Copyright 2021 — E. J. D’Alise
(4,210 words – approx. reading time: about 16 minutes based on 265 WPM)
“It all started with my Grandparents,” Tina said in a low voice.
“Don’t worry, you’re among friends,” Crystal, her hand briefly touching Tina’s forearm, reassured her.
Looking at Crystal’s encouraging smile, and then at the faces of the other people forming the support group circle, Tina found the confidence to continue.
“My grandparents,” she continued, “fawned over me, lavishing all of their attention on me. Since I can remember, I felt I was the center of the universe.
“They were the most consistent, but my parents were not far behind.” She paused, and then intoned a mocking interpretation of her parent’s and grandparent’s voices.
“Isn’t she just precious? Such lovely hair!”
“Look how smooth her skin is!”
“The cutest smile I’ve ever seen!”
She paused and looked at the faces of the others. Some were nodding; some were emotional, obviously reliving similar experiences.
“It all fell apart when I started school,” Tina said, sadness tinging her words.
“Sorry,” she said as she paused to compose herself.
“Anyway, until then, whenever I met anyone, they always agreed with my parents and grandparents about whatever praise they heaped upon me. I didn’t understand it was just social convention.”
She paused, wondering if she should explain. Surely, everyone here already knew . . . but, in case not, she elaborated.
“Only later did I learn about the effect that sharing DNA has on people; it blinds them. Robs them of their objectivity. It …” Tina stopped, catching herself. She was grandstanding, and a few of the listeners were showing a bit of annoyance at the fact.
“Anyway, school is where I first learned I wasn’t special; I wasn’t cute; I wasn’t gifted. Heck, I wasn’t even interesting.”
She paused. The faces once more looked encouraging. A good thing that, because the admission — even now, in the late stages of her therapy regimen — still stung, still brought up a sense of panic and despair that she struggled to suppress. It was easier now, but at one time that panic and despair dominated her life.
“Suddenly, my family’s praises and support were not enough. Worse, they sounded like mocking and a bitter reminder about the rest of the world; a world that didn’t know I was alive, and that, even when it took brief notice, quickly looked away with bored indifference.”
These were words Tina had repeated in private and in one-on-one sessions, but this was the first time she had admitted it to a group, and a group of strangers, at that.
“I could no longer trust my parents and my grandparents. They told me that what others think isn’t important, that what’s inside mattered … but that only served to confirm they had lied all along.” Her voice got hard, and she briefly forgot about channeling her negative feelings toward a positive outcome.
“They had lied, and so they no longer mattered! All that mattered were people outside the family. It’s their attention I sought.”
Tina paused, the group silently waiting.
“I rebelled. Against my family, against what they had taught me, and against their expectations,” she continued. “I found new friends; friends who paid attention to me!
“They paid attention, yes, but only when I behaved a certain way, dressed a certain way, spoke a certain way; when I was who they wanted me to be … but even so, I was but a drop in an ocean. I had to stand out, so … so I started lying.
“I lied about what I did, I lied about what I thought, I lied about, and to, others, and I lied about, and to, myself … all to get the approval of people I didn’t really care about. And then, I pushed the lies so much that I could no longer maintain the public image of myself that I presented to others.”
Tina’s voice softened again, almost as if speaking to herself.
“And they noticed … they noticed and lost interest. Even when I did or said something honestly and in earnest, they dismissed it. ‘She just wants attention!’ they would say, and turn away.”
Tears were flowing now, and she didn’t care . . .
“I returned to my family, trying to rebuild all the bridges I had burned. They took me back, but on condition I would get help.” She wiped a lingering tear on her cheek.
“I may sound sad, but know that it’s not sadness for where I am, but rather where I’ve been, the years I wasted, the … friends I lost.”
Tina sat, and Crystal put her arms around her and held her.
“Thank you,” Tina said after a few seconds. “I’m fine … or I will be.”
Crystal let her go and stood to face the others.
“Let’s continue with the other newcomers. Remember, we’re all LAADs and you don’t have to feel ashamed. On the contrary, you should be proud for having taken the first steps toward recovery.” Christal paused to let that sink in before asking “Who wants to go next?”
A man in his 30s stood, and intoned the standard greeting before telling his story:
“My name is George, and I suffer from Lust After Attention Disorder.”
“Hello, George!” the group responded.
“I want to share my story because it’s different than most.”
“George,” Chrystal admonished, “we’ve all suffered as LAADs. Claiming to be special goes against what we’re trying to accomplish here.”
“I’m not special,” George said, “not by a long shot. But my story is different because it happened on Facebook.”
“I’m sorry, what’s ‘Facebook’?” one of the others asked.
“It’s a social network, only online. It was launched a few years ago. Something like MySpace, but better,” George answered.
“How can you lust after attention from people you can’t see or ever meet?”
“Easier than in real life,” George answered. “Super easy. Barely an inconvenience.”
“Enlighten us,” Crystal said.
“It’s actually pretty devious. The system works on ‘likes’ and ‘friends’. At the most basic, you ‘like‘ what someone posts, or they ‘like’ what you post, and then you send them a request to be friends,” George said. “If they accept your friend request, and they usually do, you start ‘liking’ each other’s posts.”
George looked at the confused faces.
“Let me clarify . . . People — other friends — get notices whenever something of yours is posted, liked, and whenever you get new friends, and you don’t have to do anything! Facebook takes care of the content and the notices! Whenever I posted something, notices went out to all the followers and friends.
“At my peak, I had 653 friends and multiple hundreds of ‘likes’ per day.” George’s admission had most of the people stare agape. A few seemed to be taking notes.
“Let me hasten to add something. It may sound impressive, but no one can handle that many connections. The majority were people I’d liked, invited, and got added to their friends list, and they to my list, but there was no interaction beyond ‘liking’ each other’s posts.”
“But, … but …,” one of the people said, “you said yourself you only friend them to get ‘likes’ and build a large number of friends. Aren’t they doing the same to you?”
“Probably … but you still get hundreds of ‘likes’ whenever you post anything, and that means people at least look at your post, even if they don’t read it. Plus, your stats … statistics, are plastered on your profile, and every post has a running tally of how many times it was ‘liked’ by someone. That’s what gave me pleasure; seeing the big numbers.”
Some of the people were obviously stunned by the concept of hundreds of friends ‘liking’ whatever one does. Others were curious.
“So, what’s the downside?”
George took his phone out of his pocket, mimicked scrolling and poking, putting it back in his pocket, only to retrieve it a moment later.
“It’s time. It becomes an obsession because it’s not just how many ‘likes’, but how quickly you receive them. And each ‘like’ generates a notice. You’re constantly checking the phone to either see if someone liked what you posted, and how many ‘likes’ you have, and who liked or didn’t like what you posted.
“It becomes an addiction and, like Tina, you’re under self-generated pressure to keep posting interesting stuff because that might snare ‘likes’ from strangers and thus more possible friends.”
“But …” one listener asked, “what do you post?”
“It started with things I liked; my hobbies, books I read, movies I’d seen, music I liked … but you run out of those pretty quickly. For a while, I went through a phase of posting photos of everything I ate.”
“What you ate?”
“Well, mostly. You only share the good stuff, not the bag of Cheetos you binged on, or the two-days old leftover pizza stuck to the carton. I even photographed other people’s food and saved it to post as my own. The beauty with sharing food, especially from restaurants, is that you can give the impression you’re living it up; enjoying life, as it were.”
“Doesn’t that get old?”
“Two things never get old: food and pets.”
“Yes. I predict one day the Internet will be flooded with photos of dogs,” George replied.
“Dogs? Why not cats?” asked a woman in the group.
“Cats? They don’t do anything! No, it’s going to be dogs because they have a personality.”
George noticed the woman’s face set hard, defiant, even. For a moment, he wondered if she would challenge the future dog’s dominance of the Internet, and then dismissed it. Sharing cat photos; good luck with that!
“So, it was the time drain?” Crystal asked, trying to bring the discussion back on topic.
“No, it was headlines,” George replied.
“Yes. You see, I started to feel pressure to share more and more interesting stuff, and there’s nothing easier than sharing sensational headlines.”
“But doesn’t that take even more time?” a man in the audience asked. A strange fellow who seemed more attentive than most.
“Well, it would,” George replied, “but you don’t actually read the articles. You see, news organizations have had years of practice in using headlines to catch the reader’s attention. I was just leveraging their expertise … and it ruined my life.”
“It ruined your life?” Tina asked, suddenly feeling her story wasn’t tragic enough for this group.
“Yes. As you know, headlines seldom reflect the content of stories. Even when they do, it’s a sensationalized and exaggerated version of the information in the articles,” George answered as many in the group nodded in agreement. They’d all been taken in by ‘This common household item could kill you! Details at 11’ teasers on the local news.
“Well, unbeknown to me, some of the articles I shared were extreme opinion pieces, and when I shared them, Facebook assumed I agreed with the content, and offered up more, which I also shared.” George paused, uncomfortable.
“Look, I’m not like that, but, without realizing it, I was sharing what amounted to hate speech. Unfortunately for me, someone at work whom I had ‘friended’ came across the stuff, and before I knew it, I was let go from my job.”
“That’s terrible!” Crystal said.
“That’s not the worst of it … you see, the Internet never forgets. These days, when looking to hire someone, companies routinely check a person’s social media, and while I could have explained the misunderstanding, I never get a chance because I don’t get called in for interviews.”
“So, what do you do for a living?”
“Oh, I now work for a small local company. I mow lawns in the summer and do snow-plowing in the winter. But my wife left me … and she took the dog with her.”
Crystal stood, looking visibly shaken.
“That was certainly harrowing,” she said, thinking she should probably cancel her Facebook account. “Has anyone else found the Internet’s social media to be a trap for people suffering from Lust After Attention Disorder?”
A plain-looking girl and a young man — both in their 20s — raised their hands. Crystal pointed to the girl who stood and briefly closed her eyes as she intoned the meeting’s standard Greeting.
“My name is Sharon, and I suffer from Lust After Attention Disorder.”
“Hello, Sharon!” the group responded.
“I too fell for the seemingly easy way to get attention on social media … but mine was with Instagram,” Sharon said.
“It’s a photo-sharing application for your smartphone,” Sharon added in response to some of the blank faces staring back at her.
“Are you a photographer?” one of the people asked.
“Me?! Goodness, no,” Sharon answered. “Heck, I’m not even an amateur. Before Instagram, I couldn’t take a decent photo if my life depended on it.”
“So, why would you get involved with sharing photos if you can’t take a decent one?”
“Well,” Sharon answered, her voice involuntarily tinged with excitement, “Instagram has filters and stickers that can create stunning images in no time.”
“I don’t understand …” the strange fellow said.
“Well, you snap a photo and then you can ‘beautify’ it …”
“No, I mean, I don’t understand what you’re photographing,” the strange fellow interrupted. “Is it like Facebook, where you share food?”
“Oh, I see … yes, but not just food. Also scenery, dogs, and, of course, selfies.”
“But no cats?” the woman from before asked.
“Cats? … I suppose you can share cat photos, but a puppy will get you lots of likes and shares.”
The woman’s face set even harder as she replied with an edge in her voice.
“Kittens are cute!”
“I suppose,” Sharon answered. “Look, there may be a small number of people interested in cat photos, but dogs are fun and goofy. Perfect for sharing on Instagram.”
Even as she spoke, Sharon suddenly saw the possibility of sharing something new as a way to stand out from the crowd . . . Too bad she was trying to kick the Instagram addiction.
“But, what prompted you to even start on Instagram?” Crystal asked, even as she felt vaguely intrigued with the idea of not having to actually learn anything about photography and still being able to share decent photos.
Sharon looked down at her hands . . . Hands that looked oddly foreign without a phone in them.
“FOMO …” she replied.
“FOMO?” the strange fellow asked.
“Fear Of Missing Out,” Sharon clarified. “The capture of images has been habit-forming for centuries, dating back well before the advent of photography. It stems from the anxiety we feel that if we don’t capture this moment, it will be gone forever.
“But it’s more than that … not only can you capture the moment, but you can then instantly share it and get approval of it.”
“That doesn’t sound so bad,” Crystal ventured.
“I think I can clarify the problem,” an older woman in the group said. “Instagram must act as a psychoactive drug; you get a small kick of dopamine whenever you get positive reinforcement for something you do. Likely not much, but constant exposure would trigger the addiction. Probably the same thing when you’re on FaceBook,” the woman said, looking at George.
“But,” George said, “I also felt stress whenever I was on Facebook. If something I posted didn’t get many likes or if someone criticizes it, it causes anxiety and stress. That’s not addictive.”
“That’s true,” Sharon added. “I realized I was more often stressed rather than pleased whenever I shared stuff on Instagram. Worse yet, I followed some people I didn’t like and I would get stressed out whenever I saw them post anything.”
“Hmm …” the woman said. “That would cause a cortisol spike … we can become addicted to it since it’s also a psychoactive drug.”
She paused, then added “…psych major. Not an expert, but familiar with the mechanisms. Why I recognize it in myself.”
“Yes!” Sharon said. “I was constantly checking the profiles of people I hated. I felt compelled to see what they were posting so I could hate them more!”
“Were these people you knew?” Crystal asked.
“Sometimes, but most were people who didn’t follow me back, or didn’t like my photos after I liked theirs.” She paused, then continued in a soft voice. “… or people who I thought were better-looking or had a more glamorous life than I did.”
“What? Are you sure?” Sharon asked.
“It’s whom . . . nevermind. But …weren’t they also using those filters?”
“I suppose,” Sharon said.
“That means that what you saw probably wasn’t the real person or their real life.”
“I know, but I still hated them. I hated them for being more popular,” Sharon said, embarrassed. “I know it’s wrong, but I couldn’t help it.”
“Why not just unfollow them?” Crystal asked.
“Well, that’s why it’s an addiction. Understand, that wasn’t the major part of my interaction, but it was a significant enough part of the experience.”
“How bad did it get?” the psych major asked, contemplating a possible subject for her Ph.D. dissertation.
Sharon hesitated. This was going to sound as weird to others as it was for her saying it aloud. But, everyone here should understand, so she explained.
“After waking up the first thing I did was check Instagram.
“If I woke up in the middle of the night I checked Instagram.
“I checked Instagram in the bathroom.
“I checked Instagram while eating, working, and even driving. Even when talking to people, I would pull out my phone and quickly check for new likes, shares, or what others were posting. And, if I posted something and it didn’t get enough likes, I’d delete it and try something else. I was spending four to five hours a day on Instagram, sometimes longer.”
“Good Heavens!” George said. “Even I never got that bad. How did you stop?”
Sharon looked around at the hopeful faces. Then averted her eyes as she answered truthfully.
“I’m still working on it,” she said. “I have real-world friends who did an intervention. They are helping me stay off and have even set up limits to my Internet access. They committed to spending more time with me and have alternatives planned to occupy my time.
“It’s why I joined this group. They’re showing me I’m important to them, and I don’t want to let them down.” With that, Sharon sat, avoiding eye contact with the others.
“I’m sure that with your friend’s help and the support of this group, you’ll be able to limit and outline useful ways to use Instagram,” Crystal said. She then turned to the young man who had also raised his hand.
“And what is your social media story?” she asked.
The young man stood, feeling more confident in sharing his experience after having listened to George and Sharon.
“My name is Tod, and I suffer from Lust After Attention Disorder.”
“Hello, Tod!” the group responded.
“I too fell for the seemingly easy way to get attention on social media … but mine was with Twitter, and is perhaps a bit darker than Sharon’s and George’s experiences,” Tod said.
“Twitter? Darker?” Crystal asked.
“Yes. For them who don’t know, Twitter can be thought of as microblogging,” Tod explained.
“Microblogging?” the strange man asked.
“Yes,” Tod replied. “Blogs offer the opportunity for an exhaustive exploration of a given subject, sometimes by self-identified would-be philosophers. But blog posts are verbose … er … have too many words, and most people lose interest.”
The strange fellow nodded vigorously at the statement.
“Because they’re limited,” Tod continued, “Tweets offer the distillation of ideas and information into only what is relevant and important.”
“But how is that dark?” Crystal answered, wondering if this was the Dark Web she heard so much about.
“It’s not Twitter that is dark … it’s the users.
“Let me explain,” Tod said. “If you have good verbal and writing skills, you can succinctly make important points and share important information with an elegantly simple sentence.”
“Is that what you did?” Sharon asked.
“Who, me? No. I don’t have the skills for it … but I could snark.”
“Yes. My great skill is … was the ability to make fun of anything, deride it, put it down, diminish it via insults,” Tod explained.
“Why would you do that?!” Crystal asked, horrified at the thought.
“Oh, it’s not that I was always like that, and I didn’t purposefully set out to do it, but I sort of grew into it.
“Let me explain. As I said, I don’t have the vocabulary or command of language to write impactful tweets … but I could criticize and ridicule those who do,” Tod said. “It’s easier tweeting ‘That’s stupid!’ than to engage in a meaningful and relevant exchange.”
“And that works?” the strange fellow asked. “Don’t people just tell you to shut up and go away?”
“Oh, the originator of the tweet might, but I’ll let you in on a secret: the majority of people are neither clever nor sophisticated. Anything but, in fact,” Tod explained. “So, you might get a few people calling you out as a troll, but …”
“A troll?” Crystal asked. “You mean like the beings from Scandinavian folklore?”
“No, no,” Tod answered. “It references a fishing term; you throw out a number of lines in the hopes of catching something. Actually, the story of how they got the name is interesting in itself …” Tod stopped when he noticed the pained looks on the people around him. “Look, the origin of the term is not important, just know it refers to someone posting inflammatory and off-topic messages with the intent of provoking an emotional response in readers and hijacking the conversation away from the original topic.”
“So, wouldn’t this be a negative?” the strange fellow asked. “How does this get you the attention you crave?”
“As I was saying, you might get a few people accusing you of trolling, but there are many more who will jump onto the bandwagon because it’s much easier to tear something down than it is to build it up,” Tod said. “If you do it right, you’ll lead a bunch of morons to do your bidding for you, sending them like attack dogs after people.”
“Were these people whom you hated?” George asked, intrigued.
“What? No,” Tod replied. “They were just people who were unfortunate to cross my Internet path, as it were.”
“But … but won’t the people who wrote the original tweet just put you in your place?” the strange man asked.
“Oh, they’ll try … but all you have to do is call them names and tell a few lies about them.”
“WHAT?!” Crystal yelled, even more horrified. She had imagined the Internet as a beacon lighting the way of the continuous improvement of humanity as it aspired to greatness, but hearing these things was throwing a serious wrench into her Utopian view of the future. At least the Internet wasn’t being flooded by cat photos, but what she was hearing was bad enough.
“Look, I’m not proud of what I did; that’s why I’m here,” Tod said. “It got to where I was ruining people’s reputations, their lives and livelihood, and even putting them in danger from some of the cretins out there who believed what I said.”
“But you got attention?” Sharon asked.
“Did I! At one point I had more Twitter followers than Alan Tudyk!”
“Are you kidding me? The actor,” Tod replied. “He dies in almost every movie he makes!”
“Oh, the guy who was on Game of Thrones and Lord of the Rings?”
“No, no, that’s …” Tod paused, rubbing his temple before answering the strange fellow. “Look, never mind. The point is, you can get a lot of followers just by being mean, insensitive, and lying a lot. Plus, you get attention both from people who like you and people who hate you. PLUS … you can piss off people who hate you real easy, and they’ll focus all their attention on you for saying any stupid things you feel like saying!”
“But … but you quit doing that, right?” Crystal asked.
“Yes … well, I had to because of the court order, but I’ve been clean now for two months and I feel pretty good. I don’t think … Hey, where are you going?” Tod asked the strange fellow who had left his chair and was leaving in a hurry.
The man stopped, looked back at the group, smiled, and gave a hurried answer.
“You people are all a bunch of losers, but you gave me great pointers!” And with that, he left.
The people turned to look at Crystal.
“Who was that guy?” Tina asked. “He gave me the creeps!”
“I don’t know,” Crystal answered. “This was his first time here … he sure took a lot of notes, though.”
“Never mind that; why was he orange?” George asked. “And what’s the deal with his hair?”
Just then, the cat lady leaned over and showed a picture to Sharon.
“That is one cute kitten!” Sharon said as she pulled out her phone. “I just have to post that on Instagram!”
“Nooo!” George screamed as he dove for the phone in Sharon’s hand.
. . . but he was too late.
Here are the links to the other two stories:
Number 9 <<link
Writer: R. G. Broxson
Word count: 4,620 words – approx. reading time: about 18 minutes based on 265 WPM
The Hunt for Lust <<link
Writer: Perry Broxson
Word count: 3,671 words – approx. reading time: about 14 minutes based on 265 WPM
If you’ve read all the stories and care to cast a vote, here’s the link to the Poll:
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