Yes, you reading this. Who are you?
It’s a simple question with a million possible answers so please, tell me your name. Tell me everything about yourself. Are you a good person? Do you like power?
The beauty of such personal questions is that no one will know for sure if whatever you’ve said is true. After all, you’re only truly you when nobody’s watching.
With much of my spare time spent analysing behaviour in search of discernible patterns, I constantly wonder if people are who they appear to be. But one day, I had an idea. Instead of always having to go through the arduous process of sizing someone up, I wanted to see if it was possible to have them lift the veil for me.
And so on a regular Saturday, I handed my life over to my Instagram followers. Given full control over every decision I had to make via Instagram’s poll function, could I catch glimpses of their true selves behind the façade of best-of moments and pretty pictures?
It’s 10AM and as soon as my bleary eyes adjust to the sunlight streaming in through the window, I feel the effects of the previous night’s boozing on my aging body. Ahh yes, a hangover. The free prize at the bottom of every beer bottle.
Muttering a few choice profanities to my pillow, I decide to see if there’s any empathy left in this world.
Nice. Maybe I should start having more faith In humanity.
Following my lovely mid-morning nap, by some miracle I manage to summon up enough willpower to haul my unwilling ass out of bed and into the shower. Not bad for a guy who once skipped an entire day of school because he was too lazy to look for his spectacles that had fallen off the nightstand.
I’m now faced with the question of where to go.
While walking to the train station, I see a hair salon.
After giving the barber his easiest job of the day, I post a picture of my new hairstyle on Instagram and it triggers a landslide of messages from friends and strangers. They’re all shocked that I actually did it; some lauded my bravery and others expressed their disappointment.
One uneventful train ride later, I’m staring up at the giant floor-directory of the National Library.
Disturbed, I consider abandoning my day entirely, but I remember that today isn’t about me. Today I am but a mere online plaything. Reluctantly, I contort my face into the creepiest expression possible in the hopes that some poor, unsuspecting child would join me at my table.
Have you ever watched a nature documentary in which a lioness rips an opposing predator to shreds when her cubs are threatened? If you have, trust me when I say that the parents of all the poor kids I smile at are ready to do the same.
After many disapproving glares and the realisation that my defence of “the internet made me do it” wouldn’t hold up in court, I tuck my tail between my legs and bolt.
As a penniless writer, my standard lunch of choice is cai fan. But today, it’s out of my hands.
I’m in luck. He greets me with a compliment on my new hair—or lack thereof. As we catch up, I have a brainwave. I send out another poll asking my followers if I should let him stick a needle in me.
Yes, you read that right. Aaron is a tattoo artist.
But no way in hell was I getting a permanent reminder of my day of online captivity, so I go for the tamer option.
I am Jack’s complete lack of surprise. Control, as with humiliation it seems, is best experienced in person.
It’s not enough for people to know what I’ve been through. They want to see it.
Eventually, and by the slimmest of margins, my online overlords settle for the visible facial piercing. Jesus Christ, I can already hear my mother screaming.
However, just as I inform Aaron about what’s about to happen, he tells me that he’s run out of the mouthwash that’s necessary for the job. But we don’t give up that easily. After he makes a quick phone call, I’m sent on my way to another shop in Far East Plaza where I meet Nicol, who very kindly shoves a needle through my lower lip and sends me on my way again.
Having been on the move for what feels like an eternity and now nursing a rapidly swelling lip, I decide to take a break and watch a movie. Nothing quite like a good flick to take your mind off things right?
This time, despite not letting a single shriek escape my swollen lips, 120 minutes of adrenaline coursing through my veins gives me one massive headache. After exiting the cinema, I decide I’m done.
For 12 hours, my personal identity ceased to exist and I was nothing more than a digital puppet serving the amusement of my followers. Clearly, when we don’t have to bear the consequences, we don’t give a shit. Even though I rig the game with “obvious” either/or options, not a single person asks me to stop.
No one chose the DM route to say, “Justin, please don’t do this.” What does this say about how we are?
That we just love having the ability to control other human being? That we all crave a little chaos? Or maybe we’re all just voyeurs at heart.
So, who are you, really?