Stop, I said to myself. Please, I implored. Turn it off and let me sleep.


It was 11pm, and while gathering the motivation to shower and clean up that day’s mess, I was ruthlessly held in the grip of the Instagram app. It’s terrible how easy it is to find people on there, with the accuracy and scope of the search feature. An ex-friend or cousin: they’re all waiting, with trendy usernames, to be discovered and professionally stalked (I consider myself excellent at finding unnecessary information online). The ‘suggested follows’ curried me into continuing my great crusade, and I found out lots of things: Lauren is starting a programme at NYU this fall, Jaymee recently went to Bali, and Liam still has that golden Lab we all forgot about. Sorry Liam.

When I finally turned all the lights off and made the fridge stop beeping, I was surprised. I didn’t feel empty, rejected, or metaphorically homeless – I felt inspired and strengthened in my own beliefs and outlook. I love to find out what is going on in the world, especially in the lives of my peers – most of whom are frequent users of social media and technology. It’s particularly delightful to acquire insight into the life of someone you will probably never meet – because hey look! They have the same middle name as you and you both can’t stop raving about bando planners – excitedly taps like button. It’s nice to follow niche musicians and artists, that sympathize the same emotion and impassionate qualities in their works. It’s also encouraging to see an author post their word count, and very reassuring when they groan about writing struggles, in tune with my own passionate complaining. They make me feel less alone.


When I was planning to move overseas for five months, I was slightly unsure. That’s a long time, and when the prospective city is miles away from your own, you can’t just fly back when you feel like sipping on a local brew. You have to meet new people, try new things, and embed yourself in a new community. Terrifying, right? So just like any sensible millenial, I messaged students doing the course I planned on doing, and expressed all my curiousity and fear through short Instagram DM’s. These wonderful people shared their experience, insight, and advice, even relating to obscure however extremely important issues (e.g. cafeteria food quality). They made me feel less alone.


There’s been times when technology has feigned connection, and shoved me into corners of isolation I didn’t think recoverable. In my younger days, when shyness still held words back in my throat, I used to use it as a placeholder for real conversation. It’s easier to type words than say them aloud, and more comfortable to look at someone through a screen than in the eye. To escape awkward situations, I’d become busy with phone admin, even if my phone was dead (pre-teen years are rough, man). My stark change in attitude happened when I realized how desperate everybody is for connection, beneath whatever façade of rudeness or arrogance they display. Also, awkward silences will always come to an end – they absolutely do. 

Sometimes withdrawal because of technology isn’t intentional, it just happens. I rarely choose to be distracted, I only realize it later in remorse, as I check my sudoku score in astonishment. I don’t find it hard to put my phone down when I am in good company, though, because the pull of an Instagram livestream is less tempting when the banter you’re having in real life is hardly surpassable. My only question is if the banter gets dry, salty, or unbelievably boring, does everybody reach for their phone? I see it in class, and even in close friend groups, where hanging out is a diverse mix of talking, meme-sharing, and scrolling. Less real connection makes people more alone.


Loneliness allegedly affects your brain the same way physical pain does, which is reason enough for it to be taken seriously. The causes of it are varied and traversable, but technology is only a factor if that person has given it higher value than what it should have. Maybe it’s just happened, and dinners without a selfie, snapchat, or story, seem outdated and lame. Maybe we’re happier now that we’re sharing the mundane, prosaic lives we live. Maybe it’s wonderful that your mum can’t separate you and your pals by putting you in different rooms.

Being able to connect with anybody, at literally any moment, has made my life less lonely. If I’m at a party, and no one is keen on conversation, I can send videos to my friend, and we can laugh at how awkward it is. If I’m feeling the worst shade of blue, I know my best friend is a skype call away and that small cure is cheap, but precious relief. I love to converse about varieties of cheese (hmu!) and it’s convenient to do this over text, where the neccessary screenshots and gifs can be included.

These exciting advantages of technology wouldn’t be as fulfilling if I didn’t go round and pat their dog sometimes. If I didn’t show them real tears, make them real tea, maybe I would feel more alone, glued to false community and desperate cries for attention. Digital emotion and empathy don’t exist, so I don’t look for it. I find it on somebody’s couch, in their kitchen, or in the intonations of their encouragement.


The way technology works for us and brings us into community is by enhancing what’s already there. Without sowing into relationship, or acquainting yourself with real people, computers will become the great isolators we always suspected. Phones will only weaken posture and increase the cost of communicating if we’re more obssessed with a digital reality than our own. The movement of your fingers and the direction of your eyes are your responsibility, and they’re never idle: they’re always invested in something.

Of course, sometimes it’s a collective error. Groups where some can’t put their phone down might delicately fall apart, and public transport has become an independent experience now that everyone has gaming apps (to be honest, I’m not complaining – I’m rarely in the mood for mid-subway small talk). From my personal observation, there’s less spontaneous interaction and side by side commentary from strangers. On masse, it looks like we’re accelerating away from each other, and withdrawing friendliness as fast as bills from an ATM, which may be true – but maybe it’s because we’re speeding towards greater relationships with people we adore.

Fine art, that’s what it is: a lifestyle complemented by technology, not deadened. Some of it is out of your control, if you have obssessive gamer friends, or compulsive feed refreshers (is this a medical condition yet?). To sound terribly cliché, the upside is that there is a lot you can control. There is a lot of fresh air to be swallowed, and a lot of people to smile at. The solution for avoiding loneliness and enjoying technology: balance. Board games, cookies, and pool trips are good too.


Mads xx


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