Has the screen affected our ability to truly connect?
I saw her from a distance and was smitten. Everything around her disappeared and she took center stage, shining bright like a diamond amidst the masses. My heart was pounding, my patience wearing thin; I had to have her. When I took her by the hand, I was finally fulfilled. I am of course talking about the newest iPhone.
Being a modern man, I can only connect through the screen. Real human interaction has become an alien concept, a daunting foray into uncharted territory. Eye contact with Siri is so much easier. Everything I need is on my phone anyway, so is everyone I know. Why wear your heart on your sleeve when you can slip into your pocket?
The tangible world is a scary place that I no longer have to face. Technology has advanced so much that being a homebody has become more exciting than venturing outside: food comes to my door, my work is an email away and my money has metamorphosed into a plastic card. Even I have morphed from a human into a profile.
And maybe it’s for the best. I’ve tried to find love in human form and it’s no easy feat. Where does one go? To a couples only nightclub as a single guy? To a house party in Maadi where everyone is more spaced out than Tawfik Okasha’s brain? Or to a conference at a European cultural center to listen to Claudette lecture about the prevalence of bestiality in the Egyptian countryside while feasting on a burger? The cow prefers to be fucked than to be your sandwich, Claudette.
So I accept my fate as an avatar looking for companionship in the virtual sphere, condensing my emotions into emoticons, swiping right at potential and fishing for other ‘active’ little green dots trying to quell their solitude in the arms of an inbox. And when your pants are in capital letters, fontplay can lead you to foreplay. This is no longer the age of face to face, but the era of Facebook to Facebook.
Granted, I am stripped of real physical intimacy but, to be honest, I’m much more comfortable cuddling with Netflix than with flesh. Kissing Claire Underwood goodnight is less taxing than picking up Claire’s underwear on my way to work. And on the occasion that my online exploits do generate physical contact, I am incapable of connecting emotionally, my feelings repressed in the hidden folders of my soul.
This is the modern world: hashtags have replaced language, conversation has been reduced to small-talk, advertising masquerades as art and poetry has been disfigured on Instagram by the likes of Rupi Kaur. People can now even milk a career as product placements. We have become the décor of capitalism, portable billboards selling emptiness packaged as individuality.
It is therefore, perhaps, unsurprising that love can only make a pop-up appearance into our lives; that connection has become a fast food commodity to be consumed before being disposed of. To fuck has never been easier, but to feel? You might need a pill for that. Sleeping with someone puts us more at ease than sleeping next to someone. Affection is the new third base.
I have convinced myself that I am content this way, that the only connection I need is a Wi-Fi, but if this were truly the case, why am I – like 86% of millennials - submerged by a crippling feeling of isolation and loneliness?
If Darwin were alive today, he’d probably update his theory of evolution and categorise us as semi-androids. In world where there has never been so much interconnectivity, there has also probably never been so much disconnect from the essence of human life: connection, affection, meaning. If the best things in life are free, why is it that we end up paying for them?
Therapy, yoga, life coaching, Ayahuasca, homeopathy, wellness centers have all capitalised on the modern feeling of emptiness and loneliness and their consequences (chronic illnesses), but they repeat the same capitalistic pattern of putting the “I” at the center of the equation, as if the solution can only come inwards not outwards – or even worse - as if our inner and outer worlds are not inherently connected.
Perhaps that’s because we are no longer equipped to fully immerse ourselves in any other love than self-love, having been shown that exposing our vulnerability does not bring the other closer but drives them away. So we look within for transcendence and meaning, and we look outwards, at our screen, for distraction and pleasure.
As the world suddenly shrinks into my room in the wee hours of the night, people are put on silent while my phone vibrates an illusion of company. Outside my door, I can hear timid footsteps, looking, itching, pleading for seconds of shivers out of comatose life; but Man has no respect for the evanescence of Time, and Time has no mercy for the cowardice of Man.
Main Image by Tiberiu Sirbu.