The Lifetime original series You is not a great show: a little uneven, some gotcha-type moments that relied on critical information being deliberately withheld from the viewer, and it glorified abusive relationships maybe a little too much (Major spoilers follow). But one thing about it has been haunting me was the way Joe, the protagonist/anti-hero, kept up the appearance of his victims being alive and moving about the world when they were often neither. He did this in a very simple way: Steal the victim in question’s phone, and then impersonate them in texts to their friends and posts to social media (usually aspirational missives, vague images, and detached captions, thus obscuring the fact that they were, in any sense, “gone.”) It worked on literally everyone.
When I reflect upon my own classically millennial life (live alone, spend most of the day online, usually not posting but watching everyone else), I have an eerie but firm sense that someone could be me… for weeks? Months? Perhaps indefinitely?? In my case, I have a handful of people I talk to every day; I have a work Slack I have to be present in at least in the morning to check in; people email me but not urgently; my family has a group chat but no one demands my or anyone else’s. My mom and I text but routinely don’t answer each other. I post Instagram stories most days.
But the Instagram stories are easily imitable; if you did a video zooming in on any plant and wrote “she’s doing it,” it could be mistaken for my work. If I were vague or AWOL with the people I message with, I think they’d really take it on the chin and assume I’m busy, because the rhythms of modern communication via technology deem it deeply unchill to demand a prompt answer from anyone about anything. My work Slack needs mostly only affirmations and a statement of what I’m going to be working on for the day (“Editing a piece,” “lol,” “lol,” “yes,” “sounds good,” “lol,” [link to some inscrutable local viral tweet]). For the Slack in particular, the murderer could spend at least a few days dodging responsibilities before urgently requesting some time off for “a family matter,” and then disappear me. This has actually happened, notably, at least once in a modern-day workplace (though the person in question ended up not being dead, but working for Apple). My “mildly antisocial” state would be extremely easy for a murderer to replicate to make me look still alive, which raises the somewhat chilling question of how alive I even am in the first place.
Gen Xers and baby boomers have made an extremely big deal of how alone millennials are—we don’t have roommates, we aren’t in relationships, we aren’t getting married, we aren’t having children. Generally they fail to acknowledge that all of these things are happening for extremely valid economic and practical reasons (except living alone, which is the only sane way to be): the world is ending, no one makes any money, and matching with pictures of attractive-enough people on Tinder plus an endless supply of porn apparently provides all the satisfaction, validation, and fulfillment any human could need.
There are already studies on boomers about how lives are ruined by aloneness and then loneliness long-term: they are unhappy, and they die sooner of curable or at least manageable health conditions. The show You suggests to me they should advance this argument a step further in order to reach us, an inordinately true-crime-obsessed generation: We could be brutally murdered in our own home and, thanks to our isolation save the blissfully distant images we paint online, no one would ever find out. Worse, the murderer could steal all our followers and lucrative social media accounts, turning them into Fit Tea bots. Of course, I am kidding; if we had enough followers for that, we’d already be doing it. The idea of being replicated online is harrowing to me, for sure, but I’m not convinced there is anything I could do about it, save for agreeing to meet in person with another human on an extremely regular basis. But the moment one of us dipped with a thin explanation, the whole thing would fall apart; another of our isolationist self-sabotage tactics is a love of canceling plans, and I’m not convinced my person would believe it would take a murder to keep me away.