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.

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