This story is part of the Internet Time Machine, a collection about life online in the 2010s.
The wild elephants turn back to salute the men who have saved their baby elephant from the ditch. They raise their trunks aloft with wondrous grace in a moment between man and beast. I don’t blink, hardly twitch. Lit by the glow of the laptop screen, my face shows no flicker of emotion. The video finishes and the next one begins to load. “Electrocuted squirrel gets CPR by kind man.”
Unbeknownst to me, the daylight has faded across to the other side of the Earth, and I am in darkness. I am lying on my bed in the fetal position, as I have been for three hours straight… watching YouTube.
I don’t know exactly how long I’ve had a YouTube problem.
The first chapters of addiction are often written in the pen of innocence. Mine started in the same way all others must—with a joy unforeseen. A music video with a new friend behind the sofa at some party one unending summer night. An email in my inbox linking a highlight reel of Messi’s greatest dribbles, coming in off the right wing, scything through tackles like water.
Every addiction balances on the fulcrum of denial.
If I’m scrupulous, I admit it started long before that, in the time before the internet. My parents didn’t let us watch much television as kids. My answer to this deprivation was to flick through the channels like a drone whenever they were away, hoping to land on something that gripped my attention for longer than the split second it took me to glean, ignore, and plough onward. Alone, I never watched anything for longer than two minutes.
Years later, an interview with the writer David Foster Wallace struck me deeply.