(It will make sense)
I had a thought recently: where did everyone go?
I laughed because, living in a big city, I’m constantly surrounded by people. Spending so much time around way too many people, how could I still be longing for, craving, wanting for human connection? A small talk about the weather, a chat about grocery prices at the store, a quick vent session about life at the train station? It used to be.
The answer came to me just as quickly: Everyone is here, online; talking about the weather, complaining about grocery prices, and venting about life on the world wide web.
I’m just not here. And it sucks.
Everyone is talking, but the silence is deafening.
I naively assumed if only I spent less time where everyone is, on the internet, then there will be a paradise of people who, instead of catering to the people inside their phones, would talk to me. Instead of tweeting their thoughts and feelings, they would just tell it to me, and then I, too, can tell them my minor frustrations and first-world injustices. So simple, right?
In theory, tweeting to hundreds of random people should be the same thing as telling a random person on the train your thoughts. But it doesn’t work that way. Culture has changed. If there is no need for word-vomiting your first-world problems on a stranger- when you can tweet about it- then it’s not going to happen. Culture doesn’t care that you and I want to spend less time online. Just keep scrolling to avoid eye-contact with strangers, like normal people.
Twenty years ago, if people were told that the future would be people constantly chattering and narrating their daily lives to hundreds, if not thousands, of strangers on a 5-inch screen, they would have been horrified. Why would you want to do that? Who in the world cares about a picture of your lunch? Aren’t you worried everyone knowing how pathetic you really are? I bet. Yet, Facebook came around, we all signed up, and culture shifted right in front of our eyes as we began the long journey of life lived on the internet.
So it’s a valid concern to worry about how to stay connected with people sans social media or when spending less time online. How do you maintain social connections offline when it feels like the world has gone online?
Effort: social media is easy, real life is hard.
Do not outsource your human connection to Silicon Valley apps.
Maybe there’s no one to talk to while waiting at the doctor’s office, and maybe there’s no one to complain to about grocery prices at Costco, and we all would rather look at the floor than make eye contact with strangers on the train, but human connection cannot and should not be outsourced to 280-characters, carefully edited and captioned pictures, and thirty-second video clips. Before we are users, followers, subscribers, we are daughters, sons, lovers, friends, sisters, brothers, cousins, aunts, uncles, neighbours, and so on.
After years of wondering how I can stay connected with people offline, turning my attention to the people I have the closest relationship with naturally- familial, friendship or other stronger social ties that bring you together that cannot be logged out from by a click of a button- has been a life-saver.
If the internet was to shut down, who are the people that will remain in your life? Those are the most important human connections we have and the majority of our social connections should come from those sources; regardless of time spent online. No matter the level of despair, annoyance, or frustration they might bring, only those relationships, too, can bring us the belly laughters, the joy of unfiltered conversations, and the warmth of being able to hold someone- in joy or despair.
“Hell is other people,” indeed, but so is heaven.
Online relationships are so easy because there’s so much filter between you and the person on the other side. You can log out and those people cease to exist. You cease to exist. The internet is the loneliest place.
It doesn’t matter whether you quit social media or not.
It doesn’t matter whether you spend an hour or ten hours on your phone.
It doesn’t matter that everyone is here, online, at all times.
If we want human connection- real, deep, meaningful connections- we must make the effort it requires. The easiest, and best, place to start is with the people that are around us, that that we are around, by default; our families, friends, neighbours, coworkers. They are worth the effort too.
One person in real time is worth hundreds of ideas of people online. That’s what followers, subscribers, users, and online ‘friends’ are; an idea of someone carefully curated for digital consumption. A person that exist in 0s and 1s.
I, too, am an idea of someone carefully curated for digital consumption. Now go make the effort required to connect with a person that is not carefully curated for digital consumption on your screen.
Until next time,
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