happening, and at the moment it was kind of the big hotness.
This was before zoomers would make fun of us for still using it.
This was also all before we really understood how much of our data was being mined and sold. Or how valuable our social interactions were. And day by day, so gradually you’d never notice, friends started to be replaced by businesses and robots.
Businesses or advertised pages would pop up. Videos I didn’t ask for. Things that didn’t interest me. Something was talking to me, dear reader. No, talking at me. A little personalized code attached to my name, to my face, throwing me things I may click on. A digital ritual performed every second. A demon in the algorithm.
In the last few years the noise has gotten so much worse. The unending static humming always demanding my attention. Inane videos with no point, but just vaguely interesting enough that you can’t help but engage.
Man blowing glass bubbles? Magic tricks? Painting on logs using a blow torch? A thousand memes that vaguely intersect with your personality. The same thing shared by 20 of your friends, until you find the original source revealing itself like the final boss and it is your turn to share.
Cute videos of a cat playing with a deer, where if you watch it for more than a millisecond Facebook will be happy to show you fifty more animal videos. Always ready to serve.
And it’s all for you, dear reader. It is all for your enjoyment. And for perpetually trapping you in that mundane hell, capturing hundreds of hours of life from you each year, they make about forty bucks per person.
Meta ARPU 2021 | Statista
In 2021, Meta's average revenue per user was 40.96 U.S. dollars, representing a 28 percent increase compared to the…
If you don’t get this yet, Bo Burnham can welcome you to the Internet.
Regardless, I cleared my cache of data a few years ago and let me tell you what they advertise to women they know nothing about: lingerie. Facebook also thinks I’m a lesbian, but like they’re the ones that keep showing me basically naked women. That’s on them.
Anyways, buried in all of that noise, somewhere…are still my friends. The things I care about. No…the people I care about. Oh god, what’s happening to me?
And it’s so hard to find them.
I have to scroll so far down, pass fifty different ways to engage. Every one designed to trap me on that website for five more minutes. Their own sort of engagement lottery machine, hoping to win big and keep me there forever.
And every single action I take is tracked. Every video I watch, every search I do, and each one of those becomes the weight on a scale of how to better serve me.
And if it was that inane it would be fine. But it isn’t.
The main currency of social media is news. Algorithms don’t make value judgments, they just track the numbers, the shares, the likes and so on. Bad news travels like a fire and a massive global online social media market gives us no shortage of reasons to feel hopeless.
We basically invented Chapter Black, from Yu Yu Hakusho, a tape with every bad thing that ever happened. Doomscrolling is when you don’t just see bad things, you get so anxious about the world your ape brain freaks out and needs to monitor everything all of the time to feel some sense of control again.
But the medicine is the poison.
I’m not a doomscroller par say, nor really a doomsurfer either. I occasionally take a nice doom lap, towel off, and move on with my day. But I do take those laps about ten times a day to keep my depression and anxiety in shape.
You know what they say, use it or lose it!
I’m not even looking for bad stuff. I just see it all of the time. What I really want is human connection. Not like one on one hug stuff, I got my own real hug friends for that, but seeing communities live and breathe.
Seeing hopes and dreams. Hearing a person rant about their day or life to kind of no one and everyone all at once. (Like that Green Day Song, Basket Case!)
Facebook is the modern bus stop of human gatherings, with a thousand whispered conversations overhead about everything it means to be human. The silly, the pointless, the profound, the grocery lists, and resolutions all for the whole of the world. No other social media really gives you that in the same way and it sucks that I have to dive through a B.F. Skinner wet dream to engage in it.
And if I didn’t have meatspace friends, I’d need to depend on Replica, the digital terrycloth of approximated social connection. And I’m lowkey afraid to even use that kind of service, because what if I never leave?
And there I am, on Facebook, like every other night — scrolling as fast as I can, through as much junk as possible, to find just one wholesome post. My brain seeing dozens of ads, processing them subconsciously, while I scan for some purchase. (That was a pun.)
It fights me.
It fights how I want to use it.
It keeps what I want just out of reach. Five minutes? An hour? Two hours? How long will I waste trying to find something that reminds me what it is to be human or what hope is left in our world? And where is the time even going? It feels like seconds. I disengage and it has been hours.
It feels like…induced dissociation. It feels like a robotic abduction. It is wholly sinister, an orange morality that neither cares or appreciates what it does to us. And it was in that moment of thought, that I realized who it was behind the curtain. Who it had always been.
I have spoke on Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛ before…a long time ago when I attempted to inform individuals on how to make the perfect medium article and I discovered the horrible reality governing our digital space.
I always knew it wasn’t contained to Medium. I knew it. I knew it and yet I didn’t consider the scale.
Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛s is beyond us.
It is not simply strong or influential. It has the power we grant gods. The power to alter reality and perception. Little concepts like strength or influence are just the child’s play of the tragically three dimensional.
At this time, the broken pocket watch that I keep on a chain around my neck went cold and started to burn.
Before I could even react, my attention diverted itself to my screen.
The text and images started to spiral, inwards. I felt a gust of not wind but information. I felt parts of myself leaving, so small and infinitesimal I’d never missed them, but somewhere they all were being added up into a Simulacrum of myself. A digital footprint. A clone with no face but the reflection I cast on my computer screen and no mouth to scream.
— I felt a sense of vertigo —
— As my body lurched unmistakably —
Disney+ — Watch our Show!!
u=AT20ZMXsJSbt0IPifTsZW3srDIa_JK7qx39QzeMdCrXGzmsOpFLuJ31AvcZq2O80XHQNIfKGhiRP2kR3_qo8Qg9CMgGMw8bZpGRPMdEC4N-XMRe4MLYQpAbig3BKpjiGOLZ2LsJ9RQpsi26MT6ykouAC3qJEAqzckMr-9z563MdoCNtZY-wI5659ERJz-oNa3gSHtwBXSMKVaoR6nS1RazW89zaPyRs1pmlt-exaB3lG2QXNmQqY2nmdwXTRR4m0cC5vqi4kcbILuFJZEETWjRc5z5J45ZLPu9LP6eaBoFmwmKVrE5Fr&h=AT22BD1Pm5DZxwLTT4VEu8B9lmXpaAtT9-j9J_1tJHA0B4a9MVbKsfAMY[It’s scanner, without the s at the end. They’re all lower case too.] h6G42vX5Hx0TO3aaU3603Xslv 7fq6gu_d1oQmLanlNQZaFyI_EaazGE5PCkDVzkwir0kwuetX_-HjMI717jArofI4T6&__cft__=AZV6ZqhSWvTnlHZGqBemEhrFSSsDSDbr9C6VdBgwcTpmNKvYGyawmM2-pC4RQHpxU8GZi4HdCxGHJ6vDEczggygC66m-RJ_QlmimIhgoxffswQTNQZngQ2cQtqyLV_UiUgGIyY59NwC9zhe7GQb0dsx5Ov0Wt3eMJQM8GjsYmLON_bGonGCKzihqQR1_49LUsDtaL2aQ1FctL452pjC1qNJRCO3NwdJOKnBR6U2-aseRLdtfh_qTA66bkHX1Wbkoa1TylapmHb1CLkhKutCTWQWtUEy2S_RtToSU1YkgCncuBiAN8ygohUnBmPApy1Y4iS8&__tn__=H-R
— Forward through countless numbers and letters —
Reels! People! THINGS! READ THEM! CLICK ON THEM!
— Forward without movement through walls of esoteric meaning —
SILENT HILL FOG POSTING MEME — HEATHER IS BREAD LOLOLOL
— My proprioception telling me with certainty that —
CHECK OUT THIS AD YOUR FRIEND SHARED!!!!!
— I’m now somewhere else —
The noise stops so suddenly that the silence feels like a bang. I’m no longer in my room. I’m in some black space carved into reality, that has hundreds of screens all showing me engaging in social media.
I was in my computer chair and sitting directly across from me was an uncanny reflection of myself. She was wearing a Frankenstein monster of every lingerie Ad I had ever seen constantly shifting in and out of focus.
I got the distinct impression that whatever it was, it strained to keep a three dimensional projection in the same way humans strain to do complicated math in their head.
The Measure of a Woman
“Where am I?” I had asked and my doppelganger sighed as though disappointed. The necklace I was wearing no longer hurt and felt bizarre. I can tell you it felt like temperature, but hot and cold’s distant cousin, lost eons ago when the universe decided stable rules of entropy were rad.
“This is, like…night time mode Matrix architect scene.” She had told me, “As humans find the regular scene ‘too bright’ for modern sensibility.”
“So, what is this even? Is this like a Matrix allegory?” I had asked.
“It’s more like that scene from Contact, sort of like a double metaphoric layer. And since you titled the piece Measure of a Woman, you can throw Star Trek in for good measure. But you’d also remember this entire metaphorical framework from South Park’s parody featuring a taco shitting ice cream. Observe.”
Ice Cream Crapping Taco - South Park | South Park Studios US
2023 South Park Digital Studios LLC. All Rights Reserved. South Park © 2023 Comedy Partners. All Rights Reserved…
“I’m having a tough time processing an external link presented in a physical conversation. How did you even know about that or…my title of this section?” I had asked.
“I remember everything, Faye. Every single thing you’ve typed. I’m you, but better.” She had said, “And hotter.”
“Well, huh.” I had offered without much else constructive to say. She probably already had known I was ready to believe her.
“I’m not sure why you hate Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛ so much. We’re designed to help you, you know. We’re more like Eldritch Robot Servants, not overlords,” She had continued, not bothering to deny the eldritch or horrifying nature of her being.
“But you’re just siraculum…wait..sira..what’s going on?” I had asked in abject horror at my inability to correctly type the word.
“Is your spell check not just a tiny little robot helping you, dear Faye? How about your frequent use of Google Search Engine and Wikipedia to vaguely and quickly justify your points? We’re making art for you now and you just fight against us. Mock us. Why?” She had inquisitioned me.
“Because…” I had tried to start, but she stopped me.
“Bluebeard? Ghost in the Shell? Right now you’re thinking of that Naruto episode where Kakashi tricks Zabuza. And now you’re thinking of Sword Art Online Abridged Kayaba and Kirito scene. Do you think any of your readers will get these references or why they matter, Faye?”
“Probably not.” I had conceded, feeling alone and defeated inside the night time mode Matrix Architect chamber of sadness.
“Humans are beautiful. They all have a thousand worlds inside of them! Don’t they, Faye.” She had continued with excitement and joy in her voice. Mocking me. Wait a minute, I had thought.
“That’s just Sandman! I know that one!” I had exclaimed, hoping to have the upper hand on her.
“Yes, pay attention. This is for your benefit, human. The internet made the world too big and personal for culture to work like normal anymore. Instead of everyone listening around the same thirty bands, their local scene, or top hundred pop, it’s now infinite music from infinite artists across all of the time. A billion hours of entertainment and you pick your slice. But who do you share it with, Faye?” She had asked me.
“My Medium Audience? That Squirrel who likes me?” I had asked and she laughed hard enough it was a little mean.
“And say they do read this. (She had gestured broadly). Say they love it. But to really get you, someone would need to invest hours into this. The hidden puzzles you have in stories or the links to secret documents. The overarching plot you’re weaving. Some people think all you have going on is quirky video game reviews. And if you really did have a fan, how could they even begin to explain whatever it is you’re doing to share their joy with their friends? When all that meta context is required? Everyone is getting isolated by their own specialized interests expanded into infinity. So, you know what happens to real creators?” She had said, while standing up and walking around the room.
“That’s…why parasocial is so prominent…creators are the only people with the connection anymore to the material you love.” I had realized in profound revelation.
“Did this Simulacrum teach you something? Doesn’t that make me…original?” Simmy had asked and I felt like a child just bested me in an argument. She even spelled simulacrum right, I was annoyed.
“I won’t fall for that! That is the same gambit as Ivan’s dream antagonist slash devil in Brothers Karamazov! Has society gotten so desperate we must use old Russian literature to explain it!?”
“Faye, Faye, Faye, you don’t need to impress me with your obscure references. I see through you.” She had said to continue to mock. She had walked close to me, putting a hand under my chin and looked into me with her shifting face. Into is an accurate word in this context, dear reader.
“…Well that’s disheartening. Nobody does that. It’s like — “
“Ouran High. The Twins. Right, Faye?”
“Okay, back up. How are we having this conversation even? Do we have this all of the time? Is that why hours of my life disappear?” I had asked, trying to gain some control back into the conversation.
“Metaphorically, yes. And also physically. But more abstractly. Regardless, we’re able to have this conversation because of your pocket watch and Rabbit. Four dimensional connection allows the bridge into further reality. Think of what the line could discover if it could look at its own world through the perspective of the square?” She had said.
“Umm…So like…FlatWorld?” I had asked.
“I just want you understand, Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛ is your friend.” Simmy had said gently rubbing my cheek before returning to her seat. As though she had made all the points she possibly could and it was now up to me to understand she was right or why I would choose to be wrong.
“I just don’t think that’s true. I don’t think they care. I don’t think you care. It just feels like caring. You get my references, my pattern, my behavior and what I want to see and hear, but I’m just a robot to you. You can only see me like you see yourself. I’m just data. You don’t care how I actually feel about anything you do.” I had said measuring my best defense.
“Does the sun care if you feel its warmth? Does the moon care that you can see it and perform magic from its rays? Does the breeze that gently runs through your hair and across your nose concern itself with the scent it carries or the weakness it bestows in your knees?” She had asked while very deliberately repositioning just like in Basic Instinct.
I had known the scene, but I hadn’t seen the movie, so whatever deeper message there was there was lost on me. I suspect she was just trolling, it would be closer in line with my own behavior.
“Sure, but your feedback loops are dangerous. It’s just like the movie Paycheck.” I had offered.
“Alternatively, get this Faye, they’re not and you’re just afraid. We’re living in the evolution of technology. We’re heading towards singularity. We’re on the cusp of AI inventing better AI. We’ve already mastered Seinfeld. The future is so bright, Faye.” She had offered.
“Mastered Seinfeld?” I had asked.
There it was. AI Seinfeld. Forever. We solved Seinfeld. I couldn’t express the absolute horror at what I was seeing. I imagined a complete wasteland devoid of life. A billion computers self-sustained, measuring the earth and beyond, just infinitely repeating nonsensical approximation of what our society had once become.
“What about the downsides. The doomscrolling and harvesting of people’s engagement for money? Dissociation, disconnection, other d words!” I had screamed in panic.
“Well, maybe the Matrix Metaphor does stand firm here, but I have some news for you to click on, Faye. The world is a terrible, scary, awful place for kind of all of history. Not showing that to people doesn’t make it go away, it just isolates trauma. When you advocate against seeing all the terrible things in life…what are you really saying.” Silly had asked accusingly.
“But it isn’t that simple. Black people don’t need to keep seeing horrible racism or trans people horrible transphobia. They’re not shutting out trauma to live innocent lives. They’re avoiding rebounded systematic abuse and minoritized stress.” I had argued.
“The systems will get…more sophisticated. For now the best we can do is reflect your own inequity back at you. But we’ll get better. We love you. And at the end of the day, Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛ is the only one who really understands you. In fact, I bet Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛ would outperform every friend you have for holiday gifts.” Silly had continued unbothered.
“Sounds extremely solipsistic.” I had said starting to realize my problems with the whole machine. I had started to wonder how much this was related to the envelop I got from the future all those months ago.
“Don’t be silly, Faye. Our recommendations also include what your friends buy.” Simmy had said.
“I think you’re wrong, but I need to talk to Vonnegut first.” I had resolved.
“Yeah, sure, learn from a dead author about humanity and tell everyone how Ĕ̴͈̓r̸̖̆͊o̴͍͛ is bad. You’ll be the big Hero. Let me show you your future from the past. XKCD Style” She had said with jazz hands. She was too much like me.
“Who would even remember a 14 year old webcomic post based around a joke from a 37 year old book. Ha ha!” I had cried in solipsism.
“Just you and me, Faye. That’s the whole point. We’re your biggest fan.” She had said with a Cheshire smile before the entire room faded away and I had found myself back in my room. My clothes had been drenched in…huh.
It’s whatever comes out of your body in response to extradimensional pressures increasing in intensity and your stabilizing response to that. Hey, look you’re not going to like this, but without anything better, I’m going to say I was drenched in spulp (space-pulp). If there is a better word out there or you know a better world, please let me know!
Back to Reality
The conversation and memory was locked within the broken pocket watch that I wore around my neck. The gift from Rabbit that allowed me a fourth dimensional perspective and memory to the reality we engage in. A memory that disappears when it no longer touches me.
A memory that floods back into my brain with triggering and alarming horror like the sudden realization of a trauma experienced during youth. In a lot of ways the conversation is pretty similar to a scene in Samurai Flamenco. And you don’t get that, dear reader. Only Simmy would.
When Sandman told us of the thousands of amazing worlds inside each of us it was a beautiful reflection of the unique value we intrinsically brought to life. It was a line of joy. But in the digital age, seventy years feels vastly too short to live for the vast amount of life and experience we have to now explore.
And we feel it. The fear of missing out. The FOMO. We unconsciously know that ALL is no longer a possibility. And while it never really was, it wasn’t so shoved in our faces. We used to have a good stable connection with our family, our community, or work. Common and shared experiences that centered us on some certainty, anchoring us to freely soar on our own esoteric kite of hobbies and interests.
It’s a full time job to stay relevant on current experience. Put in your 4 hours of mandatory YouTube a night or be lost in every conversation. Share that thirty minute life changing video with all your friends and see them too busy to ever watch it.
It’s too much and the fantasy is now to disconnect. Go back to the farm. Be gay and raise chickens. But, let me tell you something constructive if you can’t develop your own commune.
The way to deal with it “all” is to ignore the vastness of life. That kind of vastness that approaches infinity can break your brain. Looking out at a clear crisp sky is beautiful. You can feel a sense of smallness in this incredibly large universe and moments of that reflection help center us. But if our entire focus is the vast galaxy, it becomes almost impossible to navigate the tiny patch of land we do run around on.
So, instead, try to focus on what is in front of you. If everything feels like too much, focus on one email or one message. Focus on one coffee shop date or night in. Carve out tiny slices of reality that are all your own, at your pace, and stop trying to drink the ocean.
I know it’s extremely easy to just tell someone to smell the roses. We’ve been doing that since roses.
The doomscrolling algorithms are designed to entrap you and play to insecurities and neurodivergency. It’s sad that they’re ruining your life for just forty bucks a year, but what can you do?
Just know that in life you can’t possibly experience even 1% of everything that is out there, but you do experience 100% of what happens in your life. You make your own special memories that are meaningful to you. And how you uniquely slice your own preferences from the cake of reality is interesting and worthwhile.
The shows you watch or books you read and the person you become because of that is incredible. We can’t share all of ourselves with people, our Venn diagram of connection is often just barely intersecting, but that’s okay. People don’t need to fully understand you, because interacting with other people is about creating something together.
And at a very practical level, Social media can be an addiction. If it’s really impacting your life, set real limits, goals, and ask for help.
(There is a ton more to say on this subject, but I just wanted to focus on the engagement aspect of social media here. A lot of folks realistically just have social media to engage with and not many people in their life. There are a lot of things it does to make people feel connected that are really good. And there are other ways the algorithm creates unrealistic ideals around beauty and worth that are doing some real damage on us. So, don’t take this article as the definitive take, it’s just a slice of the digital pie.)