It’s amazing how lonely one can feel in a crowd. Maybe amazing isn’t the right word. I guess it’s better described as tragic. Tragic that I can stand amidst dozens of other humans – even thousands – and feel separated, distant and alone. The issue doesn’t of course start in the crowd, but if we are careful it’s easier to see, feel and become aware of how we feel when there are so many people around us and we don’t feel like we can connect with any of them. Loneliness is painful. Loneliness is deafening.
Connection is a practice. Connection is an art. Connection is a lifestyle and one that is dying. Human connection – my eyes on yours – my hand in yours – a hug – a real conversation – is being replaced by things that disguise themselves as the real thing. This is most evident in the digital age. We watch a show. Neurons fire. We are pulled in. Our emotions are tugged up happy, down sad, over thrilled and back. Each show is designed to carefully manipulate our experience. Facebook is no different. Video games. We had an experience. We felt connected. Like we had something, like we did something. And we did and we were. No question, but should we be? What’s the cost?
In April 2016 the average adult American spent 725 minutes (over 12 hrs) each day plugged in (statista.com) to various media. This constitutes most of a day. Most of our day experiences are not real. Rather they are other’s lives or listening to others stories, fiction or non, and essentially living by proxy. This is a minuscule representation of the real deal. We stand on the outside of our own lives and watch them pass slowly while finding meaning in what others have contrived – yes contrived – for our entertainment. Every minute we engage in it steals from our desire to have it! I want to live the movie. I want to live the life that makes me feel the feelings because I had the experience not because I witnessed it digitally.
There is something so human about connecting. We need it. We were meant for it. Google returns 50 million plus results of the impact of isolation on the human mind. It’s well established as the single most reliable way to make someone go insane. Loneliness is connected on a cellular level with all sorts of physiological changes in our bodies. It changes what we do, how we think and act. Loneliness can kill you. And in many ways it does. When we experience what we think is connection – digitally- we are left enough of the wrong thing to motivate us to avoid the right thing. We consume so much media that is airbrushed, edited and photo shopped forgetting it’s not on any level real. Yet our level of consumption makes it the standard on which we base our reality. And how can we measure up? We can’t. So we don’t even try. We build walls to protect ourselves from what we think others perception of us will be. When the opportunity presents itself to look into your eyes I look away. Looking into your eyes will allow me to be seen and I’m scared that you won’t like what’s there. So we stay on the surface. I lie about how I feel. I avoid places I might connect. I feel lonely and empty. I want to hold your hand, but I’ve forgotten how. I want to see you as you want to be seen, but I won’t lift my eyes. Instead I go back to another season of [x] and let my life be lived out digitally. I grab at other things to make me feel better. I eat my feelings and my loneliness – at least for a moment – is drowned in some TV, a double creamed brie and a glass or cab sav.
When we are stuck in a crowd without connection – digital or otherwise – we are aware of how lonely we really feel. The English poet W. H. Auden put it, “We must love one another or die.” And we are dying. Slowly we are losing our very essence. We are forgetting how to talk, connect, hug, cry and carry each other. Slowly life is becoming less alive and more plugged in. Slowly we are forgetting who to be human. To be ourselves; not who we think we should be.
Its startling to realize how you can go through interaction after interaction with other humans and never really connect. I’m there. You’re there. Together we are physically present. But most interactions feel like a transaction instead of a connection. We have the opportunity, but we withhold. We don’t let ourselves be seen. We keep ourselves safe gaining a feeling of security in the moment, but losing our very essence in the long run.
So here I am in Starbucks 2300 km away from home surrounded by people and incredibly aware that I am alone. I feel pulled to cope. Another coffee. A bag of lays. There has to be internet somewhere. Do I have any new emails? Texts? Yet what I need to do is connect. Simply. Show up and allow myself to be seen in real life. Lift my eyes and look into yours and answer with honesty. You say “how are you?” and I resist the programmed fine and say: “lonely.” I don’t need to hug the barista, but I do need to be honest. She likely won’t care for more than the transaction she’s required to support me through (my Grande pike), but I will. Something changes when I am honest. I allowed my voice to be heard. I started something in me and for me. I was vulnerable with who I am and how I feel. I was present. I was who I was at that moment: a guy alone in a crowd. Missing my family and friends. That doesn’t make me broken or wrong. That makes me human. The difference is my own permission to be who I am – to have needs – and to let them be seen (even if its just me).
Connection is an art. A practice. We need each other. I need you. You need me. But not the who we pretend to be or think we should be, but who we are. We won’t change overnight, but we can start the process one greeting, conversation, or interaction at a time. We can, if we are careful, begin to be seen and to see. The side effects are astounding and fulfilling. By the way. I’m lonely and that’s okay. 🙂
Tag your it. Can I see you?