Sunday, January 5, 2014

How Virtually No Access to Social Media Became Sauron's Eye, Pandora's Box, and My Achilles Heel

This should not be newsworthy, really. And yet, I see them everywhere, fingers on a glass plane, fleeting ever so slightly in between keys. Staring at the screen, whilst colorful images reflect on the surface of their eyes. A full, yet silent house of twenty-first century creatures. I am as guilty as you are in this quest for connection.

With the heat on and cold winds blowing outside the hotel window, fog settles on the surface, minimizing my field of vision. A week after finally basking in much-needed sunlight, I return to the gloom of winter, to the cave that I knew too well. Bored, I scroll through my phone, despite limited access. Promotional emails were thrown in the trash and some messages were answered. Even so, I was remained uninterested in life. A finger reaches for Instagram, hoping that the app would allow for some entertainment. As the screen loaded, I glimpsed back at the window. Before I could write a message for help with the warmth of my fingertips, Instagram came to life, flashing photographs of dreamy holiday spots, perfect complexions, and envious lives.

More often than not, this is what social media feels like to me

By the time the photos got old, green was painted all over my face. Unlike the pictures before me, I had nothing to show, except for the grey skyline of Tokyo. Despite having it all, I sensed defeat.

Worst, even though I was quite aware of the green monster lurking in my suitcase and in my head, I was hooked. All I wanted to see was more and more photographs. At the time, I perceived it as mere boredom, a craving to be entertained by the sexy existence of friends and acquaintances. For three days, I continued to reach for my phone, in the middle of the idleness of sitting in the hospital, to check on everyone else.

Stupid for me to care what other people were up to, but at that instance, I saw it as getting some perspective on where I was in life, to measure how successful I was in my studies, romances, and sheer existence. Some heinous thoughts included, "Clearly I'm not as pretty as her or as thin as her and maybe that's why I don't have what she has." In the following days the thoughts turned much more passive aggressive and surprisingly assertive, "If I don't have what she has, I have two options. But do I want to conform to society? Do I need to? What am I trying to gain here?" Yes, I had meaningful conversations about myself and a small number of people about what life meant, about relationships and loss, as well as about society, but it was getting much, much too dark for Christmas Eve.

At the end of the trip, I came back to the tropics with a full tummy (which is clearly an issue), a bag of goodies served as enough distraction from further abominable reflections, and a stirring storm within me. I was angry, but had no one to blame. All I had was this app, a set of photographs, and myself for comparison. Maybe it was the sun, the heat, or the pungent smell of the sewers, but I realized that nothing is really real. As one of my dearest friends said, "Isn't showing off the purpose of social media?" Stuck in heavy Jakarta traffic, I saw the fog that blurred those pictures to perfection.

Technology has allowed today's twentysomethings to connect and communicate more rapidly than ever before. Never before, have we been able to keep tabs on other people's lives as easily as we could with Instagram or Twitter. Never before, have we been able to share our experiences as effortlessly as we could through blogs (such as this), Twitter, or Facebook. Equipped with unwarranted features have made it our lives super connected. On the one hand it opens a new world of possibilities, nowadays bloggers and YouTubers could generate income through social media. Friends and family members on opposite sides of the world have the tools to stay catch up and even see each other on a daily basis. Countable marriages begin from the Internet, be it OkCupid or a chatroom. No longer are we in the day and age of slow Internet access, which is wonderfully portrayed in the 90s rom-com You've Got Mail.

Along with advances, comes drawbacks. Tables are no longer filled with laughter and chatter, instead, many times over, we are clicking away on our phones, connecting with, perhaps, others around me, but not with those right in front of our noses. We are guilty of basing our relationships on what we see on-line, so much more so than twentysomethings in the 80s, 90s, even early 2000s, who glared at the phone, waiting for the latest date to call. Nowadays, oftentimes, we fixate on how rapidly someone responses, the content of their message, and even, the amount of emojis listed. With Instagram, I was infatuated by other people's lives, instead of focusing on mine. Without much alarm, I used the photos on Instagram as a measuring cup for my live's worth.

Though social media appears to be live's reliable projector, when it's rarely so

What's worst, I built profiles of the close friends I had had in high school, but only see once or twice a year, based on their selfies and food porn. I thought I understood, when I didn't. This tendency, made it even more difficult to communicate directly, once we were in the same room, on the same bench. Somehow I was too satisfied with what I had observed on the net, that I did not need or want to make much effort to get to know you again, despite months or even years of not meeting. Of course, this is juxtaposed by friends who are not active participants of social media, those who rarely post visual testimonies of their lives for everyone to see. Somehow, the longing to see a new photograph or to hear a new story pushes me to fetch my shovel and dig through the one or two years we had not been in touch. His/her virtual absence warranted for further exploration.

Admittedly, this tendency is on the agenda for deletion as it stunts from feeling that somewhat magnetic pull to enthusiastically speak with my friends. Another piece on the list is to remember that smokes and mirrors are know readily available on the net, be it through ideal camera angles, innovative filters, or fraudulent editing apps, which I, myself, am guilty of using. Concentrate on what's in front of you, instead of what's on the screen. Lately, following the reappearance of a few friends, I rediscovered the human connection evident in a small group of people or even a one-on-one session that often we search for a special connection, when they are actually right in front of us the entire time. I guess, what I'm trying to say is that it is worth to actually talk with your friends, instead of concentrating on taking the perfect group photo.

The screen on your smart phone, as similar as it is to Sauron's eye or Pandora's Box, should not be the foundation of your life or your relationship. Personally, I have found over and over again that it has become what Indonesian's like to call kacamata kuda, the glasses that racehorses and even wagon horses wear to minimize distraction. The tiny screen that regularly highlights my complexion and reflects on my eyes, easily become black holes that fog my perception of reality, much like the one that stopped me from venturing into an evening in Tokyo.

*Author owns rights to all the photos above

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