Monday, November 29, 2010

Leave me alone

We, as humans, hate being alone. We constantly want to be surrounded by people we know - we have numerous friends and family and failing that, we keep pets and treat them like humans. We fear loneliness, so much so that we have made it a taboo of society and label those who are content with their own company as 'loners'. Our craving for this constant company is undeniably proven by the success and strange addictiveness of social networking sites like Facebook. Several times a day, whether in the library, at home or on the train, we find ourselves repeatedly logging in to check notifications, browse the newsfeed and update our personal network with information about where we are and what we're doing. With every notification we receive, we are comforted by the fact that our friends exist and acknowledge our existence, hence ensuring us that we are not really alone.

We continuously text, call, Ping and BBM and yet, majority of these conversations have no point. They are merely to prevent us from falling into that dreaded state of being alone. Every contact with another person strengthens our safe, happy bubble of company that cushions us through the day. But it is inevitable that this bubble bursts from time to time and our source of cyber-company is stripped away from us. On the tube, when there is no signal for a phone, too much noise to hear an iPod and not enough space to read the Metro, an expression of fear creeps into people's faces. They will do anything to avoid eye contact, as though this in itself will condemn them to a lifetime of solitude. Instead, the same adverts are read repeatedly until the Mayor of London's latest mantra is learnt off by heart, and fellow passengers' choices of footwear suddenly become the raison d'etre. As crowds emerge from the underground, there is a collective sigh of relief as phones ring and invisible yet indispensable bubbles of popularity are re-established.

However, there is a paradox in this craving for company in that the art of proper, meaningful conversation apparently eludes us. It is not uncommon to find a group of friends texting rather than talking, or comparing Facebook profiles rather than having face to face conversations. We are becoming an almost robotic society, devoid of opinions because we do not allow ourselves the time to think and listen to our thoughts. What is hidden inside our heads that we are so afraid to hear? If we stop, just for a while, we might find out that what we fear does not actually exist. Just as we were liberated at the age of 12 by the knowledge that the boogie monster does not really exist, similarly we should free our minds now from the constraints of constant company that our lives today impose upon us.

Everyone likes to describe themselves as independent, but how many of these apparently independent people would be happy to go to the cinema alone, attend a party where they know no-one or simply sit alone at home with the phone line disconnected, the internet disabled and mobile switched off? The confidence to venture out into the world with only you and yourself for company is the true definition of independence. As one philosopher eloquently said, 'Solitude is strength; to depend on the presence of the crowd is weakness. The man who needs a mob to nerve him is much more alone than he imagines.'