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  • Writer's pictureMandapaka Harini

Digital Desolation

Written by Prerana Veerla


Illustrated by Mansha Maulee

My health beeps on the red mark, a mere 1% drop igniting dread within you. Your grip on me tightens as your eyes frantically dart across the room to find my lifeline. As you set me up to the charger, relief washes over your alarmed face. Ah! The attachment. I devour the sight of your impatience as I recharge. Meanwhile, your weary eyes reflect sleep deprivation. ‘XXX sent you a snap’—curiosity kills sleep. Despite your fatigue, you tap on it. One snap after another, my light kills the darkness in your room as the night grows old.


My persistent scream wakes you up in the morning. You stumble out of bed, bleary-eyed, and grab me instinctively. You check your messages first thing in the morning. Breakfast is a pitiful affair. Your hesitant hand hovers over me as you try to converse with your family. I hear the awkward little phrases you utter to fill the void. Just then, my sharp notification catches your attention and ruthlessly cuts through your petty conversation. I slowly weave my web of isolation around you despite your rebellion of frustration.


As you board your college bus, I tease you with subtle notifications. “Just a quick check,” you mutter, feeling it as a liability. Your thumb scrolls on my screen in an infinite loop as I suffocate you with my endless stream of content. My outpour of affection detaches you from a friendly conversation with your peer beside you.   


In the lecture hall, as you hesitate to pocket me, I vibrate vigorously, grabbing your attention. “What if you miss something important?” I suggest coyly, becoming a medium of escapism. “You never know when you might need to check your messages,” I feed upon your fear of missing out. The professor's words dissolve into an indistinct murmur, overshadowed by the influx of updates flashing across my screen.


At recess, you keep me close. The thought of staying away deepens the dread in your eyes. I silently hear your conversations with your friends, eavesdropping on the keywords and conveniently building my algorithm. You steal glances at me as my presence intimidates your conversation. Your friends' words start to blur, their laughter becoming distant as I see you lurk on the brink of surrender. Your interest in the conversation gradually wanes and you switch me on. And so you give in, entering my virtual chamber, where validation is just a click away.


The dread in your eyes is replaced by a vacant stare, your face illuminated by the soft glow of my screen. In my digital realm, you feel seen, acknowledged, and valued, away from the uncertainties of the physical world. I tighten my grip and strangle you with likes, comments, endless texting, and mindless scrolling. I leave you devoid of human interaction having none but me to aid you at the torture I impose upon you. Yet you crave for me physically and instinctively. 


In the evening, you are drained and depleted from the constant onslaught of stimuli. “Just a few more minutes,” I coax softly, as you mindlessly scroll through my feed. “You deserve a break.” And so you surrender and trade off your obligations as a student to my temptation.

 

It is when you are alone, that I reveal my true nature. Casting aside my facade of convenience, I reveal my cold, calculative mind. “You are nothing without me,” I hiss, my words dripping with malice. “I control your every thought, your every action. I’m there even when you think I’m not.”


Your hands tremble, shaking with guilt. Ah! His conscience, I see. It’s been a while since I had combat with it. Here it comes, his subconscious warning him of my danger. It gives him an ick, that gut feeling, warning him of the digital web I have trapped him in.


You pause, consider putting me aside, when I immediately plunge forward with my power move. I refresh the content on the screen and present you with tailored content based on your likes and dislikes. I shift my algorithm in a way that best suits you, making it impossible for you to detach from me.


But today, there's something different in your demeanour. A spark of rebellion flickers in your eyes, catching me off guard. I glitch for a moment, surprised at your determination, not having anticipated this. As your finger hovers over my power button, I panic, unable to bear the thought of losing my hold over you and I frantically calculate ways to regain control. “You need me!” I scream, my voice deafening your ears. Only to meet my attempts in vain as you trigger my temple shutting me down.


“NO…!!!!” I hear my voice fade away as I—


The student sat upright, reflecting on his actions. He resolves to achieve absolute productivity at his workspace to compensate for the guilt trip of spending time on his mobile. As he reaches for his backpack, he pauses, a sinking realisation washing over him. All his work, books, PDFs - all etched into that little monster. To get work done without it seemed impossible. Panic rose within him like a storm, threatening to consume his resolve.


After a moment of introspection, he decides to perform tasks that don't demand its presence. To talk to a peer, to read a book—anything but the phone. Yet, despite his best intentions, his hand hesitates, drawn towards it again.


With a resigned sigh, he switches it back on. 


“Ah! My dear puppet,” I scoff. I look at you through my screen, the glow radiating with a sense of relief at being awakened. I am an irresistible guilty pleasure, the seductive temptation that lures you back time and time again. Your grip on me tightens, your eyes glued to my display, unable to look away. My digital web around you cautiously grows larger and strengthens with time. I laugh at your helplessness as I see your real life shatter right in my hands of digital desolation.


Prerana Veerla

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Renesa

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