After my adolescent years, long before I became a scavenger at the reference section of libraries, I knew, that, to feel complete as a human being, you need a strong sense of belonging. In the past, we wrote letters, we walked to each other’s houses, we traveled to visit relatives, we sent telegrams. Later, we made phone calls; email soon threatened that. These days, we think calls are intrusive, we send emotionless, straight to the point text messages. We congregate on facebook and engage our vanity on Instagram. While facebook has become the modern and globalized version of the village square of old, Instagram has become the family album and more. Both platforms have created a dangerous illusion of being connected. We feel gratified by likes, comments, retweets on facebook and Twitter, thus fooling ourselves into thinking we are satisfying the core requirements of forming and maintaining relationships among ourselves. Technology has distracted us from the core of what is important. That is the forming, bonding and maintenance of true friends, with whom we can be ourselves instead of our carefully designed and scripted online persona.
Personally, I have used social media to great effect. I often brag that, since I started using the World Wide Web in 1996, I can say, 90 percent of my friendships were forged online before we got to meet each other flesh and blood. Even then, the coldness of social media has never hit me more than it did last year. On November 26, my mum’s birthday, I was privileged to be home with her in Ondo State. As the day broke, calls poured in. She spent minutes on every incoming call, saying amen to endless prayers on phone. I’m not sure she has up to 200 friends on facebook and possibly less than 200 in her phone address book. On May 3, 2017, over 5,600 people liked my birthday picture and update and I had almost 3,000 wishes sent. That same year, I received less calls than my mother. Which is more personal? I made a mental note of that and I told my parents and sister, the profound effect the impersonal social media trend will have on society going forward. As a result, I learnt a great lesson. Since then, I have called every friend whose number I have on their birthday, in addition to sending them birthday wishes on Facebook.
There is no denying the fact that technology has changed the tools we have to reach out to others. Deep down, it has not changed our deep-seated psychological need to connect with others. With social media, we can satisfy a portion of this need but not all. While our friends and family can see what we are doing and we can see their activities, they cannot know how we are doing and we cannot know how they are doing. “What” is different from “how”. In addition, social media does not fulfill our deepest desire to establish emotional connection with another. Loneliness can be disguised in numerous updates. Connection can be made several ways. It is not only about reading or sending updates. It is not only about seeing and posting pictures. Sometimes, connection does not even involve the spoken or written word. There can be connection in silence between two people looking at themselves.
Facebook has done a lot of good. It has brought a lot of people together regardless of education and social status. But the tragedy of facebook is that, it elevates opinion over relationship. We must not forget that. While facebook has provided some element of entertainment, knowledge and network, it has also increased loneliness and isolation for some people. We are all social animals and self-aware beings. That self-awareness is at root of our humanity. Every human being longs for a sense of community. We all want to be part of a supportive and dependable structure in our daily lives. A disconnection or loss of community creates fertile conditions, necessary for loneliness. Deep feelings of loneliness, lack of support and chemical imbalances in the brain are great conditions for depression and possibility of suicidal thoughts. In Nigeria, the movement to cities, loss of values and craze for money is threatening our sense of community.
As you read this, if you haven’t heard from someone in a while, pick up your phone and call. Make a visit. Ask, if everything is okay. That is not being intrusive, that is caring. I am not asking you to be nosy. I’m not asking you to ask after people just to find out if you are doing better than them. I’m asking you to care and care genuinely. And to the lonely, having a profound feeling of lostness, separateness and powerlessness, I ask you never to be afraid seeking ways to relate. I admit, life is a struggle. You did not ask to be here but while here, you can find ways to make it a good experience. Find a way to be excited by doing something you love, be it a hobby or by volunteering. I find joy in both and it makes my life meaningful otherwise life has no meaning without impact. Find devotion in a religion or ideology you agree with. Find your identity; it may be in culture, environment or something prior and posterior to you. All these will put you in one or more community where you will find acceptance and support. You are not alone. You are not weird, we all feel and have a need to belong. Speak Out!
Facebook post – Bamidele Olateju-Ademola