We are – right now – living in the most narcissistic of times. Which is saying a hell of a lot. Have you ever read about Ancient Greece? But it’s true, it might come as a surprise that it took 40 years after the 1970s for us to experience the real “Me Decade” promised by novelist Thomas Wolfe. But we’re in it, folks.
Everything in our culture is customized, personalized, digitized, and organized for the pleasure of one person – ourselves. We can’t stumble a few feet out a door, into a car, or across the living room without having to update our Facebook status, send a tweet, or fire off a text message. Our TV shows star us, are programmed for us, are recorded for us when we want to watch them, and when we gather around a small screen to watch them (as we increasingly do) they even show us the advertisements we most want to see. Click, click, click, zoom, zoom, zoom. We get what we want when we want it.
It may turn out that it’s Facebook, not the government that turns out to be the Big Brother that we were warned about by Orwell.
This personalized entertainment might seem appropriate, but it isn’t necessarily a good thing, because it’s destroying our ability to forge quality relationships. It’s warping our expectations, blinding us to what’s important, and separating us at the same time that the Zuckerberg’s of the world insist they are making us more “connected.” It may turn out that it’s Facebook, and not the government, that turns out to be the “Big Brother” we were warned about by Orwell.
What happens when we cradle our shiny metal object (SMO) in our hand and dial up the world? Are we really in a relationship at that moment? Because our hands provide us with a tactile experience, we might feel as if we are. Our digits, with those famous opposable thumbs, give us a hand up on other species, (thank god) so we can browse those recipes on Pinterest! But it’s a trick – that sensation we get that travels from our hands to our brains and the other sensation that fires off from our eye sockets to our brains with the latest information from our SMO – it’s a slight of hand (pun intended) that tricks us into feeling as if we are in a relationship. We are not in the sort of relationship that makes our lives richer, our hearts warmer. We are not in a relationship that makes our souls healthy.
Try this: pick a night and stroll into a coffee shop, restaurant, or bar. Scan the people and count how many of them are staring at their SMO. Now look at the people sitting next to them. Are these people in a relationship? Are they connected?
Scattered all over the world are people who feel alone. They live lives of separated desperation. They are not crazy, but they may appear to be. We should not mistake loneliness for insanity. We should not mistake the person with heartbreak for a person who is damaged. We are – each of us – especially as we get older, scarred in our own way. Millions – perhaps billions – of people are lonely, wishing for a meaningful connection. But they are ignored because too many of us are glassy-eyed from our SMOs, from spending hours connecting with “people’ far away via the network of ones and zeroes. But it’s just that – a network of people who are ones and zeroes. One person sitting next to another one person, next to another, and another, with zero connection.
People all over the world are living lives of separated desperation.
Right now, in all of our relationships, we should strive to connect to those people in a tangible way.
Instead of the SMO in our hands, it should be another person’s hand. Instead of staring at the laptop screen, we should stare into someone’s eyes.
Instead of sharing the words or photos or music of someone else, we should be writing our own words, snapping our own images, and making our own music.
If we do that, we can’t help but connect with others. We will forge lasting, meaningful relationships. And out of emptiness we will create something enduring.
Human beings are supposed to be social. But the “social” in social media isn’t the sort of social we need all the time. It’s a nice way to augment communication. It can be a short diversion or a neat way to see another funny photo of a kitten. If we miss out on the relationships that are right in front of us, we miss out on life.
No one has ever been on their deathbed and uttered the words, “I should have tweeted more.”