being human in an increasingly algorithmic world

What does it really mean to be human in this era of life hacks?

being human in an increasingly algorithmic world
Photo by David Brooke Martin on Unsplash

Earlier this year, in a bid to increase the visibility and discoverability of my website, I began to look into SEO.

I looked up a course on Udemy and from what I understand, it's about determining what kind of keywords users are inputting into the Google search bar and then using those keywords strategically to boost your site's ranking in the Google search results.

I also looked up websites that are highly ranked but I soon grew weary of reading about 7 smart ways to boost your productivity or 11 different ways to hack your life.

I've long unsubscribed from the notion that one could follow steps 1, 2, 3, 4 and achieve the results that someone else did, at least when it comes to matters of the heart.

Which is probably why, in all these years of writing, I have not been able to read a single how-to book on writing from cover to cover. I begin to read them with much gusto, but the entire premise of force-fitting a formula to a book or someone's writing journey or someone's life journey altogether just doesn't make sense to me, no matter how hard I've tried to subscribe to it.

I remember, back in mid-2000s, when I began writing longer manuscripts, I came across several articles on the Internet attempting to dissect why the Harry Potter novels were so popular. One of the reasons given was that the characters aged alongside their readers, which kept them very relatable. While that may very well have been true, I don't think writing a series of books in which the characters age with each one is any guarantee of success.

This is why I revolt deeply against all attempts to dissect success in hindsight.

The instant we attribute the success of an individual or a product to factors A, B and C, the implication is that if we were to replicate those very factors, then anyone or any product could achieve similar success.

And, of course, we do not include luck and chance and our innate human differences as factors contributing to that success, because those are clearly inimitable factors.

Yet, even though I know all these things and come back to the same conclusions, I keep questioning myself all the time. I am so riddled with doubt that I spend more time questioning myself and worrying about everything than actually making progress, no matter how small, on the path I've chosen.

And now, the joke is that even among the writing community, with the rise of ChatGPT and other AI tools, the advice being doled out is to double down on being human, on being ourselves. As if we could possibly ever have been anyone else in the first place.

I guess I'm a little frustrated with all the conflicting advice on writing and life that's out there and I'm even more frustrated with the fact that I've been struggling to follow my own path and doubting myself way too often.

Yes, it's the latter that I find the most frustrating: my inability to keep trusting myself in a world that is so fickle and always keeps changing its mind.

It's as if I'm so terrified of placing any trust in myself that I'd much rather place it in something that has earned a reputation of not being reliable and trustworthy.

Wow! I wonder why that is.

Is it so that when failure comes my way, I can blame the world, i.e., something external, instead of accepting it as an inevitable happening on my journey? Am I so terrified that I won't be able to handle the disappointment that failure would bring that I'd much rather do the things I know are not right for me? Am I following external advice and setting myself up for failure, so that I can give up and tell myself that I gave it my all and it didn't work, too bad?

Because, the more I think about it, the more I realize that I am not really giving it my all.

I write one day, and for the next 2—3 days I am riddled with doubt over the story, over myself, over this writing journey I am on.

I keep changing my goals. One day I'd decide to tackle a daily word count of 2,000 words; I'd probably achieve it for a day or two, then it'd be difficult to keep this up on the third day because somehow Critical Voice would have crept in, and I'd be convinced that this was too lofty a goal for me anyway.

It's the same when I set a daily word count goal of 500 or even 100 words for that matter! It's as if I simply won't listen to myself. I simply won't put in the effort.

I don't know why. Am I unwilling to put in the effort it takes? Am I expecting it to be easy and a breeze, and on days it isn't, do I refuse to sit with the discomfort of it all and simply DO THE WORK?

Yes, that's what it is. At the slightest sign of discomfort, I run away. I don't know how to stay with something difficult with resorting to fight, flight or freeze.

In my personal relationships, I fight. I yell and scream and I cry.

In my writing, I flee. I simply stop going to the manuscript altogether.

None of it helps. None of it helps at all.

And I am so sick of wasting my days thus, mired in anxiety and paralysis, going around and around in the same circles. The patterns are so so familiar I don't even have to think about them anymore.

It is definitely going to take me a lot of work to change.

Coaches and experts offer differing advice on how to bring about this change. Right from plunging into action despite the dread, to warring with it or embracing and befriending it, always expecting the discomfort to show up ...

I reckon it's something I'll have to stop expecting will happen overnight.

It is a conscious decision to make every moment and the moment after and the one after that. One breath at a time, one moment at a time.

And please, please, please, dear God, please let me not fall into the trap of berating myself and my writings and my choice to be a writer.

Please, please, please let me stick to this path no matter how difficult it gets.

Please, please, please let me not lose faith in myself.

Please, please, please let me not give up on myself.

I also do not wish to spend too much time gushing over other's art and creativity especially at the expense of my own.

This month, I tossed into the DNF pile books by three authors who had once been my absolute favourites. Maybe I've grown as a writer and a reader, or maybe I had put these authors on a pedestal, demanding to be vowed by every story they spun, by every word they wrote, forgetting that they too are only human.

Now that I have written some of my own works, I can see that while there is still a certain nameless element of the spirit in creativity that tugs at our heartstrings, much of it also has to do with doing the work of sitting down and writing the words, lending them a healthy, creative energy and not writing from a place of desperation, cursing every moment spent at the keyboard, typing and deleting and re-typing words.

This is true of life too. Our choice of response. Do we attend to a situation with willingness and involvement, or do we rush through what we deem as 'chores' and try to get them out of our way?

The other day, we made our way to the local Shoppers' Drug Mart to get our photographs taken for a travel application.

I was sitting very anxious and uptight throughout the 5-minute drive in the car, whereas D was making jokes and being silly. And when we got down, he decided to play 'floor is lava' for the distance from the car to the photo booth.

It probably took us 2 extra minutes but it made the short journey so much more pleasant and kept us in the moment.

So much of my fear is inherited and shows up at times when I don't wish to brook mistakes, when I want everything to go smooth and perfect, when I simply cannot tolerate any errors.

But why? What will happen if something goes wrong? Worst case, I'd have to take another shot at it.

Can I live with the disappointment or inconvenience of that? Can I live with the fact that the outcome throws a spanner in the works by 'ruining' my schedule for the days ahead? Can I bring myself to attempt the same thing again without being dissuaded by the failure of the first attempt?

It's only when I am not able to that I fall into the trap of cursing myself for having made a mistake in the first place, for not having been more careful or more prepared.

Well. This is my lesson I guess.

Becuase, guess what? Despite our very careful preparation, carried out with much angst and fear and anxiety, our application was rejected. Which means we've had to redo everything, refill all the applications from scratch, run around for another day to get some additional documents in place, and secure another appointment to submit our applications again.

We are yet to submit our applications and while I hope for it to go through, I also know this time that rejection won't hurt me in any lasting way. Sure, I'd feel frustrated and disappointed for a few minutes, but the experience would also become an opportunity to re-centre myself and come back to being the person who chooses to respond to life consciously.

To be human means to try and accept that things do go wrong sometimes and that it is in our own best interests to not vilify ourselves in such moments, but instead to accept them with calm, distance ourselves from the outcome of our efforts, and plunge into action all over again.

We can have a lot of theories about the right ways to live. But ultimately, it comes down to one thing ... doing what needs to be done even if it's most uncomfortable or inconvenient, and doing so with a calm and pleasant energy.

Taking deep breaths always helps.

Iwish to add to this post another couple of lessons I've learnt in these past few days.

In one of his YouTube videos, contemporary Indian mystic Sadhguru noted that when we aspire to something and then keep changing our minds about it, then we're sending mixed signals to the Universe. In that case, our goals and ambitions fail to materialize as we keep switching back and forth.

Instead, he says, if we were to maintain our focus and stick to our chosen path despite all the difficulties that may crop up, we'd have a greater chance of reaching our goals.

I feel this very strongly because even as of last week I woke up in the middle of the night, riddled with anxiety, and came to KrA and said that I'm done trying to make a living from writing. That I wanted a full-time job with a guaranteed salary — well, as guaranteed as a job and salary could possibly be in these times, which anyway seems more certain than earning from writing at this stage of my journey — and that I never wished to write for a living ever again. That I've become completely risk-averse and cannot undertake this entrepreneurial journey anymore.

I've gone back and forth on this many many times in the last couple of years or more, since the beginning of the pandemic at least. Should I take up a job alongside writing fiction? Should I focus on writing fiction alone? Should I give up writing fiction and focus on getting a job and building a career?

I never seemed to be able to make a choice.

And last night, I understood why. I woke up at 3 a.m., anxious and sleepless, folded two basketfuls of laundry I had intended to fold this afternoon. After that, I had half a mind of waking up KrA and badgering him, but somehow this time I wanted to make a different choice. I grabbed my phone and headphones and looked up on YouTube what Sadhguru's take on money was.

In one video he said, "We don't make money in order to live well. We try to make money in order to live better than our neighbour."

And boy, did his words punch me in the gut. Because that is exactly what I am trying to do.

Make as much money as I quickly can so that I can buy a lakeside home with a lovely view, move up the status ladder, and never ever have any unsolveable problem again in all my life. Because every problem can be solved if only we have enough money, right?


Sadhguru talks about whom he calls as 'billionaire beggars' — people who have plenty of wealth yet are always desperately looking for ways to make the next buck.

I know for a fact that happiness does not really lie in anything external. Until today, my definition of 'external' excluded 'money'. But now my perspective has shifted.

At last, I find that I'm able to decouple writing fiction from making money. Because I had been wanting that money to live better than everyone else I know, I admit.

Now I realize I need very little to live a good life.

Now I can write without worrying about whether it will yield me money or not.

Now I can do anything in life without worrying about whether it will yield or cost me money or not.

I can be happy in this moment no matter what is happening around me.

True, sometimes I'm not able to conjure up my patronus in a time of need, but for times like those, I can plug into YouTube and listen to a motivation talk or watch a video by Dr. Shefali or Sadhguru and re-centre myself, re-align myself to what I truly wish from life.

To me, this is what it means to be human. To be more conscious in my behaviours and attitudes. To be more trusting in myself. To be kinder and loving to myself and KrA and D.

It simply doesn't matter what's happening in the world around me.