‘It’s amazing how hard it is to be completely alone,’ my friend mentioned matter-of-factly as we enjoyed a few scotches at a wedding we attended over the weekend. His comment stopped me for a few moments, perhaps due to my increasingly inebriated state, but also because this thought had been on my mind for a rather long time. I’ve written about this topic, read about this topic and been plagued by this topic for the past couple of years. Those born after the turn of the decade in 1990 have become illuminated by an age where technology allows us to connect with friends, acquaintances and strangers alike across the globe. The advantages are evident to anyone who has downloaded any number of the apps that allow this direct communication, to anyone who accesses the internet on a daily basis and to anyone who is considering hitting up Tinder for a cheeky hook-up with a 21 year old brunette with green eyes whom you have no mutuals with. Just be careful Johnny/Jeanette, just be careful.
In essence, this has enabled us to be more informed, more enlightened with a greater possibility to learn about the nature of people on the other side of the vast oceans that surround us and will one day engulf us (Internet rumours). This innate connection to the outside world has allowed us to conduct business with higher efficiency, enabled instantaneous transactions with the companies we want to acquire goods and services from, encouraged (and occasionally forced) greater transparency in political actions and most importantly led to an inexplicable increase in the volume of silly, mind-numbing 7 second videos floating around the internet that have the ability to provide the weirdest pick-me-up for office workers, university students and tweens alike.
Shopping for household goods and obscure rarities is as easy as clicking on a couple of links, reading a few blogs and throwing out the credit card details. Tickets for events are shopped around on ‘Stubhub’, Gumtree and social networking sites as the official event states that it is sold out. We can organise meetings that connect with lovers of obscure celebrities, weird cleaning agents and ridiculous fetish orgies because of networks that have been linked by the sheer ubiquity of the operation. Old folks and kids alike can bother us with their old-school or underdeveloped consciousness and those who gather in the all-powerful 18-60 bracket can admonish them for their lack of insight and stubborn love of Chris Brown. Music at the tip of your finger, travel tips, adventure stories, web series’, pretentious blogs, restaurant reviews, dating websites, pornography, interior design, cat videos, warehouse sales, parties, presents, suicidal cults, gamers, tips on how to deal with puberty, conspiracy theories, university courses, bank loans and buying your own zoo. You could go on and on about the supposed advantages of being ultra-connected with everything we could possibly think of. It is a marvellous age we live in when you look at like this.
However, when my friend shrugged his shoulders and muttered one of his deepest fears, I realised that he was completely right. It is really hard to be alone. Not only because it is lonely and scary, but also because it is almost impossible to escape our connectivity. It seems that the only way to be completely alone these days is exiling yourself and locking yourself in a cabin in an isolated part of the world with no wi-fi (like Justin Vernon… worked well for him). The only time we seem to be truly alone and unbothered is when we are asleep and our phones, our laptops, our pagers and our beepers are making it harder for us to escape their clutches even when we are dreaming of that silly cat video we watched yesterday. I am addicted to my phone. I am addicted to checking it on a 6-8 minute basis. It feels like a necessity. The only time I really escape it is when I am writing about it. Right now, Amy Winehouse screams out of my sound system which is linked to my Spotify account. For those of you who don’t know Spotify, it is basically just an encyclopaedia of popular music that you can access with a small subscription. I can’t deny that I, like so many others, love being able to pick up my phone, check my banking account, research an artist, a subject that I want to know more about and call my mother in the same 5 minute period. Yet, I’ve found it impossible to get away from and I have my doubts whether I will ever be able to get rid of that feeling that I am missing something by not owning a smartphone. How will I know what people are doing this evening? Will they be angry at me when I don’t reply to their text messages? How will I distract my mind when I am completely alone?
The old adage, ‘you don’t know what you’ve got until it is gone’ could be adapted for this new ‘like and share’ phenomenon to include a mention that once something is in your life, you won’t be able to shake it off without some sort of divine intervention. Despite my negative assessment of the influence on my life, I understand that we are all different. Some of us know how to use these connective devices properly without allowing it to erode some of the grand pleasures we know in life. Some of us have learnt how to adapt and grow positively and some of us have not yet acknowledge that they have an addiction or they simply are not bothered by it. I’m bothered by it. Not to the point of complete frustration and hopelessness, but to the point that I feel my life isn’t as satisfying with the constant distraction. I find my short-term attention span has been ravaged by its influence, I find myself waiting on messages from people I really want to hear from when I am on my downtime and not somewhere where phone use is prohibited (and those places are reducing by the day!) and I feel that so many of my connections with people I communicate with via these mediums are shallow and friendly rather than deep, passionate and important.
However, I do like that I can quickly hook into something with someone, whether that be a simple fling (judgemental eyes or non-judgemental eyes, this is a pretty damn easy thing to do these days), a quick coffee, a study break or a release from stress. The advantages are clearly there. I think it is unbelievable that I can be in any city in the world and know exactly what events are occurring no matter how major or minor they may be. I can review anything I look at, eat or drink. I can book in an impulsive getaway with the money I have just received for slaving away at a job that I hooked up on a casual employment website. The things I can do are limitless… and yet, as oxymoronic as it sounds, I feel it is so constraining. So many of us are hooked on others knowing what we are doing and quite rightly too, popular demand leads to interest from higher powers which equates to money and importance. I’d say the vast majority of us want to feel important. It seems only the really antisocial and the epically powerful don’t always want to feel important. The latter would understand what it is like to not be able to escape immense scrutiny and harassment and thus be more likely to state, ‘you don’t want to go into this business’ or ‘down this path’ to those who lust after the feeling, knowing full well that this insight will not stop the lustful nobody from wanting to be involved in ‘this business’. Back on point, finding perfect balance in our lives is the most challenging thing those of good health will face. The balance of time, money, relationships, essential needs, our dreams, our hobbies and our jobs is impossible to get right unless you completely dismiss it as a concept. The balance of my life is slanted toward keeping my communications in order, plagued by an unhealthy reliance on my phone as I live another year in the wildly entertaining yet astonishingly inconsistent life of a twenty-something with an uncertain future. Unfortunately our becoming increasingly reliant on superficial means rather than the physical and traditional communication ports… that weird face-to-face shit where we don’t all just plonk our heads down into our phones when we are in a public place.
I know many of you will relate with this feeling of being tied to a higher power. Addiction is not just an addiction to something illegal and unhealthy for your long-term health. At the same time, some of you will scoff at the fact that my most dangerous addiction is to be overly-reliant to my mobile phone/cellphone. This is true, but at the same time, I am not simply whimpering over my attachment to a piece of metal and plastic, I fear that future generations will never know about the mystifying feeling of being completely alone, even just for a few fleeting moments. Unfortunately in never being able to be alone, we have become a whole lot lonelier as individuals. In seeking to fill the void, we take quick fixes that can be detrimental to our long term health and welfare. Do we really care? Not until we find ourselves desperately aching for something deeper and hoping that it is not too late to find it.
Until then… there are always quick hits like this to hold our attention for half a minute…
Next chapter: How our self-importance has to led to our unwillingness to give things more than a moment’s chance.