In a world in which the possibility that one can lead a solitary, private life is being severely diminished by technology, there is one silent malady that is creeping upon all of us without our realising it.
We think that because the concept of the world being a global village unites the edge of the universe into one seamless unit, we have been invited to be active and willing participants in the affairs and activities of that universe.
We rush to social media to seek out ‘friends’ and feel that we belong to some kind of comity of friends or that we are an integral part of a social network that knows us by name.
Social media has thus become the one companion that we cannot leave behind. While the older people have learned, through time, that friendship is not merely the yeastless idea of abstract connectedness, the young tend to fall for the duplicitous idea that social media can easily replace the more time-tested methods of human interaction.
Some of us get depressed when we request to be friends on Facebook or Twitter or Instagram not merely because we think we have been rejected when such requests are not confirmed but because we fear that our social network may not be expanding fast enough and that soon we might find ourselves left out of an “important” part of a universe we cannot attach any meaningful form to.
We crave to be part of a world whose demographics we do not understand but which gives us the illusion of belongingness every time we are able to participate in the ubiquity of its interactions.
But in essence, are we really part of that universe that we so avidly seek? Does that universe know us or even recognise that we exist as human beings, not just as numbers and statistics?
What many of us do not know is that we are all miserable, lonely creatures, clutching at the straws of companionship which remains routinely elusive to us even as we are part of this digital universe.
In this age of technology, the mobile phone and the laptop have become our best friends.
Through them we attempt to touch other people whose faces are only reflected in the profile pictures we see besides their names. But we do not know their form, we do not know their character.
This is because social media is beguiling. It gives you what it wants to give you and hides the most important aspects of human interactions. Like the bright, sweet smelling flowers on a new grave that hide beneath them, the putrefaction of decaying matter, people post the most glamorous parts of their lives and leave out the less appealing, decaying bits.
They leave out their fears and their vulnerabilities, making it look like the world is all full of happy and perfect people. If your life, as it almost always is, is not that glamourous as the one your social network is portraying, you feel left out, you feel odd.
Social media is the equivalent of a grand fraud that seeks to paint a flowery picture of a rugged ungainly landscape, that tends to give off a pleasant scent of situations while hiding the runny, messy woundedness of the world. It creates a horse astride of which loneliness rides without announcing itself by that very name.
Writing on this subject, Dr Graham Davey, an expert in anxiety and a professor of psychology at the University of Sussex, observed: “Loneliness in the young is largely a function of perceived friendship networks.
Effectively, feelings of loneliness increase the fewer friends that an individual has… the relatively modern phenomenon of social media and its associated technology adds a new dimension to loneliness and anxiety by offering the young person a way of directly quantifying friendships.”
Because we have forgotten how to touch, how to talk to each other voice to voice, the sterile, vacuity of digital technology is what has been left as the only ladder to reach the other. Social media has, as Davey puts it, become surrogate for seeking connectedness, creating broader connections but shallower ones too.
At the end of it all, we find that we are alone. We forgot how to greet each other or even to talk to each other. When we want to touch base with those we consider our friends, we text them. When we want to vent out to an errant friend, we use WhatsApp to express our displeasure.
When we want to show our gratitude, we no longer write personal letters or place a private call to the subjects of our gratitude, we use Facebook to post a generic message of gratitude. In the poisonously corrosive channels of this kind of communication, our souls are crushed upon a broken slab of deadened existence.
What is a human being without personal touch, without the art of live communication? What is a human being without the need of tactile appreciation, without the human touch, without the noises that come from the only meaningful organ that God gave us for that, the mouth?
We think that technology is all that matters in life today. But much as it has made life more bearable, more liveable, it has created an expansive tissue of lies and illusion that we have all become martyrs to. People think that technology is that mobile phone that we cannot keep down or that computer we cannot live without. It could be all this. But in essence, it is life devouring itself.
In the end, the gadgets that we have trusted so much to effect a nexus between us and the world will become the initiators of loneliness, a loneliness from which it becomes difficult to emerge. For despite the connectedness that these gadgets give us, we cannot escape their more serious side effects.
When you realise that you forgot how to talk to the next person, loneliness will nestle on your mind like a gangrene. In the sunset of your life, you will be looking up to that gadget to give you the human warmth that every soul desires and it will answer back with an impotent, sterile look whose only clear message would be “you are alone.”
The thing about this kind of loneliness is that it seeks to rot everything, even the words with which to express it. It tells you that the friends you thought you had were only formless and that the ubiquity of the social media cannot in any way replace the more traditional methods of human connectedness that the world has used over the years.
t gives credence to the cliché that you can be very lonely in the midst of a crowd and that sometimes loneliness is not determined by your geographical location. It is about the choices you make.
Loneliness is sometimes considered a state of mind, a warp of time. But in this modern age it is being concretised into a deadly fate.