News outlets all over the world have been reporting on the lockdowns and social distancing forced on billions of people amid the outbreak of the highly contagious coronavirus, but despite the broad consensus, this is fake news. More precise reporting would be: “Billions of people have for years been on the spectrum of social distancing and self-imposed isolation. The coronavirus pandemic transformed the mental isolation into a physical one.”
Television commercials also don’t reflect reality when they try to comfort viewers with slogans like “We’re alone – but together.” There should be an asterisk, followed by the statement: “Until a month ago we were all together – but alone.” The closure imposed on us to stem the coronavirus sometimes seems like a dramatic change to our lives, but it’s actually only a three-step jump on the escalator of loneliness on which we’ve been moving for years.
Several months ago I passed by the high school I went to only eight years ago. From what was once a noisy, smoke-filled area, silence emerged. On the bench where my friends and I loudly quarreled and laughed were four boys. They were together, but the quiet showed that each of them was actually alone. There was nothing special about that scene because long before the coronavirus erupted, standing “shoulder to shoulder” became “screen to screen.”
In the world before the pandemic, a few human connections persisted in which staring together at a screen was not the peak of social unity. In a small number of social interactions, like dates, we used to air ourselves out from isolation and have conversations with other people during which our cellphones were not on the table as a buffer between us. The coronavirus merely took away the 100-meter dashes outside our own boundaries – which have anyway diminished over the past few years.
Now, many people avow that under the auspices of the coronavirus, the benefits the screens have brought into our lives have been undeniably proven. Many praise the wonders of Zoom and binge-watching, and can’t imagine the loneliness that would engulf them if they couldn’t see their friends’ latest stories on Instagram. These people believe that social media provides a reasonable solution to their social needs, at least until things go back to normal. Other than reminding them that their normal was not essentially different before the coronavirus disrupted our lives, here are five points to ponder.
Suppression consists of addictive materials. There’s no denying the pleasure of watching an outstanding TV series, or the joy of sympathetic responses to a picture we posted. But social media is just another version of the gilded capitalistic cage intended to keep us looking for material answers to our emotional problems. Just like a new piece of clothing won’t make us feel beautiful a day after we wear it, another “Like” won’t meet our need for real connections with human beings.
We can compare ourselves to babies kissing a tablet and don’t understand that no matter how many times they’ll play with it, they will never get a kiss back. We weep and rejoice with our protagonists from “Money Heist,” which has become a cult series. We follow the adventures of Daenerys (portrayed by actress Emilia Clarke in “Game of Thrones”) on a daily basis, noticing each and every of her mood swings – but we’re disappointed time and time again when she doesn’t notice that we’re having a bad day. From episode to episode, from story to story, the disappointment is forgotten and we get used to our relationships with replicas of human beings. They’re more beautiful, cleaner and more pleasant. And they’re much less demanding.
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We’re all carriers of the loneliness virus, and instead of looking for a vaccine, we continue to take painkillers in the form of virtual and imaginary connections, while still wondering why we feel bad.
We’ve overcome human boundaries, and that’s not necessarily good. Many people take pride in the fact the human race has used the wonders of technology to overcome the mediocrity of space and time that have bounded us. We commemorate every moment, extend it, we learn about cultures thousands of miles away. To a great extent we have indeed beat many human limitations – and their absence is the price we pay.
Without social media we wouldn’t have been alone, but with ourselves. The damage inflicted by social media is not only our lacking ability to maintain full relationships with those around us. It causes a serious damage to our relationship with ourselves – We have fallen in love with our filtered versions, and unavoidably, we are less tolerant of a stutter creeping up on us in the middle of an important meeting or beads of sweat that appear when we give a lecture. It’s not only that we love ourselves less – we also don’t invest time in our relationship with ourselves.
Once again we were lied to on TV by being told we are “alone.” There is a huge difference between being alone and being with ourselves. If we let go of the virtual human replicas and spend time with ourselves, we’d finally get the chance to look at the person we are and ask ourselves how we’re doing. Maybe we’d finally have a moment to think of an honest answer. Maybe we’d buy ourselves flowers. Many people would be surprised to find out how pleasant it could be for them to spend time in their own company.
The debate is old, but we finally got some answers. Since television entered our lives, some 50 years ago, a fierce discussion has raged between its defenders and detractors. The arguments of both sides are known, but the dispute was always theoretical. The coronavirus crisis has expedited social processes, and it cannot be ruled out that we’ve been given a rare glimpse into the near future.
There’s quite a good chance that what we see from our windows today is the world through the lens of an app showing us how we’ll look in 10 years: News outlets broadcasting empty streets in 2030, with leading anchorwomen reporting that the government has passed a Basic Law on the Right to maintain a two-meter distance from each other. We’ll sanctify the freedom to be isolated in a room with a screen. After all, if spending time with our virtual and imaginary friends makes us feel so good, if life in isolation is cheaper, more convenient and efficient – why, when the day comes and the restrictions are lifted, shouldn’t we prefer staying barricaded in our homes?
No need to become an ascetic. We are in a sadomasochistic relationship with the screens, when it’s clear who has the upper hand. Furthermore, different types of social media influence us differently, and using some of them in a moderate manner may benefit us and produce real important connections, including professional ones. We can certainly enjoy the many advantages of screens, like sharing life-saving medical information, but first we must shift the balance of power.
The future is the view from our balcony. Let’s all look and ask ourselves: Is this the world we want to live in?