I woke up late. I hit that ‘snooze’ button more times than I could count. Every day is the same, every one stays the same. I skipped breakfast, brewed myself coffee and rolled a cigarette. My phone vibrated. A text message, saying “He’s just like that, he doesn’t reply sometimes.” Great, I think. The bastard was supposed to pay me a week ago, I got my rent due for over two weeks and new writing projects are harder and harder to find. And I wake up to a message like this. “You just have to wait.”
Time flies when you’re having fun, but every second counts when the landlord company is waiting for their money transfer. I don’t know what they’re going to do. Maybe I’ll hear a knock on my door tomorrow morning, maybe they’ll cut the internet off, or maybe I’ll survive. I don’t know. I just have to wait. After all, I’m just another sample from the hundreds of tenants this landlord company has contracts with. Nervously, I check my email. What if there’s a new gig for me? A paycheck, or at least a response from one of the seventy-four companies who received my resume in the last four months. There’s a notification, from LinkedIn. A comment on my recently-updated job title:
And that made me realize something. I’ve had these thoughts playing on my mind for a longer while now, they just clicked at that moment. That sample answer rang a bell. I won’t tell you who left that comment, and know what – it doesn’t matter. It wouldn’t change a thing, whether it would be my childhood friend, a prospective employer, or my mother. Anybody could leave that comment. Everybody in my network – friends I’ve never really met, coworkers I’ve never shaken hands with, people I don’t know – received the same notification, and had to choose from the same preset of ready-made, sample answers. “Congrats Dawid.”
Anybody in the world could write that. It could be the girl to whom I proposed when I was drunk. It could be a gay boy struggling with his identity in Indonesia. It could be my friend who left his hometown to study business in the Netherlands. It could be my eleven-year-old sister, clicking through her phone during a break at school. It could be a person. Anybody. “Congrats Dawid.”
Maybe it wasn’t even a person, but a bot made by a scammer from India. Maybe it was LinkedIn itself, congratulating me on that achievement. Maybe it was an algorithm that had been monitoring my online behaviour, taking note of the photos I like, the videos I skip after three seconds, the keywords I put into the search bar.
Remember the last time your friend had a birthday, and you received a reminder from Facebook? Oh, thank God, I’ve almost forgotten! You don’t even know which birthday it was, and by now you possibly don’t even remember which friend it was. There’s so many of them, so many names and faces in your network, and every day – somebody has their birthday. Every day is a special day for somebody. A special day for anybody.
I look at my profile picture. From the image, some guy is looking at me, smiling. Is he smiling at me? Did he take this picture thinking I’m smiling for this person, in this place, in this moment? No, he’s smiling at anybody who clicks on his name to view his profile. Is that even me? I don’t know anymore.
I ate cinnamon rolls for dinner. How many social media accounts have you got? You got it all, full package of identities and accounts? Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Tinder, maybe Tumblr if you want to distinguish yourself from the crowd. Just like the 472 million other users of Tumblr. How many groups or discussion forums have you joined recently? Remember that meme you saw today? Funny, isn’t it? You scrolled, you laughed, and you double tapped it. That’s a like. “Liked by you and thousands of others.”
Somebody else, anyone, on the other part of the globe or in the apartment next door, saw that very same meme, the same post, from the same account. They see the same sentence. “Liked by you and thousands of others.” To them, you’re one of the “thousands of others.” You’re just another like, another vibration, another notification, and another account.
The algorithm knew that this photo might make you laugh and you might double tap it. It has been gathering information from millions of users over the period of years. Trends, fashion, sex. Sex always sells. It used to be a very private thing, kept in the shadows until marriage, a taboo during family meetings. Then came the internet and birth control. Have sex as often as you like, it’s just another person, another party. Oh, you don’t have sex too often, do you? No worries. You can see other people having sex in any flavour you like.
You want to see a guy with tits or a girl with a cock? Either way, you’ve got it, here it is, man. You want to see a girl get “enslaved and fucked?” No problem, here it is, man. Maybe you prefer to see how a “young man with huge dick fucks slutty gay boy?” No worries, here it is, man. You want to see how “big butt milf mom asks son to shower together after work out?” Sure, here it is, man. Take a good look. Roll your pants down and watch how people who pretend to be related have sex. Deep inside, you know they’re not really related, don’t you?
And that’s the problem. Nobody is really anything. Are you shocked by the quotations in the previous paragraph? Do you think that this article should be censored somehow, not shown to younger kids probably? Come on, do it. It took me to google one, single word to open a page with content like that. And it’s not just headlines, it’s videos. You can choose a category, sexual orientation, fetish. Have you got a child, maybe a younger sibling? Or maybe you just know a kid, could be your neighbour or schoolmate. It’s not very probable that they’re reading this article right now, their attention span is way too short. If they did get here, they probably left this page after the second paragraph. Even finding this article wouldn’t be so easy. If you haven’t seen the link to this piece on your Facebook feed or in my Instagram stories, it won’t be easy to find it on the internet. It’s just an article, written by a writer – it could be anybody. You know what’s easy to find on the internet? Sex.
One search away. Usually, you go for “private” or “incognito” tabs. It would be a shame if your partner found out what you fantasize about. What if your boss knew, or your father? You’re a self-respecting, decent human being after all! Your reputation would be put at a risk if somebody found out what your search history is. It’s as if everyone was biting their nails to find out what kind of porn you watch. Your pride feeds you with this lie, but the truth is that you’re hiding from yourself.
“I am eighteen years old or older. ENTER.” You just click it, and you can scroll through all the categories, choose the one you like most. There’s even a “today’s selection,” in case you didn’t have anything specific on your mind. Check out what other people masturbate to. Another alert: “Parents read this to protect your kids.” Yeah, my ass.
I ate scrambled eggs for supper. Nobody is really anything. Two paragraphs ago, I didn’t “search” for sex, I googled it. You’ve probably seen that boomer meme: “Google before you tweet is the new think before you speak.” You don’t have a specific image in your mind, you’ve seen many versions of this truism. A version, a copy, a repost.
You go to your feed to find somebody who’s real. A photo of a popular actress in Calvin Klein underwear. Another photo, this time an influencer. Wearing these or those pants, drinking these or those drinks, recommending you this or that, telling you what they think about this product.
“I’ve been testing these [product] for [time], and I think-”
Cut. If you’ve ever read or heard something like this, and if you’re slightly cynical atop of it all, you might have thought that they sold themselves. But what does it mean to sell yourself, how can you sell yourself? Is it physically, like a whore? No, we’ve got porn for that. Or is it about dignity, like a poor kid sold to a child trafficker, like a slave?
There’s something called individual identity. It means that when you say I did, I think, I saw, I’ve listened, I smoked, you’re describing the experiences and events from your personal life. There’s an idea of an “I” in your head, an “I” with a grandparent whom the “I” calls from time to time; an “I” who prefers when there’s more salt in the “I”’s sweet and sour chicken; an “I” who was born and an “I” who will die.
I search – no, I google – just one letter: “I”. Here’s what I’ve got:
About 25.270.000.000 results (0,98 seconds)
Kendrick Lamar – i (Official Video) – YouTube
I (Kendrick Lamar song) – Wikipedia
LinkedIn: Log In or Sign Up
I-131, Application for Travel Document – USCIS
Influenza-Pandemieplanung – RKI
Check Your Voter Registration Status – Vote.org
iPad – Apple
Not exactly what I was looking for.
Whenever you say “I,” you claim your existence and your identity. If you say “I like this [product],” because somebody paid you to say it, then I’m sorry. You’ve just sold your identity, your existence, and anything you thought you represented. You’ve lost the “I,” whatever you say now doesn’t matter. Because every time you say “I,” it won’t be you. You become another human machine who says what other people tell it to say for money. You’ve lost the privilege to ever say “I think” and mean it.
Oh irony, you don’t even have to be paid to sell yourself! This wheel spins itself, and it just keeps spinning, and spinning, and spinning…
Look where it brought us. Some of us are willing to pay a fortune to a billion-dollar company so that you can wear clothes with their logo on it. Then you take a picture in your newly-bought shoes, dress, hoodie, with your brand-new watch, holding the steering wheel of your brand-new car. In the centre of attention, ladies and gentlemen, here it is – a logo. Of course, you will tag the company before posting it. Maybe a couple of your friends and the photographer too.
You might be wondering: What does it take to hold such a place in society? How can I climb up this ladder and succeed in selling myself? Is there any way to crawl on top of other accounts and make the wheel keep on spinning, make the likes keep flowing in, and make the money keep coming to me?
Selling yourself wasn’t enough. Right atop of this farce, just to make sure the [product] is bought by more people, you add something more to it. You add sex. Pictures of chests, legs, faces, butts – no matter if it’s a man or a woman, it’s all about sex. Your followers like that, don’t they? The more sex you add, the more people follow you, don’t they? And they’re all waiting to hear what you think about the [product]. But there is no “you,” not anymore.
What about art? Is there something more personal and authentic than devoting yourself to the creative process and manifesting the deep, unconscious ideas in the physical world? You can try unleashing the creative demons from the depths of your self, but it’s not enough. You want your ideas to be heard, read, listened to. You have to monetize these ideas, sell them to marketers and agents who then own every right to your authenticity, leaving you with the mere few percent of sales in the form of royalties. Is there another way? You can drive people to your art organically, advertising your content through social media and the internet. But to become successful in this niche, your art can’t be just pure, authentic abstraction. Your words and sentences have to be optimized, so that the algorithm can deem them valuable and suggest it as the answer to one of the 5.6 billion queries each day. What you thought was a pure manifest of your identity becomes twisted, devoid of its original meaning, shaped by the invisible hands of the algorithm as just another sample example to choose from.
What was the last time you’ve been to a shopping mall? It doesn’t matter, but for the sake of this piece, let’s assume you walk into a shopping mall. What do you see?
Logos everywhere, samples of clothes, samples of food, and samples of people behind glass. McDonald’s, Adidas, Zara, H&M, Lidl… I could outline brand after brand, company after company, logo after logo, and you’d recognize most of them. You’ve seen it, you know it. Everything’s a sample right now. The chicken wings you buy are just one example of food that’s bought and eaten by thousands of people worldwide, made from one of the 850 million chickens that are slaughtered every year by this or that fast food chain restaurant. The T-shirt you buy is just one example of an article of clothing among 450 million items that are sold every year by this or that chain clothing company. The manikins you see are dressed in fine suits, following the customs and fashion, always complying with the trend that’s hot right now. The music you stream from the app on your phone is just one example of the 50 million songs available.
Love would seem to be the last resort of humanity, but we decided to give up on it too. Influencers who say what they’re paid to say and models who look how they’re paid to look tell you what you should crave, buy, be. How you should look and how you should behave. You just swipe right or left, soaring through examples of the 7.86 million people who use this or that dating app. To them – the chain clothing shop, the fast food restaurant, the app, the other user – you’re just another customer. Another sample, eating sample food, wearing sample clothes, listening to sample music, and living a sample life.
Again, the wheel spins itself. You want to be a sample. People fall into this system and become a sample, a copy. It’s not even people, that would be an exaggeration. It’s accounts. You want your grid to look nice, you want to get those likes and follows and friends. Accounts have become the idealized versions of people, craving for attention in their misery. Even if you’re a little off, you lose the sense of “I.” Every rebel, anarchist, or a depressed kid falls into the abyss of samples, as just another rebel, anarchist, or a depressed kid.
If you’re really motivated to break out of this cycle, you might delete your social media account. Once you do it, you’ll receive a heart-warming message. “Sorry to see you go. #GoodBye.” The same sample message anybody would get after deleting this or that account. If you read between the lines, the #GoodBye could be interpreted more deliberately. “Fuck you. We’ve got 330 million active users monthly. We never needed you. You needed us.”
Your account becomes you, monitored by algorithms that tell you what you want. Not happy with the ads? Are they repetitive or irrelevant? You can tell it to the algorithm by yourself. Just click “hide this add,” and choose one of the six sample reasons. Have you already bought it or is it a sensitive topic? One of the options is “too personal.” Ironic. Deliberately show the algorithm that you don’t feel alright with the constant invigilation and tracking. Subsequent ads won’t be so tailored to your preferences, they might become completely randomized. It doesn’t change the fact that the algorithm still knows almost everything about you. Now, it also knows that it shouldn’t be so straightforward in showing this to you. It doesn’t see you as human, it never has. You’re yet another sample, a study case for the algorithm to learn how to make you buy things you don’t need for money you don’t have.
Go out and search for something human, something true or authentic. Google it. Facebook keeps suggesting you the “people you might know.” Sure, in case you didn’t know them well enough, you should add them as friends or followers of your account, so that the account can represent your “I” in the most specific way possible. Add your family members, education, work title, photos from vacation, sexual orientation, a catchy bio, and then share this or that post to manifest the “I” in the virtual spheres of politics, humour, or religion.
Search and google as long as you want to. Finding a real friend won’t be easy, but no reason to worry. An ad will pop out just when you need it: “Need a friend? Create one now.” Start texting with a chatbot and create the illusion that somebody gives a shit about you. Go to a random chat on the deep web and try sexting with strangers, masturbating, imagining it’s really you they care about. Send another birthday wish to your online friend, using a sample. Eat your sample food, enjoy your sample music, follow your sample idols, live your sample life. In the end, you wake up to a sample notification of a sample comment posted by somebody, somewhere.