Digitalization and Disenchantment
by Karissa Geisinger
My entire generation doesn’t know a world without the internet. The internet and first cell phones were invented when my own parents were very young. The World Wide Web was released to the public in 1993 and the first smartphone in 1994. Just 13 years later, the first iPhone was released. I was only three years old. The internet evolved from the huge, boxy computers and cell phones of my parents’ childhood to portable touch screen smartphones and laptops in about three decades. I don’t remember a time before likes and comments and shares. I don’t know a time without seeing the damage a tsunami caused in Japan or a huge wildfire caused in Australia at the tap of a finger. I don’t know a time without ads for products you just mentioned in passing appearing on your Facebook feed. I don’t know a time without the internet acting as an escape from reality.
I got my first phone when I was in sixth grade. From the start, social media was an escape. I didn’t want to think about school? I got on a blog site called Amino. I didn’t want to deal with my parents? I logged into Wattpad. I’ve used the internet to make online friends from the UK, Netherlands, and France, people who live across the world but share the same interests as I do. One of the highlights of my time on the internet was watching a livestream of my favorite band’s reunion show because I couldn’t attend in person. I remember that night vividly, watching this show with thousands of other people, feeling connected to something. I seemed to dive deeper and deeper into the internet. It was so easy to become charmed by what the internet had to offer when I was younger. After all, it was tailored to you. What you liked, what you shared, what you saved to your gallery, what you bookmarked. I didn’t realize it when I was younger, but there was a reason the internet felt like an escape from the troubles of real life; that’s what it was designed to do. You become addicted to the blue light of your screen and the number of likes on a post and having the world at your fingertips. You become so enthralled with things that don’t matter. It felt like a trance.
Sometime during the beginning of the pandemic, I seemed to break out of that trance. My “two-week break” from school lasted two months. Concerts had been cancelled. I hadn’t seen my friends in person since March. And then Black Lives Matter protests broke out across the country. I remember seeing footage of protests gone violent, people being tear-gassed in the street for holding up a sign and shouting a little too loud for justice. With these protests came a lot of revelations. Family members and classmates who I enjoyed being around weren’t the people I thought they were. It felt like I woke up from a dream. I opened my eyes and saw the bigger picture. Hateful posts about the protests shifted into hateful posts about pride month shifted into hateful posts about the impending election. They gained hundreds of thousands of likes and comments, some of which were from people I knew in my personal life. And while I, along with so many others, tried to fight back by posting petitions and sharing helpful websites, it felt like that was all shoved aside. This random celebrity was caught in this kind of swimsuit! Check out this cool new product that’s endorsed by this random influencer! Buy this over-expensive Black Lives Matter or pride month merch so we can take your money and donate it to terrible charities without you knowing!
Everything felt backwards. The internet, the very thing that I had used as an escape from my problems, especially during the early days of the pandemic, had become the very thing I wanted to escape from. And while I couldn’t just abandon trying to help people, it felt like there was nothing I could do. There was a certain feeling of helplessness whenever I logged onto an app. Nobody wanted to focus on the problem at hand. There have even been events recently that are much the same. Roe vs. Wade was overturned by the Supreme Court, but all the internet seemed to want to talk about was how Will Smith slapped Chris Rock months beforehand. Shootings happen at malls and grocery stores and schools, and it feels like the media moves right past it, as if to say, “Nothing to see here! Check out the newest iPhone!”
Disenchantment has always been an interesting concept to me. “A feeling of disappointment about someone or something you previously respected or admired,” according to Google. I can’t seem to help but feel that nowadays. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still an avid internet user. I have Twitter, Tumblr, TikTok, Instagram, Snapchat, Spotify, Pinterest. I like to see what my friends are up to, I like to follow various art accounts, I still like to watch some livestreams of concerts that are much too far for me to attend. When I’m feeling stressed or in need of an escape – because I am, admittedly, still guilty of escapist tendencies – I seek out YouTube videos or my enormous library of Spotify playlists that I know will distract me for at least a little while. And I still try to fight for certain things. Only, now, there’s this underlying feeling of disappointment. This bitterness.
Like I said, I grew up with the internet. And I truly believe there is good to it. I’ve experienced the good firsthand. But I’ve lost the childlike fascination that came with using social media. It’s like when you tell a kid that Santa Claus isn’t real; Christmas is still fun, but it’s now lost a certain wonder about it. I sometimes catch myself wishing that I could fall back into that trance of worrying about what celebrity is dating who and falling for ads that are unmistakably about something that I talked about with my mom a day ago. At the end of the day, when I’m sick of the advertisements and people turning a blind eye to real problems, and I’m lost in the confines of my notes app, I can’t help but think about how it would be simpler to just follow the internet’s carefully pieced together algorithm. Obviously, I won’t do so. But I know it would be much easier. At least, much easier than feeling disenchanted.