Friday, October 07, 2016

The Private I

The Private I

There was a time when human contact was real.

When you went on a date, you spent hours preparing yourself so that you'd look just so. You'd have a light snack to ensure your tummy wouldn't be growling. Then you'd brush your teeth, maybe twice, and use one of those savage mouthwashes to make sure your breath was pristine. When you met your date, you'd smile brightly and maybe offer him or her a hug. Then you'd leave together in one car, have dinner, see a film, or go dancing. Afterwards, you'd maybe go for coffee and a danish, chat about this or that, then hold hands as you left for home. At the doorstep, you'd hug, kiss, or possibly even disappear inside together. For the entire night, you were "connected."

And now, social media has pretty much changed everything. We're still "connected," but in an oh-so-different way. It's rare to make a move without someone, somewhere, knowing everything about what you've been doing over Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat or any other hip social media platform-du-jour. We are literally spied upon by family, friends, or those other "friends" in the Internet sense of things. We are followed, tracked, hunted, stalked, pursued, tailed by prying eyes and egos everywhere.

The intimacy of our relationship with another person has become the impersonal chitchat of prying eyes, sometimes literally so focused on our comings and goings that everything we do is packaged, repackaged, approved or disapproved, and assessed by a jury of seers. At times, it seems that even that "good-night kiss" is being monitored and evaluated by a host of remote onlookers. The idea of deux dans l'amour has become a folies de indiscrets.

I can't help but wonder how we surrendered our privacy quite so easily. At some point, folks decided life was a game of sharing. We share everything, our loves, our hates, our passions, our failures, our family, our real-life friends, and our opinions on just about everything. By doing so, we may have also sacrificed our identities to the maddening crowd.

You see, the new age is not built upon your personal values or lifestyle, but more on how you "fit" into some larger composite of lives and lifestyles. Individuality has become synonymous with some kind of anti-social renegadism. You're only as good as your friend's list on Facebook or your followers on Twitter. These most often anonymous contacts, from who knows where, are the new currency of your popularity. The rationale is clear. The more headshots on your page, the better person you are. The more you share, the more you care, and the more you are cared about.

At its worst, that date you went on was less an evening of pleasure with someone you cared about, and more an experience which you simply can't help but report, in its minutest detail, to your "people" on social media. Don't feel bad, don't feel like you're betraying your date's trust or anything, because he or she is likely doing the same.

To some extent, I do understand this new approach to be connected. At some point, we all conceded that it was a lonely world in which we lived. We might have picked our asses off the easy chair in front of the computer and forced ourselves to make real contacts with the outside world. But, heck, simply dialing up Facebook or Twitter seemed so much easier. In fact, sites like Facebook were designed almost primarily for the lonely, the alienated, the reclusive, and the shut-in personalities of those who essentially had no social life. The Internet became the new social milieu, and everyone was invited.

Don't get me wrong. I think it's fabulous for folks without a real life to at least have some kind of life. We all need a hug from time to time, even if it's just a cyber-hug. So, there you go, have one on me.

What worries me is that some people will eventually discover the irony of social media and feel completely left out of cyber-ville. I know there are people who can maintain an Internet fantasy world seemingly forever, but what about that guy or the gal who wakes up one morning, runs to the computer to update his or her status and suddenly realises, "This isn't real. This is not enough."

Real life can be a terrible thing, especially when it dawns on us not just how lonely we all are, but how much lonelier the Internet makes us.




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