Isolation In The Era Of Social Media

In a recent comment on The Guardian discussing the highs and lows of freelancing, Thea de Gallier writes of social media: ‘I spend hours looking at people whose lives seem to be going much better than mine, sending myself into a spiral of self-doubt’.

Although online platforms are supposed to connect us to each other, it can sometimes be the thing that isolates you the most.

In her book ‘The Lonely City’, Olivia Laing explores the isolating feeling of loneliness through the captivating art world and the all-knowing (never-reciprocating) brightly lit screens that so encompass modern lives. Referencing Andy Warhol’s obsession with replication, Laing sees the Internet as the place in which this fascination has come to life – making ‘infinite attention… a democratic possibility’.

Who needs real-life interactions when a hundred strangers can gratify your hedonistic need for attention via the rectangular object in your jeans pocket?

She goes on: ‘Meanwhile, the life forms on the planet that we inhabit diminish by the hour’.

Isn’t it strange, modern life? To go out for drinks with friends and spend 50% of the time on your phone, to take photographs of the food you eat or ‘check in’ at glamorous locations – why do we do it?

In short, to show off. To gratify some deep-rooted need to prove that our lives are meaningful, that the events we attend are worthy – to demonstrate to the world that we exist, that we existed, that we once inhabited a small corner of the earth and that our memory can’t be erased with the stopping of our hearts.

But as we’ve become so wound up in flashing images, obsessive indulgence and complicated algorithms, we’ve forgotten how to be – how to interact with others, how to enjoy something without needing to virtually scream about it.

And it feels like we’ve gone so far, got our heads so deep in our – frankly sexualised – machinery that no matter how hard you try, there’s no escaping the choking hold that social media has on us. There are no public spaces completely free of screens: we pay for commodities with our phones; we buy groceries from a talking machine (that’s fucking weird and yet we all just accepted it as the norm); we sit all day in front of computers, emailing one another instead of communicating face-to-face.

The thing that’s meant to bridge the gap of distance between lovers, friends and family is the thing that’s detaching us from ourselves, our peers and society in general. It feels like we’re retreating into our machine-obsessed minds and forgetting that there’s a world out there, where people enjoy live music and don’t spend the whole time filming it on their cracked iPhone 7s.

Laing investigates loneliness through Edward Hopper’s paintings, writing that his regular recreation of the window fuses ‘in one devastating symbol the twin mechanisms of confinement and exposure’. This is exactly what social media does. You are at once physically isolated and yet sharply visible to the world – though only displaying that which you want others to see (and envy).

Although, as Charlie Brooker explores in ‘Nosedive’ – his eerily foreboding episode of Black Mirror in which people get rated after each social interaction, enhancing or diminishing their status in real life – no matter how fucking fantastic your ‘like’ average is on Instagram, your actual life will probably be emptier than ever.

You have to wonder about that oh-so-mysterious meaning of life at times like this. Why are we so desperate to appear as if our lives are rich and meaningful? Why can’t they just be rich and meaningful? Who honestly gives a fuck what I had for breakfast last Wednesday morning? I sure as hell don’t.

It’s a depressing game, social media – I just hope my children don’t Snapchat my funeral.

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