We are the Story

Photo by Johnson Wang on Unsplash

What does digital storytelling look like now that we, humans with tech privilege, can now broadcast our most random thoughts at any time of day or night?

How do we increase our readability? How much of us is too much of us? Has ubiquitous media turned us all into newsworthy topics deserving of column inches and air time? Insert first name, insert last name, add show: We have arrived.

We are the human show, the relentless carnival of life caught into a whirlwind of emotions and observing itself as we ride around on the same roller coaster, soiled underwear and all, mining our lives for interestingness, one word at a time. The process is dizzying, discombobulating, distasteful to the extreme when we offer up our privacy and occasionally that of others in exchange for payment.

Look at my soiled underwear, look, look, look! I too lose control of my bowels when I’m scared, doesn’t that make me human just like you? But the color though, you’ll never believe what comes out of me!

The faster the ride, the more our boundaries become indistinguishable from the next person’s as we melt into an amorphous mass of voices all clamoring to be heard. Think of a bird’s nest in a sealable plastic bag being tossed around by algorithms, capitalism, and envy.

It’s curious, isn’t it, this compulsion to show off and spectate we share while retreating instead of stepping out from behind our screens? We prefer to dwell in darkness, our eyes reflecting the smile of a human face on a screen rather than the smile of a person in our arms. Our arms hug the possessions we surround ourselves with to palliate our yearning for someone to hold, to placate our need to love and be loved.

We are both the story and its narrator; what does our tone sound like today? Can we transcribe it with sincerity, poise, and clarity? How do we keep the audience reading? How do we convey your unique humanness with relatability while everyone else attempts to do the same?

Do we understand one another better now that being human includes the production of regular reports on our interior life?

Why are we still pretending to know who we are?

When we think out loud in print without artifice, do we write code or do we write poetry, what story does our script tell?

What story does our script sell?

We meet on the screen as pixels, data packets, commands, and characters. We are both the medium and the message, preferring the secure and sanitized connectedness of touch screens to that of skin.

Thanks to the internet, we enjoy a shot of fame in the form of universal base exposure, just enough to keep us docile and compliant yet wanting more. Meanwhile, we crave connectedness, we ache for engagement, we let algorithms taunt and tease and tickle us as we willingly enslave ourselves to countless social media attachment merchants. We experience life in a constant state of want, our dissatisfaction commensurate with the size of our ego. We want more because we believe we deserve better; we want more because we believe the winner takes it all and we won’t be left behind this time around.

In our head, we have embarked on a hero’s journey, we are pursuing our calling, we shall overcome against all odds; we are building our own personal mythology, turning ourselves into brands and products named after human emotions. We are redefining honesty and authenticity for mass consumption, commodifying the human heart one turgid personal essay at a time.

As our society continues to do away with voluntary face-to-face contact, our ability to read with focused attention is disappearing; we write to feed algorithms, not minds.

Why are we still pretending to care about one another?

We are the textual traces we leave behind, those ephemeral fragments of self rendered both obsolete and eternal the moment they go live.

The digital mirror where we are recording and documenting ourselves is a ledger. We make daily written deposits to enrich the global narrative; simultaneously, algorithms teach us how to always produce more with vanity metrics feeding our addiction to validation, visibility, and vaingloriousness.

Deep in our bones we know ourselves to be the greatest underdog of all, the worthiest of praise for we have it worse than anyone else and yet we’ve come further than anyone else, not that the others even register when we are our greatest fan.

We’re competing against our self, we’re competing amongst ourselves but we can’t tell the difference anymore. We’re fighting windmills, seeing enemies everywhere even though our lives are emptier than ever. A hug is a blushing yellow blob with two tiny hands, love is a bank balance, and we’ve run out of humanness to sell so we’re coming out for one another’s armed with cell phones to better capture the dignity we pawned long ago, the dignity we’ll never get back, the dignity we’re now stealing from others without their consent.

For attention, for a quick buck, to feed the algorithm, to remain relevant, to mollify the monster within, its gaping maw gnawing at the mirage of more money, biting ceaselessly at the surrounding emptiness for sustenance and succor. When those we’ve robbed of their dignity die, will we cash in on their demise too by making ourselves the victim instead of the vulture?

Why are we still playing at empathy?

I’m a French-American writer and journalist living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.

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