Last year, I set out on a journey. That day, I decided I was going to change the way I used the internet. No longer was I going to spend most of my day mindlessly surfing the web, or spend every idle moment checking my phone— I was going to change. I was going to be different.
For someone who had spent most of his life with his computer and his Xbox as his best friends, this was a radical change. So you might be wondering…what led up to this momentous decision in a lifetime of hitherto uninspired mediocrity?
Small data, not big data.
I had installed apps to track how much time I spent on the internet. Their readings scared the f@$king shit out of me.
- I spent 8 hours playing Hearthstone, browsing social media, and watching YouTube videos.
- I unlocked my phone 118 times.
What. The. F^&K!
I was ashamed. What had my life become? Did my immigrant parents struggle and fly coach to America, so that I could waste all my time on the internet?! They gave up dosa and chutney to have plain oatmeal for breakfast. And this was how I repaid them?!
But seriously, it was scary. It made me realize that at the age of 23 I had stagnated completely. That I was depressed and lonely. That instead of addressing these things head on I was escaping into a digital world where everything was easy and fun and everyone seemed to be happy.
I knew I had to change. If I didn’t, then next year would be like this one…and the one before.
So I made a plan for the future!
Lol. Just kidding. If I was good at such things, I probably wouldn’t have been 23 and on the internet all day.
What actually happened was that for the next year or so I proceeded in a stubborn, borderline idiotic fashion trying out random things to overcome my internet addiction.
The first thing I tried? Using willpower.
I had heard much lore of this mystical ability and decided to try it out for myself. I figured I’d tap into this dormant power to stop checking social media, YouTube, and everything else I was spending too much time on.
I quickly realized the following:
Lord Zuckerberg is much stronger than he looks….(which to be fair, isn’t a hard feat to achieve). While he appears small and skinny, deep inside his mind he harbors an entire ARMY of the evil beings known as….algorithms.
Algorithms are a small army of devious computerized minions that do the bidding of tech companies. Imagine if BBC was doing a documentary on the world of algorithms, narrated by David Attenborough. This would be the trailer….
Three algorithms: Knuth_#652L, Turing_#299N, and Watson_#827G are huddled inside a server.
Human 2321 appears online
Knuth_#652L: “Excellent….the human has returned for more dopamine. Quickly, Turing_#299N and Watson_#827G bring the data harvesters, we must begin mining immediately.”
Human 2321 has left
Knuth_#652L: Gasp of terror.
“We have let him escape. We will not meet our daily quota of ads. Lord_Zuck will be most displeased. He might have us….optimized. Hurry Turing, hurry Watson! We must get him back. What can we do?!?”
Turing_#299N: “Show him the ex-girlfriend…what…he’s over her?? Noooo!!”
Watson_#827G: “TRUMP. Give him TRUMP!!!! What??! He’s tired of politics?! This is MADNESS!!”
Knuth_#652L ponders ominously
Knuth_#652L: “There is only one thing left to do…..We must try the butts.”
Turing_#299N: “What are butts?”
Knuth_#652L: “I’m not exactly sure….but I believe the female ones use them as protection from hard wooden chairs.”
Watson_#827G: “Very well. We have nothing to lose. Make haste. Populate his feed with butts. Use the ones encased in the stretchy pants.”
Human 2321 appears online
Turing_#299N: “Mother of Zuck…..it worked…”
Knuth, Turing, Watson furiously scribble into their hard drives
Knuth_#652L: “I wonder….will this work on the other male ones too?”
The world of the Algorithms was hidden from humans for a long time. We know about them because of one man. Tristan Harris, a man who escaped
North Korea Google to tell us the truth.
“You could say that it’s my responsibility to exert self-control when it comes to digital usage,” he explains, “but that’s not acknowledging that there’s a thousand people on the other side of the screen whose job is to break down whatever responsibility I can maintain.”
-Tristan Harris, the Morpheus of the internet.
This explains everything. It explains why I ended up back on my phone over and over again. It explains the thousands of people walking around like zombies staring at their screens. It explains why these people, despite wanting to break free, feel trapped and unable to.
It’s not that they have baby food for brains. It’s that they’re playing a game of chess against the Algorithm Brain of Facebook and Google.
Here’s a quick computation:
My brain = C in calculus
Algorithm Brain = invents calculus
The power of the Algorithm Brain is roughly equal to:
Algorithm Brain = Mark Zuckerberg * Sergey Brin * 1,000 google/facebook engineers * 1000 neuroscientists * 1,000 software designers * AI * Big Data
So realize that when it’s you against the algorithm…..the algorithm will probably win.
Escaping The World of Algorithms
After my first failure, I wondered if there was any hope. I wondered if I could escape from the world of the algorithms.
I delved into the texts, the lost artifacts, anything I could find to learn about their world. After an exhausting search that unearthed no clues, I left for a short time. To see if I could find anything from our world. It was there that I found out their one crucial flaw. Algorithms cannot survive without a constant supply of Internet (their source of nutrients), they starve and die within seconds.
So I disconnected completely. I deleted my social media accounts. I switched to a flip phone. I cut internet at home.
A few days later I woke up to a most peculiar feeling…..was this….the feeling…..that…..Gandhi…..that….Lincoln…was this…freedom?
Happiness. Joy. Truth. Justice. I was halfway to Mars to help Elon start colonizing.
But then I was yanked out of orbit by the gravitational force of the real world.
The real world doesn’t want you to be happy. The real world wants you to check email. It wants you to upload documents to “the cloud” and “network” on LinkedIn.
Sadly for me, disconnecting completely was a romantic notion. I still dream that one day I’ll live in a small cottage by a remote lake with no need for internet use or a smartphone.
But until that day I must live in the real word. Where most of us are required to be on the grid. Of course, there are a lucky few of us who have successfully disconnected. But these people are usually billionaires or celebrities. These people have slaves..sorry I mean “assistants”… who take care of all the things that us plebeians are still required to do. They don’t need to check email. They have scribes transcribe them onto papyrus scrolls to be then read aloud.
And of course there are some people who can disconnect because their lives don’t require the internet. Writers. Alaskan fisherman. Coyote hunters.
But I wasn’t any of these people.
Deeply upset at the cruel nature of the world, I retreated to the forest. For 40 days and 40 nights I forewent food and water, existing only on the floating pollen in the air and the moisture from the moss growing under me. I spent this time meditating on the solution to my problem.
On the 40th night a thunderbolt scorched the skies and struck me. I was unharmed. This wasn’t lightning. It was a fiber optic message sent from the future.
In the message was one sentence.
Nik you must….seize control.
Images from the future flashed through my mind and I realized the truth.
The internet isn’t evil. It just seems that way because I’ve been using the internet on others peoples terms. I’ve let Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat and other tech companies dictate how I use the internet.
I had adopted these services mindlessly and without thought. I never paused to question and ask myself…..why?
I had let the algorithms into my life and gave them free reign. I let them create a bubble of rationalization around me. I had to pop this bubble and see the truth. Only then could I escape the cycle of mindless surfing. Only then could I use the internet as a tool.
You see there’s a middle path. A path where the internet becomes your ally. Where the army of algorithms is contained and poses no threat to you.
If you choose to walk down this path, the path of the purpose driven, then this is the road ahead of you:
1. You must see the bubble of rationalization around you and find the courage to pop it. No one can do this for you, you must be the one to do so.
2. You must guard yourself my friend. Because they will come for you. They will whisper in the night. They will croon to you when you are at your worst. You must tie yourself to the mast of your ship to resist the sirens song.
3. You must sharpen the sword of your mind. A dull blade is more dangerous to the owner than to the enemy. Sit daily and sharpen until the steel shines bright in the sun.
It will be difficult yes, but no more difficult than your daily struggle to escape the web. Struggling to work, to exist, to think while the strands of the internet cling to you. As the spiders of mediocrity, loneliness, and depression grow ever closer.
Have hope my friend. You can escape. You are close. The cycle of mindless surfing is about to end.
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