Shaping My Personality with the Internet

Because our personalities are malleable, the internet lets us become anyone.

December 4, 20202 min read

The popular adage "you're the average of your five closest friends" is extremely overlooked. The people I interact with the frequently tend to shape my worldview to a terrifying extent, however the amount of intention I put into selecting those few people is minimal relative to the impact they'll have on my life. Just think of the possibilities – there are 7 billion alive today, and ignoring time as a dimension, there's been over 100 billion people to ever exist. A modern remix of the saying would be "you're the average of the people whose content you consume the most".

When I'm watching a series on Netflix, I occasionally find myself speaking – and even thinking – like a character from the show. After reading a biography, the decisions I make tend to align with how the person I was reading would've acted. The same goes for watching YouTube videos. After watching a long interview, I find myself subconsciously making decisions similar to what the interviewee would've decided. It's almost like I can tap into the consciousness of anyone in the history of humanity by pseudo-emulating them in my head! How spectacular is that?

If I'm actually intentional about the type of content I consume every day, then I can pretty much mold my personality and become literally anybody I want. It's impossible for me to watch a few hours of Obama speeches without finding myself becoming a more eloquent speaker. The emulation isn't always constructive though. Sometimes I'll watch a Twitch streamer for a few hours, then find myself in a serious conversation where I have to actively suppress my urge to say "that is so poggers".

The malleability of my personality has a critical downside — if I'm unintentional about the content I consume, then I lose control over who I become. The people whose content I consume is hard to filter – even with active safeguards in place. I have a browser extension that strips YouTube of recommended videos and autoplay. On Twitter, most of the people I follow are muted. However even with safeguards in place, I still find myself unintentionally eating the junk food. I just find it so damn good.

In retrospect, many of my largest life decisions can be traced back to a single YouTube video popping up in my recommendations sidebar, or a book that I picked up by coincidence because it had an eye-catching cover. I'm still grappling with the idea that my laptop gives me the option to shape my personality to a terrifying degree.

Nonetheless, I think I'll have fun with it.