Social Estrangement: Lives in Multiple Realms

By Donald Hutchins IV

I’ve come to notice a harrowing reality that many younger folks seem embedded in: online social media. From Facebook to Tinder to Tumblr to the PlayStore, where users can run amok downloading music, games, and countless other facets of entertainment. Whether we’re doing our hair in the morning or prepping for our next morning before bed: we are plugged in.

For some folks, this is a non-issue. For others, it’s an addiction like no other– especially when you’re completely unaware of it. If sitting for a period without FB or Snapchat brings you discomfort, makes you edgy or anxious, ask yourself how long you’ve been without them. If you can’t remember, or if you respond sarcastically(“I washed my hands five minutes ago and didn’t have my phone the whole time”), perhaps you could use some time away from it– and some sun.

As a senior at UMF, I cannot count how many people I’ve seen, on-campus and off, that walk right into the crosswalk without looking or paying attention, because their head’s down focusing on the keypad. I’ve seen multiple lunch tables, study sessions, and “hang outs” become gaggles of screen-lookers; four or five or more “friends” actively not engaging each other, talking, or even looking at one another. What could you possibly be doing that’s so pressing as to distract you from the human in front of you?

My sister is in middle school. She doesn’t go any part of the day without her phone. I had a Tracfone in middle school and couldn’t wait to stop using it whenever I got a call or text(minutes, man, they costly!). Plus, I had people around me– not many and not very enjoyable people, but it didn’t matter. She’s got countless friends and remains active in dance and Girl Scouts. But her daily activities revolve around whatever occurs behind the screen of a phone, laptop, or tablet.

THIS IS A PROBLEM, PEOPLE. And I’ll tell you why. Remember back to when imaginary friends were prominent? Maybe or not. I had one, even when I had alot of friends in my life. Perhaps because there’s freedom in it: you make the friend, so they fit in any situation. You make the rules and the game by which you and, ultimately, yourself play in. And that’s pretty cool. But what happens when you amplify that freedom? What happens when you harness it into something physical?

I once had a terrible obsession about keeping FB on 24/7. There was something about having everyone you know in one place, at one time, all generally there for the same thing. It’s like an open party, all the time– you can talk, laugh, share ideas, music, pictures, games– it’s like a creative playground, but you build it yourself. For the longest time, it was all about being in that space. So much potential with that many minds and collaborative spirits. But it never went anywhere. Because it’s behind a screen, stationary, and non-existent without a power source and wifi.

I had given up video games, got a skateboard, smoked pot and cigars, and joined track and field for a bit before I shook that obsession. I’m not sure what shook me, outside of the pot. Once I was toking, I had far less interest in material things and nonsense, and far more interest in being active and simply going outside. It was awesome! Five years of continuous Xbox and all-nighters really put me into Plato’s cave, but I couldn’t wait to get out into the light once I’d gotten a taste of it.

Being ingrained in both social media and online gaming had a weird way of keeping me pinned to routines and habits. Getting away from them, with my addictive personality, brought a lot of new opportunities for me to try new things and be more spontaneous. My freshman year in college was loaded with that, so I was more than prepared. We went wild: howling at the moon intoxicated, mountain running, street and hall sports, dorm parties, camp-outs, and far too much more to list out here. I had finally found that playground I had an affinity for– and I found it in reality!

Youngsters these days, I’m afraid, are very far from where I was. There’s, perhaps, an equal divide of interest for reality and interwebs, possibly because they coexist in the same physical space. But one of them is a more ethereal space, an alternate realm of being. Behind the screen is nothing, but with the proper conditions it is a portal to an ever-evolving, expanding, compounding, confounding experience that countless individuals, globally, can access together. And this experience, this realm, has emerged within about 20 years or so.

I remember working with dial up and thinking “fuck this, the internet’s boring”. Incredibly few children have this experience today, and the one’s that do may respond with tantrums or a strong pursuit of wifi, in order to access the playground everyone else is on. This is a dangerous place to be, as humans, since we are physical beings with a tinge of something else(consciousness, et al,). While the internet seems a sort of wild west, it does have boundaries and the people that understand them are far more capable in the interrealm than a blogger or seasoned researcher.

We’ve gotten to the point that we share everything with the interrealm. Our names and ages, which I remember being told explicitly not to put online, are now our email addresses. Our relationships, friends, family: public information for anyone to see. Our intimate moments and interests: marketing fuel. Our comments, posts, and searches: evidence, in the event the CIA can use it against you. Everything done through the web is noted, saved, and catalogued somewhere that you cannot get to it. The government absolutely has your dick pics.

Most applications on your smartphone won’t work without “permissions”, which if given, allows apps from your memo pad to Spotify to collect data from your contacts, messages, camera, microphone, and more. In order to make a call on your phone, you have to let it record at will. I don’t think even Edward Snowden had this kind of surveillance in mind when he acted against it. I bet George Orwell’s rolling in his grave, trying to figure out how the hell we got folks to freak out when the camera isn’t on them. Big Brother had his work done for him with all the affluence production in 1980’s America.

I’ve gotten off my point now. The interrealm is a space between experience and the pursuit of experience. It is simultaneously everything we want and everything we don’t want, but it is the precursor to that understanding. If you have ever gotten exactly what you want in a situation, you know that the feeling of satisfaction is temporary– what once makes you happy, done again, may not. The interrealm capitalizes on that phenomenon. While there’s an intention and a purpose for it, there’s always auxiliaries at play. If you’ve ever gone to check your email and found yourself on FB 40 minutes later, you’ve experienced them.

There is a grand distractionary essence of the interrealm, and I’ve begun to think that it’s not completely resultant of humans. AI is a big thing now, and the most advanced to date, last year, created its own language. While humans have built something extraordinary outside of themselves, and sort of outside the physical realm, it’s working against the initial intentions. I am concerned with the degree that my sister, my fellows students, and my fellow humans are implanting themselves in a realm they’ll never fully embody; and thus, will effectively render both the physical realm and interrealm unsatisfactory.

In finding this divided reality unsatisfactory, I feel as though individuals with grow increasingly estranged from their reality and will begin to disassociate and perhaps even loathe the lives they live and the world they occupy.  I believe this has already begun, as many folks I’ve engaged in the past few years have gradually lost the faculties of humanhood that are normally attributed to life and being. The capabilities for sociality are completely different in generation Y than they are in generation Z. Gen. Y, in essence, shows incredible variability from any norms imposed upon them.

If we, as a species, is to falter to a creation of our own, I’m a fan of Mary Shelley. It’s only natural that human pursuits run far and wind until they’ve lost their original purpose and appropriate a new one. My main concerns lie in the fact that our experience of the now is lacking when practically an entire class of freshman are absent from the college environment because they’re hold up in their dorms, on social media or simply wondering how to talk to people. Anxiety, social disorders, introversion, and similar qualities also play a factor, I’m sure.

This is, certainly, a dynamic and newly attended to issue and must be treated as such. I’ve brought it up because it is strange that we now collect friends on FB like dolls on a shelf. It’s strange that dating is now practically exclusive to  social media platforms that do nothing to foster healthy, beneficial interactions between people. It’s strange that countless people are more intrigued by and connected to an illusory environment, a fabricated space, than they are the physical space around them. This viewpoint may be an exclusive privilege of mine, making me the strange and estranged one. But perhaps that’s what we get when everything’s just a click away: more unbounded strangeness with less to make sense of it all.

Cheers to my viewpoint, then– I’ll take it.

The Omnipresident

By Donald Hutchins IV

“That is our greatest danger, becoming used to it and thinking that it is normal. It is not normal. It is an outrage. And never, ever lose your sense of outrage.” ~ Bernie Sanders

I heard recently about a woman who, since January, wakes up in the morning and finds her Twitter overloaded by Donald Trump’s feed. Initially, she was slightly bothered at the manner in which a supposed leader would represent himself, but as the days past with his inauguration on the horizon there seemed potential hope. But alas– nah. Trump’s actively tweeting as POTUS, and whether it’s him or a sly sociopathic small child is growing increasingly indiscernible. As the woman preps for bed at night, and as she awakes to the morning sun: it is always a wonder at what “the president” will say or do next. Never does she get a break, it seems, since he’s infiltrated a uniquely intimate part of her everyday life as a citizen.

I’ve been experiencing this similar phenomenon, and I’m certainly disappointed. The degree to which Donald Trump was an abhorrent and unabashedly disapproved choice for the position he’s claimed initially sparked outrage and a level of concern that America hasn’t seen since it became ‘Murica. Overnight, it seemed like the KKK and white nationalist groups, plus individual provocatuers and trouble-makers went for a rousing night on the town(when no one could see them) to spread fliers about their club, and desecrate homes and graveyards with petty hate-speak and horrendously drawn swastikas. (I mean really, how can they be a superior race if they can’t draw a swastika properly– it’s the symbol of your people and you haven’t even practiced it? Come the fuck on.)

The Donald’s got a monstrous PR issue, and it’s almost if he’s straddled it for his own undoing. While Obama’s lengthy pauses in speech mode and Bush and Clintons’ mental-deficiency touted “southern charm” were relatively painful with great focus, you could ignore them. The Tri-Hard dynasty of the last four decades made it easier to focus on the grander issues and topics they were addressing, even if getting to those issues was a tedious bore. Trump’s adoption of nightly Twitter escapades has brought the level of the presidency down to the level of a fourth-grader who didn’t read Treasure Island over break, was called on first day of class to discuss the book, and who stormed out of class to started a frustrated social media campaign for “Blue Beard the Pirate”, because “That is the pirate– he’s the best pirate, I KNOW HIM WELL!”

The youngsters’ mum and dad can’t get it through to him, but at least they can ground the child. Trump’s literally half a dog let off the chain– only half ‘cause a full dog would be more capable and intelligent in a position of leadership. There’s a mess being made of our country and of our entire image as Americans, and you can track it in real time on Twitter. You can also attribute it to the seriously impediments of our leadership. Just as appallingly quixotic: those in Trump’s cabinet are just as embarrassingly destructive and obstructive to reality as he is. Their ideals revolve around themselves and pay no mind to the infractions that, sooner or later, will be imposed on them, their character, their personality, or all of the above.

When you lie to an entire country about climate change and the need for a changing society, when you pander with 1800’s sentiment to the most vulnerable populous about “killers, rapists, and thieves” coming from afar to ruin what you have, when you yell at rallies for the little guy and then steal their health insurance, their PBS, their Meals on Wheels, only to allocate that funding to the military, where we spend billions on Tomahawk missiles that get dropped on Syrian children, and then tell the survivors to get fucked when they can’t stay in their country that we bombed. When you stoke the ages-outdated rhetoric that drives wedges in between folks, and when you’re left unbounded in your own ego to act out and run amok: you have become a danger to yourself and all those around you. You have become the greatest of all evils. Hitler harking from atop a barstool to start the Beer Hall Putsch had more credibility than our current president, senate, and congress. (And as a Grammar Nazi, I refuse to give them the privilege of being capitalized here. Their unprofessionalism doesn’t warrant it.)

Alas, however, I must admit that I’d seen this mess coming. In early 2016, I jokingly entertained the possibility of all efforts and power structures getting handed over to the GOP since they wanted them so badly. I thought “suuuuure, you can have it, you think you’re so strong and capable.” Then, resultant of their undoing, which is merely a matter of time in any period, they would never be given the chance again to even try. Obstructing Obama’s ideas for eight years, they take over, can’t do shit because their’s doesn’t actually smell any better than anyone else’s and that’s all they brought to the party, aaaaaaand the public makes them a mockery until a progressive steps in to get some real work done. Oh boy, do I wish I could’ve made that projection with a little less satire. While it was funny then, and hasn’t been now, there maybe something to the humorous nature of this whole situation. What’s a great way to piss off a child, after all: make fun of them. Laugh!

For the woman on Twitter, myself, and the rest of us, The Donald has become a sort of omnipresident: always there, lurking in our daily lives. He’s apart of every discussion and joke and struggle we face nowadays. Talking about climate change in a college class until someone sarcastically boasts “but clean coal’s the real future– climate’s a hoax from China!”; trying to help the hungry and the homeless while knowing full-well that funding for these causes is now going to make bombs to kill more civilians and create more refugees for Trump to ignore. Having folks bolster the “grab her by the pussy” mentality, whether you’re a women or man(I’ve had women defend themselves as “masters of the blowjob” staying in the kitchen until they can “grab their husbands by the dick”, and so on– ick.) If these haven’t been your experience, surely you’ve seen an article or post or comment about Trump and his ushering in of the end on social media. Surely you’ve felt the negative vibes each time he says something on Twitter or pushes another executive order, and the impending consequences plague your brain like a million unanswered pressing questions.

I see a normalization of the nonsense and negativity– confirming the subliminal unconscious nihilism that’s become an American value. I already see people rolling their eyes in silence when Trump takes another vacation or appears at another press conference, but I must encourage you to fight those normalizing behaviors. You’re not seeing the normal, and it’s doesn’t have to even seem normal– if you laugh. It’s hilarious that Trump and his cronies think what they’re doing is acceptable, and the greatest way to make them feel outright weird is to put them centerstage where they want to be, but to frame it as the joke it really is. “Climate change, Chinese hoax? HAHAHA, wow”, then ensues a constructive discussion that at least recognizes the 97% global scientists’ consensus on the matter. Everyone can laugh, everyone can learn something, but most notably: nothing ridiculous becomes normal, acceptable, and permissible. When ridiculousness arises, laugh at it! Make it known for what it is: a joke, whether good or bad.

As individual citizens, we have the power to determine what we accept to be truth, what we feel is acceptable in the world. Donald Trump, his cabinet, his supporters have no basis in reality. Bring them back from the 1860’s, 1920’s, 1950’s; bring them back from their delusions and unfounded rhetoric. When you tune out in class and begin floating in the ethereal for long enough to snore, typically the instructor will do something mildly embarrassing which, itself, either wakes you up or leads the rest of the class to laugh like an alarm clock. Very quickly, you learn not to fall asleep in class. Trump’s asleep at the wheel of the presidency– or rather, he’s golfing( like he said he wouldn’t be). Every chance you get, expose him. Make it obvious that he’s the joke, make his mistakes an anticipated punchline, make him a walking pun– the lowest and most powerful comedic tool. As soon as the laugher starts and grows to a roar, the sooner we can snap him out of his affluent trance of disintegration. As soon as he sees the moves being made against him, he’ll act even more irrationally than he has. Then our united front of humor can shift towards scrutiny, and that’s where we’ll see him squirm. That’s when he’ll be eating his own medicine.