The china-white bedside telephone could have connected me up with things, but there it sat, dumb as a death’s head.
From Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’.
When I read this line in the novel today, it seemed to strike me as familiar. The situation isn’t very different from what we can see around ourselves in, if not our own lives, in the lives of most people around us. Except, the intensity seems to have escalated.
A lot of people seem to feel lonely in the absence of being contacted. While they may be physically alone, they aren’t really. If they were, they would feel lonely. And it seems rather justified to me. You are on facebook, and it tells you that you have 600 friends. There are about a zillion ways that somebody could catch your attention through the social network, and communicate with you. That would mean that they were thinking about you while signalling it to you. And it isn’t just a wall post or a message in your inbox anymore. They could tag your name while reposting a meme that they stumbled upon- that would mean that you and them connect on some level, exclusively. They could tag you in a photograph and tell the world that you spent time, which is oh so precious, together. You might have not done anything special or made memories of substance, but you do not have to reveal that to the world. Top it off with a status about what a great time you had and it will be your very own dirty little secret. Somebody could mention you in a comment, like your photograph, your status message, or comment in agreement with your politically-charged note. Just adding you as a friend is a signal of some level of interest. Although the quicker you’re added post-rendezvous, the higher the level of interest.
This ability of somebody to grab your attention and send so many signs your way is absolutely overwhelming when you are sucked into the virtual world. In fact, it reminds me of ‘the totem of chat’ comment in the very first episode of the show, ‘Girls’. “Didn’t you say texting is like the lowest form of communication on the pillar of chat?” Marnie, the protagonist enquires with her best friend, who tells her that facebook is the lowest, “followed by Gchat, then texting, then email, then phone; face-to-face is of course ideal, but it’s not of this time.” And if somebody, rather nobody is using ANY of these media to even say hi to you every other moment when you are not engaged in something, it could feel as if nobody is thinking of you. None of your 600 facebook friends. Or those 300-odd contacts on your phone. Or one of your 15 best friends. Or your parents. Or somebody who had promised to, maybe?
In the book, the character has just returned home after a rather uneventful evening that she was earlier looking forward to as a chance to explore New York city, where she is something of an intern for the summer. In fact, she had returned only after feeling utterly ignored and inconsequential when her friend and a rather attractive man had begun making out (because I think that’s what ‘jitterbugging’ means) at the latter’s apartment, of which, at that moment, the three were the only occupants.
Actually, I would like to bore you a little more with how I theorize the ‘totem of chat’. Facebook’s lowest because somebody could either contact you on it and wait for you sign in to read it at your own leisure, or they could chat you up when you are visibly online, although you might not be exclusively available only on facebook at that moment. Therefore, the smartest way would be Gchat. You announce to the world that you available to communicate and somebody interested to make use of it pings you. Texting happens rather randomly. There is no profile of you to remind somebody of you, as is the case on facebook. They likely thought of you at their own behest, and texted you as a signal of claim on that bit of your time which you are not openly communicating as available. Although, I think Whatsapp, with its timestamp, muddles this up a bit.
BUT, it is mandatory to keep texts short and sweet so as to not be smotted or come across as needy. They are heavily dependent on the other person’s willingness and ability to carry on the conversation. But an e-mail conveys so much privilege, that it is the modern equivalent of a letter. A letter that was painstakingly written, with care taken to avoid the ink from blotting, every word carefully thought out, written, and then re-read, and struck out and replaced by another one. Such is a letter. An e-mail does not necessarily showcase this thought, but nonetheless, quite a bit of work goes into it. It seems to mean that I am going to send you this lovely, long, thoughtful message, and it is going to be expressive and reply/thought-provoking. Yet, it falls short of the courage to make a claim on your time as and when the person feels like it. Besides, the tone of each word is open to interpretation, especially if the writer’s not a fantastic communicator or is at discomfort in the language the e-mail is being written in. Both of these are conquered when a person just rings you up. It says, unless you are doing something absolutely crucial, I want to talk to you, and although I take it upon myself to initiate the conversation and make it meaningful, I hope and require you to contribute to it as well.
And the virtual world seems to tell us that several people have access to you through all these channels, and when you log in to facebook and see no new notifications, and are just sitting there looking at all your gadgets with thoughts swirling in your head that you would prefer to communicate rather than over-think, then it seems to be perfectly justified to feel lonely, because nobody seems to want to know about them. Right?
Check out the video; there are several related ideas that are being thrown around and I have picked up on of late. I have been speaking to friends about it, and it seems relevant to ponder about it. I would love to hear if you have an opinion on it too.