Although I'm in a committed relationship, and we live together and, quite honestly, do everything together, there are still days where I feel alone. Like I'm on a deserted island, isolated from all other life, and nobody can hear my cries for help. In recent years, I've found that many respected researchers have been reporting on loneliness - some even using the term "epidemic" to describe it. In a world of likes and follows, it can feel even more isolating, with FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out, if you didn't already know) becoming the norm. As a thirty year old, I'm fortunate - if you want to call it that - that I have come up in this world as it was developing around me. Starting with AIM, moving to MySpace which turned into Facebook (to Twitter, Snapchat, and now TikTok), it's been a little easier for me to understand. I've had the time to adapt with the ever changing landscape of social media. It's those younger than me - the Gen Zers - that have it hardest.
When I was their age, feelings of loneliness or social isolation were reserved for some moments on the schoolyard. Whether you were the most popular person or someone that felt they were a wall-flower, you might have felt that way at school. Everybody is trying their hardest to fit in - to find a person, a group, that will accept them for who they are. In the interim of finding your niche, there can be times of loneliness. But "in my time" - which isn't that far removed from the Gen Zers, since I'm a younger millennial - I was still able to escape those feelings. Who you were (or weren't) at school didn't define who you were at home, in your real life.
Now, with smartphones and notifications, loneliness follows you - lurking in the shadows, watching....waiting.
In my opinion, social media is the one to truly blame for these feelings of social isolation. That FOMO I talked about earlier? Social media, I feel, is to blame. It brings you back to the schoolyard days, where everybody is trying to summit Popularity Mountain. Some of those people are properly equipped: they have their hiking gear, a pack overflowing with the essentials. They're able to reach the peak of Popularity Mountain with ease. Most, I feel, may have some of the tools (hiking boots, perhaps), but they don't have much else. They're able to climb up as far as they can, but may never make it to summit. They might, however, be able to pick up something that those properly equipped dropped. They make it to the summit, only to be underwhelmed by the view, and turn around to go back to where they were.
It's in that space where I think I land. In my youth, I believe I was one of those people that had the tools to summit the mountain. Making friends was easy for me, but I wouldn't deem myself "popular"; I had the gift of gab and that was all. For some, that may be how popularity is defined: the amount of friends you have. But who are these friends, really? Instagram, to me, is the modern day Popularity Mountain. Every picture or video you post helps you reach the summit: your LPPs (Like Per Post, as I like to say) push you further up the mountain. For some, it's easier - they're already famous. For others, they may have some of the tools, but need an extra boost.
And these are the people that we compare ourselves to. If you're anything like me, I look at the profiles of those that are "Instagram Famous" and I always say the same thing: "I don't know who they are." Maybe that's the point: you don't have to know who these people are, as long as their posts are aesthetically pleasing and they get you to double-tap. I look at these profiles and go down a rabbit hole of questions:
Do they do it for the fame and followers or do they do it because they like it?
How do you get paid for all the traveling that you have to do to get these shots?
Do they ever feel lonely, like the rest of us?
That last one is hard to tell, since it always looks like they're having fun in these exotic places. They're standing at the peak of Popularity Mountain, sharing what it looks like for their hundreds of thousands of followers, telling us: "You can have this much fun if you were here". It's those moments where loneliness can creep in. To see people your age or younger achieving all of these things, traveling whenever to wherever, can create these moments of FOMO for those that can't see that as a possibility.
Remember that social media does not define who you are as a person.
It is not a marker for success.
It is not a marker for happiness.
Be uniquely you. Always.
Title: Mr. Lonely
Artist: Bobby Vinton
Year Released: 1962