Patrick Jovaras

About Patrick Jovaras

Patrick is a grumpy freelance writer who lives in Melbourne where he writes essays, songs and stories. Patrick cares deeply about appearing not to care and is a lot tougher than he looks.

Musing on loneliness in the Digital Age

You might say that the biggest fear we hold as humans is being lonely, second only to probably death. But then maybe, if you think about it, if you were subjected to a long and slow lonely life you might well be ready to greet death with arms open wide.

So we populate our lives with other people, as both a validation of ourselves – so that we are recognised and liked, loved, even just seen – and for the joy that comes from company – laughing, loving, holding.

But is our modern way of life putting this ancient way of living at risk?

Are we moving our lives elsewhere into a digital realm at the cost of something more valuable?

Mental health is a rising problem around the country, much of it undiagnosed. There are many complex issues surrounding mental health but a growing part of it concerns social anxiety (formerly shyness, but that’s another story), depression and loneliness. Put simply, we are more alone than ever before.

The blame for this is easily laid at the feet of a complicated new world, too fast, and that has problems with communicating. We don’t know who our neighbours are, and families live spread out across the country – or the planet. Even simple exchanges of pleasantries among strangers are disappearing as we plug ourselves into our smart phones in public spaces. Every generation tends to believe they are seeing the world turn to shit when compared to the way things were when they first laid eyes on it.

But, now, let’s pretend for just a second that the techno revolution hasn’t transformed us all into disconnected, narcissistic, lonely little saps. That the pervading image of a modern human is not one locked away in their room, pale-skinned and sick-looking, with the iridescent glow of a computer screen the only light, both figurative and physical, in an otherwise dark life.

Let’s imagine that we have not all succumbed to lives of hopeless loneliness.

Could this loneliness epidemic be an effect of people clinging to social norms of a bygone era at a time when the world is moving forward into a new age of communication? That anyone who fails to join life where it’s going is just waiting to become evolutionary waste?

A side-note in the history of the future.

It doesn’t matter whether you think this is good or bad (push me and I’d probably say bad) – it is far more important to identify what is true, and accept the truth – the world changes, it’s in your interest to change with it.

So, what might the future of human connection look like?

As we all become increasingly engaged with Internet-based social behaviour that provides us with the illusion of belonging to a community, ie, a social network, is it those who decide to opt out of the illusion who will inevitably find themselves alone?

If the majority buys into the online world, if we throw our bag in with the future, spiritual consequences be damned, might we all become uniquely positioned to understand each other’s new and modern kind of loneliness?

That which disconnects us will bring us together.

I understand your isolation, your tightrope walk over the nadir, your burning desire to be felt, I understand – because I feel it too.

The disconnected one then becomes she who does not spend her evening with neck cranked downwards into the steely glow of a smart-phone. Regardless of how real and immediate and right-there the surrounds of the restaurant or park or bedroom, the world of others, “the connected,” is elsewhere. And what is real may not be enough to combat that hollow feeling inside left by the absence of others, the quiet horror of having no soul, online or off, with which to share life.

And maybe it doesn’t matter how real or true the online experience actually, physically, is? If we take our life to simply be the culmination of our observations, thoughts and feelings, then it perhaps doesn’t really matter where those stimulations come from.

So when your eyes are locked in and your thumb starts swiping, and that real world anxiety we carry around fades away and we enter a new world where we can project a version of our best self – who cares that it isn’t “real”?

It is difficult to argue that there is anything actually unreal about what we feel in this process. And if this results in contact and connections with others, regardless of the odd mediation that technology provides, surely this is a good thing?

Of course, you still have that one hand free to experience the physical world, to pick your nose or eat or stroke the neck of a lover in bed.

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