Ah, Look At All The Lonely People: The Effects Of An Internet Social Life

Today I began an essay: For as long as I have known how to be, I’ve been ashamed of my body.

My publications all live within this same confessional territory. Throughout, I place these nuggets of myself, explain the ways a cultural or social issue impacts me, sparking something in the reader who nods along thinking, “I’ve been there, too.” And with these small truths from my personal life padding the paragraphs, and these paragraphs then finding way to the Internet, you believe that upon reading essay after essay after essay, the puzzle pieces collect, taking shape as someone human.

Last week I wrote: “My most recent heartbreak, now at almost 25, did not yield nearly those theatrics: I cried for twenty minutes, bought myself a pretty dress and drank a glass of wine.” In November I blatantly said: “I can’t be the side chick, the fuck buddy, the 1 a.m. whiskey call.” I have confided to anonymous Internet dwellers my online dating mishaps; the barbaric, cruel anxiety of texting him, whomever him is this week; that I was abused in a previous relationship. Writing for the Internet, no matter the vulnerability, is a good time: the audience is vast and receptive, and moreover, my voice is heard. I receive the validation a writer spends his or her whole life chasing, so, I like it. But in this forthcoming article on plus-size models, or in a previous one on misogyny, or in a future one about fabricating our social media presence, all I write are opinions on an issue I feel an emotional kinship toward and presumably made up my mind about. There are pieces of me in every word, but these essays are no window to my soul or any of that melodramatic business. A wall exists, the depth shallow, though my reach broader. You all are just reading my ego.

This week I watched my first BuzzFeed submission go viral in 10 hours. At time of this publication, it has reached nearly 39,000 social views; last night as I typed into the Google search bar what should I do tonight? it was around 8,000 views less. I am lonely, which sounds so trivial to say, all things considered, but I’m there; this is palpable. New York City is outside my window – I know it because the trucks have not stopped, the leaves are all dead, my heater is broken and my room is so cold – and I hear New York is one hell of a lonely city. New York is one hell of a lonely city and my human connections are digital.

Human connection is a funny word choice – our interactions exist as likes, as comments, as emojis and tweets, as sharing my article to your friends who (if I am so lucky) share with their friends, and I exist then as serif typography on bright screens. In real time, I sit at bars, sip bourbon, eat french fries, alone. I think: when was the last time I was hugged – I mean, really hugged – by a person who loves and knows me sincerely and wholly? I know when; I also know it should, in an ideal world, occur daily, but it doesn’t. Your double taps, your shares, your private messages, while wildly appreciated, can never replace this intrinsic need.

But that is what social media is, or online interaction on a whole is: a means to make distance minute. The efforts are commendable: at any time and in any space, communication and information is both possible and instantaneous, but our alienation is tangible, if not, ultimately, troubling. Facebook – or its predecessor MySpace and its stepchild Instagram – is attractive: the site makes promise of larger connections, a way to share your life in however many words and ways to a global audience. Then, in our solitary, we are connected. It is here we mistake connection with companion. Between 966 Facebook friends, 438 Twitter followers, 785 Instagram followers, plus however many of you read this Tumblr, my reach is tremendous comparatively, specifically compared to the three people I had an in person conversation with yesterday, two of whom were roommates, the third a woman preparing my drinks. Facebook has 728 million active users every day – our connection to humans on a global, albeit surface, scale is rich; our connection to humans on an intimate level is deteriorating.

I have lived in a one-bedroom apartment, my favorite apartment. I prefer waking up to my bed alone where I can freely make all those strange noises that accompany awkward sprawls. I live in New York’s most densely populated borough – I have 1.6 million neighbors in 22.96 square miles. I am an introvert. But all these facts are independent from one much more grossly fulgent and grim: I am alone, alone long enough that even the mass approval of an Instagram upload cannot remedy. I woke up today wanting to go back to sleep because, why not? Instead, I sent a SnapChat to my sister. I spent all yesterday refreshing my BuzzFeed statistics and my Facebook status, waiting for the glowing screen to substantiate my social prominence. And it works – it works until it doesn’t, until you realize it will never be enough. In the argument of quality verse quantity, the former trumps while the latter is more accessible. And thus, loneliness. TC mark

image – Twitter

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