The first time the internet scared me was when I accidentally liked a friend’s photo from months ago on G+. Since 2013, the internet’s peek-a-boo game has become increasingly bizarre. After I started a booktube channel in January, YouTube analytics showed me disturbing stats. My videos were getting suggested beside vulgar hashtags.
In panic, I pinged a fellow booktuber, asking her, “Does this normally happen, or is it something I’m doing?” She told me it was normal, that it was just the algorithm doing its thing. Now I don’t really look at my stats all that often.
When my brother created a Wix site for me, I wanted it be a writing portfolio. That meant SEO playtime. My name, in itself, is SEO optimised. You won’t find many people who have my name, which has been a cause for alternating pride and inadequacy. So, I created a website, and installed my singular byline on its digital pedestal.
The funny thing about the internet is it tricks you into thinking you’re in control.
I google myself for the first time after getting on social media platforms. The first time I had googled myself, I didn’t have any social media accounts except for a Hotmail account for email and chat. And since there is no huge celebrity with a large following who share my names, the search results were all about me. My social media profiles appeared, stacked over each other in a neat listing of my internet life, like I was the only Godhashri Srinivasan in the world. If I tricked myself just a little bit more, I could believe I was famous and materialise a blue tick beside my usernames.
My YouTube channel appears, my Twitter appears, my Instagram appears and my one byline appears. It’s a wall decorated with my name. The images tab has my YouTube thumbnails.
With a slight sense of fame and existential awareness, I scroll down to see how else the internet can flatter me.
There, a list of names appears in the subtext. Names of my family. Intrigued, and a bit wary, I click. It’s a court judgment settling the amount receivable by the family of a deceased person and the truck owner who’d crashed into the deceased.
I read the judgment again. Srinivasan, my father, who had died in 2013, had died from an injury to his pelvis, at about 2:30 pm. Sub-clauses told me how much my father had earned per month, precise to the last digit, and how much he’d earned from agricultural activities per annum – again clinically precise. There was a compensatory sum for the ‘loss of love and affection’ that his family would suffer.
I couldn’t read more, not only because it was painful, but also because it was not what I was looking for from a supposedly fun self-google. This search engine, running on algorithms and the huge amorphous glob of SEO, showed me things my family didn’t want to, and for good reason.
Then again, I know of the internet’s data collection systems. How we’re building a massive data pile about ourselves every time we go online. Many times, I’ve contemplated a complete removal of my internet existence – no Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and even Gmail (and by extension YouTube). I would think of all the ways I’m archived on the internet – my clicks, my scrolling, my incognito mode searches – awestruck and wary.
But I’ve also happily taken to texting over calling or meeting up.
Gmail Hangouts introduced texting to me. I could keep conversations going for hours, compared to the minutes on call.
Texting removes the need for spontaneity in interactions. You can turn off read receipts and leave someone hanging while you think of the best comeback. This removal of real-conversation pressure has even made me a more spontaneous texter, more myself, I can say.
Zoom classes reduce my inhibition. Turning off video cam, I can think as I would if I were alone. I could even crack a couple jokes with the teacher if the class went on long enough.
This internet is a strange thing. You can’t really live without it, but you can’t really live with it either.
Scrolling further, I came across a registration in a story-telling platform. Until that moment, I didn’t know I had an account with Story Street Labs. That night, I didn’t dream of me googling myself and finding a lost sibling in Sri Lanka in the abscesses of Google pages. But, our relationship with the internet continues to fascinate and loom.
Godhashri Srinivasan is a journalism student and creative writer looking to write the world.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty