Exhausted and Hungry Behind Screens

Despite working long hours every day, many digital creators struggle to survive

Photo by Mariana Beltrán on Unsplash

Every time rent is due, life comes crashing around your ears again. All the exhaustion, the frustration, and the desperation you had been trying to keep at arm’s length for another month engulf you in a familiar wave of nausea. Can you afford to keep the internet on so you can work?

In our culture, your hard work means nothing to anyone but you.

And when that hard work remains relentless and defiant despite increasingly adverse circumstances that make every day look like another hallucination, you know you’re trapped. You’re killing yourself doing something that brings you no joy or sense of accomplishment, only humiliation and shame. And yet you can’t afford to quit because even one buck is better than none.

When you dedicate every waking minute of your life to doing something that doesn’t allow you to survive, your situation isn’t exactly a point of pride.

It gnaws at you a little more every day until there’s no motivation left, no enthusiasm, only habit. You tell yourself that if you can just produce more, it might make a difference. So you work faster, longer, harder, pushing yourself beyond discomfort, pain, and hunger in the name of a better tomorrow. You transcend the limits of the possible; it has zero impact.

We looked to the internet to help us save our own lives but it cannibalized it instead. Life itself became pixels and data packets.

Dedication and persistence are worthless when they don’t translate into a dollar figure, assets, or both. Creativity has no value unless it has been commodified into a consumer good, a brand, a slogan. Human dignity is contingent on one’s bank balance or tax return. Thank unchecked capitalism.

In our culture, your hard work means nothing to anyone but you.

And when that hard work doesn’t feed you or pay your bills, you hang on to your dignity by knuckling down and pretending you’re fine. There’s scant sympathy for the plight of the digital working poor, creators whose work doesn’t feed them. Instead, the gig economy chews them up and spits them out, seven days a week, 365 days a year if they can mentally sustain it.

When time is the only resource you have, the only way to optimize it is to monetize it.

After a while, even sitting or standing in front of a screen for so many hours in a row without enough rest or days off takes a toll on your health. The body has insidious ways of pointing out what the mind has chosen to ignore, namely that you’ve been falling apart for quite some time, burning out, and losing hope things might improve. They haven’t.

We looked to the internet to help us save our own lives but it enslaved us instead, shackling us to screens and apps and metrics.

The internet cradles our hearts in binary code, offering myriad mirages that allow for hope when the zeitgeist offers so very little. But unless your motivation transcends basic human needs or you can go without eating for some time, you may be working for free or almost free.

In our culture, your hard work means nothing to anyone but you.

And when that hard work causes you so much distress over an extended period of time, no matter how much heart you poured into it, you won’t want to leverage it. Desperation turns your creativity into as many lottery tickets as you can produce. Failure feels like a dead weight and yet, you catch yourself trying to turn it into a stepping stone, day after day. You can’t let it go.

To find the mental strength to keep going, you justify your unwavering belief into the power of agency whichever way you can.

Look at you now, square-eyed, stressed, and silently guilty. You enabled, encouraged, and empowered the demise of hope by co-opting a model that left everything to chance while convincing yourself it could provide a portal into greater ease and more professional autonomy.

We looked to the internet to help us save our own lives but we turned it into a battlefield of greed instead. You play, you pay.

💛 If you enjoyed these words, please consider supporting my work with a modest cup of coffee. It’s cheaper than 🍽 and it keeps me warm. Merci! 🐱

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