Shaping my personality via osmosis

Published on December 04, 2020 • 2 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.