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When the Faraway and Scattered Seem Nearby
I grieved for the sorrows of internet strangers this week. A young artist with a severe congenital heart defect who has had 4 open heart surgeries received a diagnosis of stage 4 sarcoma and a life expectancy of 18 months. A dog named Murphy died and the Twitter thread his dad posted shattered me. A few days ago a dog named Summer died very suddenly—her family had only just rescued her from South Korea a month ago. It’s strangely beautiful that all of these people have no knowledge of one another, and yet they all have a connection in the fact that their deep sorrows have transformed me.
All humans feel an existential loneliness—no matter how many others surround us, existence is solitary, we feel pain and grief alone. Industrialisation and the digital revolution have draw us away from nature—from ourselves. We live such a synthetic and inorganic life, one we were not created to live, I believe. Perhaps the internet soothes this loneliness because of the connection it affords. Few things feel more mindlessly soothing that sitting in a dimly lit room by yourself, listless and empty, scrolling through Twitter. Do you feel the electricity from all the vibes in the rooms of Twitter when you scroll through? It’s trippy because I’m sitting alone in my flat and yet I’m surrounded by so many psyches, like a sort of hive mind I can unplug from. I believe that’s the draw—tentative connection.
If we had to select a person of the decade I believe it should be the internet. It has changed the world simply by the connection it provides. Movements of passionate people brought together, information live and on the ground. The new city that never sleeps, a whirlwind of chaos, beauty, data, and endless information.
Social media has made us more intolerant, though, and more impatient. It has driven us to consume more and pause less. It has driven us to react ad nauseam. It has divided. It has consolidated. It has connected us in ways we could not imagine and it has shifted public discourse and the way humans politick. We can feed into the moral panic about the evils of the internet and the sinister cost of social media. It seems pointless though. Let’s face it—social media isn’t going anywhere.
Has social media become a Frankenstein’s monster? Did we imagine what it’s purpose would become or how it’s existence would effect change? I think we’re like Victor Frankenstein, with our drive to innovate and invent and streamline and create new technologies—we have so much drive and ambition because narcissism and yet we lack the wisdom and the insight and the vision required to responsibly contemplate the effects of digitisation on the human condition.
“Man," I cried, "how ignorant art thou in thy pride of wisdom!”
― Mary Shelley, Frankenstein
And yet, this Frankenstein’s monster can facilitate such deep human connection and can soothe and lift the human spirit. Perhaps then, we can use social media as a sort of barometer for our own individual selves.
I will continue to cheer in elation, sigh in frustration, cry in sorrow, and laugh and smile at the beautiful connections I can forge through social media as I remember that my character belongs to me. Maybe, just maybe, even though it’s not nature, social media can be a way we come to know ourselves once more.