Sunday, 16 November 2014

No Man Is An Island

It takes a wise man to coin an aphorism which endures for 400 years, but John Donne managed it with some aplomb. No man, indeed, is an island. We are all wrapped up in mankind, our humanity intrinsically linked to the humanity of those around us. Alone, we are nothing.

But many people are alone. Many of us are islands.

We live in a world of interconnectedness: Facebook, Twitter, mobile phones, rolling news coverage, email alerts, Snapchats and Instagrams. We announce our every move, pronounce our every thought, picture our every meal. We know where are friends are. Who they've been with. What they wore. Who did their hair.

None of this shit matters.

These are details. Fripperies. They are not real. They are illusions. They have no depth, no weight, no emotion. Yet for many of us they have come to replace real human contact.

We labour under the misconception that our friendships are close and meaningful because we know what and when and where our friends do the things they do. But how often do we ask how or why?

We see the glossy surface they choose to represent: the best photos of their night out, the edited highlights of their holiday. We witness this artifice, this social construction and we convince ourselves it is real. It isn't.

Our social media selves are a representation of the real us. They don't show the drudgery, the struggle, the schlep that life often is. We struggle with boredom, self-doubt and loneliness because we compare ourselves with the bullshit beamed onto our devices - the kind of highlights packages we can't ever dream to compete with.

We have replaced time spent together with time spent watching each other through the window, a glass screen separating us from what really matters: a hug, a squeeze, a kiss. We feel that we're involved because we know so much, but all we really know is what's on the surface. We forget to scratch beneath for what really matters, isolating ourselves, retreating into our hermetically sealed existence.

We watch our friends' lives and worry that ours aren't so interesting. We see their relationships and compare ours to theirs, chastising ourselves for our inadequacies. We see people having the fun we wish we were having and we withdraw still further, until one day we realise that we haven't actually seen a good friend for twelve months, that we didn't cuddle them when their mum was ill, that we haven't met their baby daughter.

And as we cast ourselves adrift, we peddle the lie that things are okay. We represent ourselves online in the way we wish to be seen, convincing our friends and families that we are fine when in reality we are lonely and hurting, scared to express our true feelings lest they become lost in the ocean of updates, tweets and images.

Instead of skimming this surface meaning, we must take the plunge and dive beneath it, immersing ourselves and, as John Donne advised, ensuring we are "involved in mankind". It's the only way we can hold our heads above water.

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