I Am Addicted to the Digital World
A young man explains how he tries to healthily navigate the online ecosystem.
As a Zoomer, I was practically raised by the internet. I watched YouTube instead of TV, played video games instead of sports, and hung out with friends on Skype instead of in person. Tech has always been an integral part of my life.
But, sometimes, I’ve felt that it’s an addiction.
I was an early adopter of Instagram. Back then, so few people used the app that my sister and I thought it was just a way to put filters on photos. When more people got on the app, it became a game for us of how many followers and likes we could get. It was fun at first. I had a meme account and my sister had a fashion account. We followed as many people as we could in the hopes that they’d follow us back. And we’d do a shout-out for shout-outs with people that were playing the same game we were.
I got hundreds of followers. My sister, who committed more time to it, got thousands. Eventually, though, I realized that the app was consuming us: my sister more than me. So I stopped playing, and just kept my own personal account. But when I looked around, I realized that everyone was now playing the same game, just more subtly and on their personal accounts. It was no longer just a playful game, it was about real-life status. So, in protest, I deleted the app.
I Felt Lost As a Kid. I Searched for Something to Give My LIfe Meaning.
I’ve always loved games. When I was little I took Monopoly as life or death, and most of the time I won. I still remember the first time I popped Call of Duty: Black Ops into my Xbox, or when I created my first character in World of Warcraft. Those were the kinds of games I was more susceptible to fall into, rather than the ones on social media. I didn’t know what I was doing when I first loaded up World of Warcraft, but I wanted to learn. I wanted to get better, and I spent all my time doing that. Nobody was talking about it as an addiction back in those days—I was just a kid spending too much time playing video games. I wasn’t doing my homework because I was so engulfed, but I didn’t see that as a problem. In fact, I saw the homework as the problem for getting in the way of my game time.
While drugs stimulate the brain’s reward system synthetically, video games simulate the reward process entirely. It’s only been in recent years that I’ve looked up from the video games, and realized how much of my life they took up. I admit now that I was addicted, and as of writing this, I'm just about one year clean.
There Aren’t Sobriety Chips for Video Game Addicts Yet
I still love watching YouTube videos. I’ve been on YouTube since “The Gummy Bear Song” and Nigahiga's ascent. In middle school, I introduced my science class to an online science show called "Vsauce." In recent years, I’ve been trying to watch more stuff like it than stuff like “The Gummy Bear Song.” I watch podcasts with scientists, lectures, video essays and still the occasional comedy video. Some days, when I’m not working, I can watch YouTube for eight hours or more. I’m not really sure if this sort of excess can still be considered studying, or if it’s just indulgence in disguise.
Which prompts the question: What is addiction? Are you addicted to work if you opt for overtime whenever you have the chance? When work inevitably becomes optional, as automation and AI take humans’ place in the workforce, what will we do with our time? It seems likely that people will start going on social media more, playing more games and watching more videos. Are these things bad, or natural post-work activities, or both?
What Will People Do to Find Meaning in the Growing Metaverse?
Personally, I’ve wanted to be a writer for a long time. I had a speech impediment as a kid, so I’d write to better articulate myself. I found my voice on the keyboard. I think I got pretty good at it, but you don’t get much encouragement when you want to be a writer. This article is the very first time I’m being paid to write, and it feels incredibly fulfilling. I’m finally being paid to do what I love.
Being a young man living on my own, I often eat out for meals. I’m a regular at the McDonald’s near my apartment. At this particular McDonald’s usually resides an old man in tattered clothes, who offers to draw portraits for ten bucks while you're waiting in line. You could tell he doesn’t have much. But, a few pencils, a pad and the opportunity to make a buck is enough to keep him going. He isn’t homeless, or a beggar, or any of that demeaning shit; he’s a starving artist, and he retains his dignity. I got my portrait done by him, and since then, whenever I see him, I always give him a few bucks. This is someone with a talent, who just wants to find a way to get paid for it, in whatever small way he can.
In the future, when we live entirely online, I hope people can still experience that feeling. Honing a skill, and utilizing it to get paid: feeling useful, in however small a way. That’s what meaning is to me, and I hope that will be available in our increasingly technological society.