When I started researching privacy more seriously, I didn’t know what I was looking at was the face of a forlorn path that seems to go nowhere. I picked it up as a challenge, and within a few days it became clear that privacy is a journey of hard sacrifices.

When I asked for help on Reddit’s privacy community I was blocked from posting because my freshly-created account specifically for this purpose was too new and thus, too suspicious. It was just one stop of many I’ve made in the last two months. Article after article from Medium to Lifehacker was filled with beginner tips like “use VPN” or “search with Duck Duck Go.” As I kept digging deeper, looking for more specifics and advanced techniques, the more it seemed that the internet I use every day suddenly had an end. A wall.

Everything on the screen had a sense of purpose. I was supposed to follow the answers in front of me. Buy a Visa gift card with your credit card; submit your phone number to get a discount; surrender your verified email address to chat with an agent. Not a single website gave additional options. Everywhere I looked, I had to give up a piece of my privacy or lie and hope for the best. I chose the latter option whenever I could. The feeling that I was doing something wrong intensified.

Then there was the loneliness. I haven’t logged into Facebook for years. I stopped using Twitter last year, and with it, I stopped following trends and celebrities in my industry. Most recently, I stopped using Instagram and lost touch with those who like my photos, a window to the outside world, especially during the pandemic. On the other hand, getting in touch with me became more difficult since I insist on less popular apps that no one wants to download. When I try to explain why, it often feels like I’m speaking a different language even with those close to me the most.

This is the price of privacy. I am almost at a breaking point, and I’ve only started. I understand now why there is so little real information about true privacy. Those who stay out of the familiar platforms live in the shadows. It’s not that they hide, but by resisting selling their lives away they can’t reach us or we them. You can’t Google them, friend them on Facebook, or follow them on Twitter. They don’t exist to us, criminal by association with the cryptic “dark web.”

So much of what we do, what we are, is not even ours to share but instead borrowed, hosted somewhere unknown to us, supplied only if we sign an agreement to give ourselves up. And we can’t be bothered to know. After all, when was the last time you read Facebook’s terms of service? Twitter’s? Google’s? Apple’s?

I wish I could tell you this is all a cheap Matrix ripoff. The problem is that I can’t unlearn what I’ve learned or unread what I’ve read. Instead, I’m figuring out how to bend the rules just enough to be more than a sheepish user. I’m starting to see the invisible walls of the digital cell.