The Internet



A collaborative writing project about the internet of the past, present, future.

Volume 2: Digital Intimacy

Accepting submissions now.

01 Lauren Dawicki

02 On Mute

03 Alexandra Ebert Gold

04 Ryan F

Volume 1: Personal Histories

01 Nikita Walia


02 Tynan Sinks

03 Kayla Z

04 Ria Elciario

05 Sinéad Khan

06 Maya Singhal

07 Melody Zhou

08 Shayla Hayward-Lundy


Mark

CW: This essay discusses dieting.

It wasn’t until a couple of months ago that I took a step back and realized how drastically the videos on my YouTube homepage have changed over the past years.

A few years ago, my entire subscription box and homepage were saturated with What I Eat in a Day and How I Shrank my Waist ONLY Changing this ONE Thing videos. I spent summer days learning something as intuitive as eating, from girls who were only a year or two older and maybe a few pounds lighter than me.

At family dinners, I folded half-chewed pieces of Persian lavash bread into my napkin and anxiously checked if my stomach was distended after every couple bites. It would be unfair to say that this was exclusively the internet’s fault – I know that’s not the truth.

However, I do know that I’m a perfectionist at heart and if given directions, I can follow them to a tee. What the internet and, more specifically, YouTube did was give me so-called directions on how to fix the imperfections I saw in myself. At the time, it felt like the internet and I had mutual interests – improving my health, my physique, and therefore my perception of self. I believed that the internet was the great bearer of knowledge – a safe haven to quench my curiosity – but often it offered me destructive answers to questions that I never had in the first place.

It’s awe-inspiring that we can access articles, data, images, and essays that were created both centuries and seconds ago. However, this surplus of information can feel frightening and overwhelming at times. On the internet, your curiosity can get you into trouble.

One innocuous click on a What I Eat in a Day video is the beginning of the end (not to be dramatic). But really, whether you watch the first 30 seconds of that video or stick through until the end, past this point  you have no choice but to be endlessly bombarded by15-minute sagas of oatmeal and rice cakes with almond butter. These videos get algorithmically fed to you as aggressively as the false guidance to drink two glasses of water before eating as an appetite suppressant (???!!!). I was no longer exploring my queries in the YouTube search bar; a computer was telling me what I wanted to know. In hindsight, I realize that I had lost my humanity on the internet. I had been diluted to a series of data points.

I was too enamored by clickbait and photoshopped thumbnails that I failed to realize that the internet was feeding me useless, harmful, and unsolicited advice. I felt intrigued by the myriad of videos that claimed they could guide me toward my goal of looking and feeling better (which I had completely lost sight of). Without full control over the content I was consuming, my interest in fitness and nutrition transformed into deleterious obsession.

It took a long time for me to stop falling for these videos, but I finally realized that it made no sense to take advice from people whose expertise in the field of health was limited to reading a Pinterest infographic about how to “become lean” and promoted diarrhea-inducing supplements to their viewers (no, I am not buying Flat Tummy Tea no matter how many times you advertise it). Looking at my subscription box today, I’ll admit that it hasn’t been completely purged of this style of videos but I have certainly become a much more conscious content-consumer.

The point of all of this is: don’t let yourself become a data point. Maintain your humanity, your intellectual sovereignty, and your personality on the internet and it can be your best friend. For someone like me, who wants to be in control, I disliked how the internet replaced my real intelligence with artificial intelligence. I felt scammed by machine learning algorithms that were using my data against me.

Now that I’ve undergone this epiphany, I love the internet. Why?

Well, I think the internet has a huge learning curve:
  1. Let it manipulate you.
  2. Realize that you’re a real person who can outsmart an algorithm.
  3. Use your humanity to make the internet what it was originally meant to be — a place for sharing knowledge, quenching curiosity, and telling stories.

I think I’m in the final phase of my learning curve.

Name: Kayla Z
Occupation: Student
Age: 18
@ Name: @kayla.z
First time online: Age 4