Screened Out
Screened Out

A fictional exploration of fictional disease that is all too real.

VIC: Good afternoon. My name is Vic. What brought you in today?

CLIENT: Hey, I’m Lacey. uh, (EXPLETIVE DELETED) sorry. Hold on.


CLIENT: Sorry, I’m not used to the whole “face to face” thing.

VIC: Not a problem. Like I said. I’m Vic and I’m just here to help. So, tell me what’s going on.

CLIENT: I just. I don’t know. I’m just so tired. I’m really sorry. My brain isn’t working very well right now.

VIC: You’re doing fine. Let’s just slow down a little. How’s your appetite?

CLIENT: Fine I guess.

VIC: Great. Are you getting any exercise?

CLIENT: Yeah I use VirtuCycle at least three times a week.

VIC: Good, good. How’s your sleep?

CLIENT: God, there’s basically none. I don’t know how anyone can sleep. There’s so much to keep up with. Likes and shares and retweets – my influencer contracts require me to get so many of each. Then there’s the work emails pouring in 24/7 and I know if I don’t respond there’ll be hell to pay and and–

VIC: –Let me stop you there for a second. You said there’s so much to keep up with. Are you talking primarily about social media?

CLIENT: I mean that’s part of it, but there’s virtual client meetings, texts, alerts, face time with my family that’s spread out across the country, world news, spending time in the VR war zones – because I feel obligated to – trying to find time for dating, uh…

VIC: So do you take any time for yourself?

CLIENT: Sure. I’m always playing whatever the dumb new game is or watching a movie or binging something.

VIC: Sorry. Let me rephrase the question. When do you put down the phone? Remove the watch? Shut the laptop? Turn it all off?

CLIENT: Uh. Well I can’t. I mean, what if my boss emailed about something urgent?

VIC: It can wait.

CLIENT: Hahahaha uhhh I don’t think you understand the level of importance of what I do.

VIC: Oh you’re in medicine?

CLIENT: No… Media.

VIC: Are there lives on the line?

CLIENT: No… But I have to stay plugged in at all times.

VIC: Surely someone could cover for you – even for a few minutes a day?

CLIENT: Look, I don’t think you understand.

VIC: I get it. Really. But you said so yourself. You’re not sleeping. Your health is suffering. You can’t be good at what you do if you continue to wear yourself to the emotional bone. I mean, you’re here. So why are you here?


VIC: It’s okay. This is a safe place.

CLIENT: I don’t know. I just can’t. (begins crying) I’m just so (EXPLETIVE DELETED) alone. But how can I be alone if I’m ALWAYS with people?

VIC: You mean in real life?

CLIENT: Well no.



VIC: I’m sorry. Please go on.

CLIENT: You know that feeling you get in-between notifications? That profound … emptiness? Like the minutes that drag by before your post gets any reactions and you start to wonder if ANYONE cares at all? Did I lose whatever it is I had? Did everyone finally figure out I’m a fake?

And it’s like time just completely stops and you’re just sitting there alone and no one loves you and no one wants to talk to you and no one cares and if I died right not would anyone even (EXPLETIVE DELETED) know? And would they even care if they did know? I mean probably not. Maybe until something new starts trending but that’d be it.

VIC: I sincerely doubt that’s true.

CLIENT: Oh you doubt it!? What about Jessica!?

VIC: Who is Jessica?

CLIENT: She was my best friend in college. We were inseparable. We promised to be in each other’s weddings and share our lives forever. And I was in her wedding. Maid of Honor. Then she had kids and a husband. What did I have? A career. We drifted apart. She became such a “family” person and it was like, “Eww I don’t need to see so many pictures of your kids and your perfect (EXPLETIVE DELETED) life.”

VIC: So I take it you continued drifting?

CLIENT: She got pancreatic cancer. Out of nowhere. I mean, she was the healthiest person I knew. She did a GoFundMe and started posting all the time about her chemo (CHOKING UP) and just seeing photos of her beautiful face … with no hair … and the scarf … and her little kids. I just couldn’t handle that every day.

VIC: It must’ve been hard to see your friend going through that.

I (EXPLETIVE DELETED) blocked her. Unfriended her. I couldn’t take it. God you must think I’m a horrible person.

VIC: You’re not. You’re just human. And humans weren’t made to know everything about everyone everywhere all the time. It’s too much.

CLIENT: She died last month. The funeral was Tuesday. Guess where I was?

VIC: I couldn’t––

CLIENT: On my (EXPLETIVE DELETED) couch binge-watching House of Cards.

VIC: …

CLIENT: (SOBBING) I’m sorry. I’m so sorry. I didn’t mean to do this. I’m just so alone. And why should anyone treat me any better than I treated my best friend? I’m so alone. And so overwhelmed. And so tired.

VIC: You might not believe it, but these days, most people often feel the way you do. Maybe not as intensely. Maybe not as frequently. It’s a consequence of the digital and virtual world that never leaves us alone, constantly requires our reactions and feedback and input. And for each of those reactions to be rated and shared. It’s caused us to forget how to be real friends, real lovers, real family members. We lost sight of how to relate and care in real life – even when we’re scared of pain or awkwardness or rejection.

CLIENT: (SNIFF) Yeah I guess that makes sense.

VIC: It’s called misanthropic ignophobia, but that’s really just a big word that means you’re unsure of how to be around people – and are perpetually terrified of missing out on something. So much so that your devices have likely never been turned off since the day you bought them.

CLIENT: (SNIFF) So what now?

VIC: Well there are a few options. The first is a virtual vacation. It’s an app you can download right now from our site for $14.99. It features your choice of exotic locales in which to immerse yourself, with in-app purchases available such as virtual massages, virtual romantic rendezvous and more.

CLIENT: I thought the whole point was to escape the virtual (EXPLETIVE DELETED)?

VIC: You’re a sharp one. The other option is considerably more expensive. And considerably more dangerous. It involves agreeing to terms and conditions in which use of all of your accounts and devices will be temporarily suspended for a period of up to one week. It’s a complete, irreversible – although temporary – unplugging. And I think it’s exactly what you need.

CLIENT: … (SIGH) I’ll think about it.




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