Failure To Connect

by: Heather Fawn

Seemingly trapped by social media’s ceaseless lure, in an attempt to forge a connection with the “real” world…..

It has been said, “I think, therefore I am.” I disagree. “I speak, therefore I am,” is more palpable – as, without a voice ((Communication with others….)), no one can hear you, and you are invisible.

I’ll be the first to admit it, social media is a terrible place for ideas. Your posts get funneled between pictures of afterbirth and clowns riding llamas. Your friends roll their eyes at your 28th feminist post of the day. Perhaps you’ll even be unfriended over a politically-fueled temper tantrum.

But then again, social media is a great place for ideas. You post something about women’s rights and a friend picks it up and shares it. You gripe about politics and an apathetic co-worker actually opens up to you with amazing insights. You lament the decline of civilization via celebrity worship and the friend who takes an hour to get ready in the morning confides that she’s sick of the idea that beauty is a little box she has to check every day.

When I wake up in the morning, I judge myself for looking at Facebook. I feel guilty about looking at Twitter, and I could have built an empire during all the hours I have spent on the internet. I don’t even know if I am well-informed, because I am an emotional creature who is pulled to certain topics, which I dig at until I am an expert, blatantly ignoring those which have less of an emotional tug. Instead of going to the library (which I actually love to do), I pore over articles and blogs and headlines online. I can spend all of the next day trying to get a laugh out of Youtube and Netflix to make up for the fatigue I inflict upon myself with this incessant reading.

If you are a Facebook friend, you may have even seen my attempts to dislodge myself from this clearly unhealthy obsession with information and, admittedly, the unrealistic idea that Facebook keeps me connected to friends and acquaintances across the globe. I all but deleted my account after a public announcement of my intent to do so, only to be held back by the regrettable realization that Spotify, my soulless (yet affordable) music-stealing application of choice, is connected to my Facebook account, and I have to pay attention every month (which I always seem to forget to do) so I can see when the money (right – money!) is withdrawn from my account and wait 28-29 days from then to switch over to an account that isn’t connected to anything else I lay claim to on the internet.

Since I was 14, the internet has opened up the world for me. I am an introvert, and I found a way to connect to everything else without even needing to vocalize. I’ve evolved from incessant instant messaging to blogging to MySpace to Facebook to a Suicide Girls (member, not model) account to Twitter. I put tiny bits of my personality all over the internet, and I did it expecting something in return – I expected connection. Whether from my isolation before I could drive a car to my isolation in Japan to my inexplicable lack of a social circle since my move back to the States, the internet – particularly social media – holds this possible key to giving me meaningful friendships and a purpose.

At some point, I became wise to this fallacy, and I took action. I went to college, then studied abroad, then attended art school, then graduate school in Australia, then I taught in Japan, all before ambling naively back to the States. Believe it or not, these weren’t just singular goals – I thought my holy grail of connection and social meaning was awaiting me at the very next stop. However, the only time I actually realized my quest for an interactive wonderland was in Japan as an exchange student. But it was short-lived, and I don’t even know how it happened. It just happened. I don’t know why it never happened again, because I didn’t do anything in particular for it to happen in the first place. I simply showed up.

I remain at a serious cross-roads when it comes to the internet, because I can’t decide whether it is my problem or my solution. There were times when I didn’t even have internet access, and my life was more social, but those connections have since been lost for reasons beyond my limited realm of control. I am obviously mistaken in thinking that the internet is going to help me conjure up the people I need, but I can’t help but think that if I keep trying, there will be some kind of mysterious life-hack I will perform by accident, and there will be a place for me.

It’s not that I haven’t found my place, but maybe my place is not what I had envisioned. For example, after many years of being openly political with a strong sense of social justice, certain friends and acquaintances gently side with me, many times in private, and that is validating on a small, quiet scale. But truth is that I am starting to feel deeply fatigued by all of the reading and ruminating I do, because for all my red-faced cries for equality and understanding, the news makes me really sad and frustrated, to the point that I can’t watch it without getting stressed out and feeling more or less helpless. People have pointed out that this is unhealthy, and I know that, but it’s my default. If I change that, I feel that I would be changing a fundamental part of myself, so I groan, shudder, and wince through the daily news and opinion pieces.

After standing up for myself to my family, I no longer have a blood family. I have an uncle who remembers our joint birthday and pleads with me to come on family trips, trips on which I imagine having to face my abusers, and I refuse. No one could have ever even begun to explain to me the consequences, both good and horrible, of confronting my mother on the injustices my siblings and I faced. They are pervasive and permanent.

I have little to describe in terms of a social circle, and the thought of a major life event such as a wedding or the birth of a child is bittersweet, because I don’t know who I could even ask to attend. The adage that one must give to receive is certainly not lost on me, but people grow and change and find new connections with others, and that is something that can’t be helped. I have always given what I could to friends. When I was in Australia I tried platonic dating. When I was in Japan I tried speaking partners. When I was in North Carolina I tried everything once, and I even set up a Meetup group here in South Carolina (it has 4 members but no one has attended an event).

This year was the second year that I almost moved to Oklahoma to live with my best friend, but my graduate school plans fell through (actually, my application was rejected). Right around this same time, a guy drove out of his way on his trip back to South Carolina to meet me, a girl in Durham, NC he started talking to on the internet. I was set to spend a lot of money on one class to prove my worth at the school that gave my beautiful friend such a solid background in our field of teaching, but my plans changed abruptly as I learned of a different way my future could play out. Six months later, I love and miss my friend just the same as I always have, but I am working on a new endeavor with many complicated steps involved. Not to mention the fact that I moved to South Carolina to be with the guy who drove out of his way, a guy who called me just an hour after we had parted ways, with whom I have never really stopped talking since the day we met.

As my life continues to intertwine with someone else’s in very meaningful ways, I am now actually more accountable for my actions, because they affect another. Before, I could just sink deeply into my introvert ways, allowing the internet to be a surrogate for meaningful connection. It was my default, and still kind of is. But when you live your life in front of someone else, anyone who cares, you have to take the impact of your behavior on them into account. When you have to tell someone, “I don’t really have many friends, and I don’t have a family,” that reality stings. Perhaps I am not living life completely even, though I really have tried to have an offline existence. If I took all of my social media aliases and deleted them right now, the impact on others would be negligible, but maybe that would open up a space for a friend in real life. This doesn’t really have a basis in reality that I can readily see, but it seems like a strategy for making time for possibilities.

I don’t know if the internet is really preventing me from having a social life, because in some ways, I feel that the internet is the only reason I have any connections these days. But I’m not getting the results I want, so something needs to change. The internet has done me a lot of good, but maybe there are other ways of existing. After 15 years, I don’t know how going mostly offline will affect me, but the only way to find out is to go ahead and give it a try. I don’t even know if I can. Perhaps I am an addict? But I want my life to have meaning, and real, live people in it. True, the internet has helped me find an amazing, passionate, happy-go-lucky significant other whom I am giddy about sharing my days with. It can be a great tool. But I probably need to see the sun. And to take a shower. And eat lunch. So, I think I need an intervention.

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