Unsubscribe Me, Please!

7.50 a.m. alarm rings. Half-awake. Grope for phone. Refresh. Scroll down and scroll down. Notifications. Likes. Comments. Check for viewers of Insta stories. Lock off. Back to sleep. “Am I one of those victims?,” I ask myself.

Coffee time! Wear my make up, ties my hair up, and tries to present the best me. It is time for me to hangout with my dearest friend. Out of the hundreds of friends that I have, she is the only one who is always by my side; she is the kind of friend everyone wishes for. Her level of confidence and attractiveness is undoubtable. She wouldn’t let her negative sides overshadow her enthusiasm. At least, that’s what she wants other people to believe. It is no wonder that everyone adores her. Perhaps, she is  our mutual friend. Let me introduce her to you. Her name is Narcissism.

Narcissism introduces me to her world, the digital world of self-marketing.

“Whatever you do, put it on Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat. You don’t need to reach the stars to become one. You only need to be pretty and entertaining. Be a competent bluffer and fake it when necessary. That’s how you earn friends. It is a world of entertainment for a generation that’s addicted to instantaneity”, she says.

I don’t mind the way I get into her world. In the end, she makes me yearn for acceptance and instant gratification. Ah yeah, I smell dopamine! This is the point where being friendship turns into an addiction.

Another thing about Narcissism that captivates me is the smell of her perfume. Peculiarly, her scent becomes stronger every time I get more followers or likes on my photos and videos. Flourishing likes and followers are what I pursue to keep her scent close. I scroll down for hours, tracking the number of likes my photo gets. But wait… the more I scroll, the more I recognise a pattern here. People post their happiness, but they always look so happy. The heavy-hearted posts of buried depression are barely there. Millions of those social media users turn silent when it comes to sad posts, as if expressing one’s sorrow is taboo. Indeed, social media is no platform for one’s true colours. Although Narcissism appears happy in her digital world, is she actually being herself all this time?

It is only me being sceptical, I guess. Despite my doubts and queries, everything takes a worse turn when Narcissism introduces me to her brother. He has sharp eyes and well-built body, emitting an aura of a bully and an abuser. His presence makes me feel tiny and fragile. But Narcissism has been my best friend since I was twelve years old. His brother should make a good friend as well.

“Hi, I’m Identity,” I greet him with concealed intimidation.

“Insecurity”, he snaps.

I start to hang out with both Narcissism and Insecurity, and I am drowning every time. He judges my appearances, fashion style, and old-school lifestyle. I constantly feel like I will never be good enough for him and myself. My self-esteem has reached a dead end. But Insecurity’s effort to make me feel small does not stop there. He even mocks my lack of achievements, flaunting his favourite YouTube video  “How to be rich in your 20s”. Ironically, he is in his 30s but still lives with his mother. However, I am too engrained in his personality and habits that I can’t seem to shake him off. The more time I spend with him, the further I shrink. He constantly raises the bar for me to feed his ego until my soul eventually fits in his little cigarette box.

“What world did you come from?” I ask, hardly maintaining my posture.

“Ahh, Narcissism and I are from the same world. Personally, I call mine the world of comparisons. Oh, and you are in it!”

You don’t value social media, social media value you.

Like a child being taught to give the same answer to a basic mathematics equation, so am I to social media. In this digital platform, there is a uniformity of answers to moral values. What does a happy life look like with Insecurity and Narcissism? Fame and money. Likes and Comments.

Doesn’t it sound empty and narrow?

I’ve had enough! I need a little break from Narcissism and Insecurity. It has been six months since the last time I saw my beloved. We set up a date at our favourite sushi restaurant. I feel tremendously happy because of the initial warmth in our talks. But as conversations go on, his phone gets him distracted. He needs to answer important group chats; something that is always important. The atmosphere changes, the warmth cools off and I shrink back into Insecurity’s little cigarette box, one of which I eventually adopt and embrace.

“Thanks for your time to meet me here”, smiles my ‘beloved’. I cannot say the same thing. He barely gives me his time.

“It’s nice to see you again, Unfocused,” I reply. I will miss him but that is a goodbye.

What a world I live in.

Staying in my little cigarette box may be the best place for me. But then I meet an old man in the café where I work. A man in his mid-fifties, palpable joy in his belly, wears a calm face with a light-hearted personality. He comes to me and asks, “How are you?”. He is unlike the usual customers who merely asks out of formality. He genuinely asks about my welfare.

During my break time, I chat with him. I observe his gestures, attitudes, and facial expressions. Our eye contacts are platonic yet it feels different. His phone is nowhere in sight. He gives me his full attention. He listens, responds, and keeps the conversation going. He slows down my otherwise fast-paced world. It is bizarre.

How can I feel such intensity through a conversation with a stranger? Why do I feel disconnected when I am connected, and connected when I disconnect?

As we talk, I brag about my friends Narcissism, Insecurity, and Unfocused. I sound like I’m proud of them. He humbly laughs and says, “You’re living in a hard generation, kid. Don’t lose yourself. Life is more than image and possessions. Whenever you want to feel accepted, search for friendships not followers. It may be called social media but it is not a medium to give you a social life.”

My break time is up. I ready myself to return to my fast-paced world, but I ask for his name beforehand.

He giggles, “People call me Mr Real-Conversation”.

As I reflect upon the world into which Narcissism and Insecurity have dragged me, I realise its counterfeit nature. No one asks my permission to be a part of this world; I automatically subscribe into its culture. Why do I need to get followers instead of friends? Fame instead of relationships? Feigned self-image instead of sincerity? How could I feel content when those matters bring discontentment? I become a prisoner in a culture I live in.

Soon after I get back to work, Mr Real-Conversation is no longer there. I should have asked for his contact and assistance earlier. Numb and speechless, I desperately need him. I need to unsubscribe me from the world I live in.