This recent fascination with doppelgängers and doubles may be a side effect of the Internet age. Three years ago in The New York Times, Jenna Wortham wrote about FOMO, or fear of missing out, and how it’s perpetuated by social media:
A friend who works in advertising told me that she felt fine about her life—until she opened Facebook. “Then I’m thinking, ‘I am 28, with three roommates, and oh, it looks like you have a precious baby and a mortgage,’ she said. ‘And then I wanna die.’
On those occasions, she said, her knee-jerk reaction is to often post an account of a cool thing she has done, or to upload a particularly fun picture from her weekend. This may make her feel better—but it can generate FOMO in another unsuspecting person.
In the article, Wortham quotes Caterina Fake, Flickr’s co-founder, who says that while FOMO is nothing new, it used to be something that we encountered in holiday letters and in party pictures. But today, “instead of receiving occasional polite updates, we get reminders around the clock, mainlined via the device of our choosing.”
That mainlined update on everyone else’s life, I think, taps into the root of our newfound doppelgänger obsession and fear. Many of us are afraid that we’re simply not enough as we are—that we’re not cool enough, pretty enough, passionate enough, or interesting enough, so, as Mindy Kaling would have it, everyone is hanging out without us.
Worse, those whom we wish would love us might prefer us if we were better, cooler, more likable—in other words, another version of ourselves. Our better double.
In the movies, of course, what makes the idea of encountering a doppelgänger terrifying is that it comes from nowhere—it's a surprise. Jake Gyllenhaal sees himself in the background of a movie; Jesse Eisenberg looks across the room, and there he is—himself, but not himself. In real life, though, it seems we go on the offensive to stave off this terror: We create our own doppelgängers. We post that status update, curate that Instagram feed, and construct a cooler version of ourselves.
That's hardly something new—humans have always projected a self to look better in front of others. But the Internet is making it much easier—and more attractive—to create a double.
The familiarity many of us feel today toward the phenomenon of the self-created doppelgänger actually winds up crippling both Enemy and The Double. Both films ask the audience to feel their protagonists' terror, to believe the situation isn’t just startling or uncanny, but downright horrifying. But that feeling never really takes off—perhaps because today, our doubles are not just something we seek out, but something we create ourselves. What’s the big deal?
Nevertheless, in these films, the central struggle between the doubles raises an important question: Who is the real one, and who’s just the paranormal fake? If applied to real life, that question is something more like, Is my Facebook self me?
Doppelgänger hunting, as Internet obsessions go, is a harmless pursuit. But many of us are more aware than ever these days that we’re making our own doubles. And perhaps that mythological danger, that harbinger of doom, hasn’t disappeared after all: There’s an all-too-real possibility that if I get too good at projecting my Internet doppelgänger, I might just kill off the “real” me.