Isolation

“Also, I left my headphones on my couch, so now what do I do if I hate people?”

You probably understand the frustration underlying that text and the sense of camaraderie in my friend’s immediate reply: “I have no good solution for that, sadly.”

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Headphones are more than a convenient gadget to me and a gazillion other people—probably including you. They’re not just a nice way to get my Panic! At the Disco fix when I’m in public and can’t blare “Hallelujah” for everyone else to hear. They’re my safe place in a crowded waiting room, my sanity in the chaos of a subway station, my sensory anchor in a sea of abstract finals-week concepts.

In many ways, these flimsy rubber earbuds build a safety barrier between me and the world. They save me from having to make eye contact. They protect against mindless small talk. They lock me into the task at hand when ambient conversations tug at my attention.

But they also isolate.

And in a lonely world full of synthetic relationships, perfunctory “how ya doin’?”s, and long-distance Facebook friends, isolation becomes a real danger—especially for introverts and/or shy people. It becomes a vicious cycle: we’re surrounded by people and pummelled by stimuli every moment of the day, thanks to work, classes, and social media, so we retreat into solitude—but because all of that social stimulation is surface-level, we’re people-weary and yet soul-numbingly lonely at the same time. So we venture into the chaos of crowds, only to reemerge, still exhausted and still isolated.

I noticed this paradoxical near distance one evening as my flatmate and I sat on neighbouring couches in the living room, both sipping tea, both doing homework—both sealed by earbuds into individual cocoons of music. We sat within arm’s length of each other for several hours without once engaging.

To speak—to share an experience—became an intrusion that required pausing music, removing an earbud, emerging from a private world.

In a moment when we could have shared the companionship of background music and quiet presence while we studied, we instead chose to lock ourselves away. For either of us to fill the room with music would be to invade the other’s privacy and convenience—an infraction of the worst kind in a culture where, somehow, steady individual comfort has taken the place of dynamic interpersonal relationships.

I still carry my earbuds everywhere I go. I plugged them in to shut out voices on the bus this weekend, and I will turn up the volume to seal my private world around me in the science building this afternoon.

But in the quiet of my flat, with my flatmates nearby, in those shared moments of doing homework and washing dishes and stealing chapters of recreational reading…in those moments, I leave the earbuds out and leave myself open.

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5 Rules (because it’s social media, not personal media)

I hate self promotion.

My version of self promotion is, “Hey, um…so…I did this thing…It’s kinda cool—I mean, I think it’s kinda cool, y’know, but you might not…but if you wanted…maybe…you could sorta…take a look at it some time? If you want? I mean, no pressure. I’ll just…leave it here…in case you want to see it…”

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Unfortunately, I’ve been informed that my version of self promotion is not effective. And that if I intend to ever publish anything novel-y, I need to get on top of this whole platform-building thing.

So this week I did something supremely scary: I made a Twitter. And a Facebook page.

I struggle with social media. I hardcore judge certain types of posts—the whiney ones, the cryptic ones, the grammatically challenged ones. At the same time, I know my natural tendency is to use social media for venting frustration or posting photos I later can’t remember the purpose of.

So, in order to avoid being That Person, I’ve made myself five rules.

1. No fishing allowed.
If you can’t tell what I’m talking about by reading my post, I’m doing it wrong. If I’m hoping for a slew of “But you’re beautiful!” or “Oh no! What’s wrong?!” comments, I’m doing it wrong. Posting is about giving, not getting. Giving entertainment. Giving insight. Giving information. It’s not bait to catch personal affirmation or snag extra attention.

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2. No complaining…unless it’s funny.
Hard truth: nobody cares about your lack of sleep, grouchy boss, or bruised knee. But if you phrase your complaint in words that make them laugh, they’re okay with you whining a little.

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For example, I sometimes always complain about the weather.

 3. Beware the “share” button.
When you like stuff, your name shows up in a list of people who like that stuff. No big deal. When you share it, it shows up on your feed forever. I remind myself to think before I click. If it’s an opinion, I want to be willing to stand behind it, to explain why I feel it’s both valid and worth sharing with the world. If it’s humour, I want to be okay with my diverse group of friends and family knowing that I think it’s funny–meaning I have to consider whether it’s offensive, hurtful, or unnecessarily crass.

4. Please don’t feed the animals.
You can watch them fight to the death in the comment boxes, but don’t get involved. You will say angry things you regret. You will look like an idiot. You will offend someone. This isn’t to say I never stand up for what I believe, but I choose my battles, and I don’t jump into petty arguments.

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5. If you wouldn’t do it in person…
Social interactions work because we follow some basic rules of courtesy. Social media interactions should be the same. If I wouldn’t do it in person, I don’t do it online. Would I smack you upside the head? No? Then I shouldn’t send that crushing comment. If it’s still social, it still demands respect.

Am I saying I do everything right? Absolutely not.

Am I saying you should follow all my rules? Absolutely not.

Am I suggesting you think about making up your own rules? …maybe, yeah.

See, here’s the thing about social media: yes, it’s my profile. It’s my page. It’s my blog. But that doesn’t mean I can do whatever I want, however I want, whenever I want.

It’s called social media, not personal media, and that means I take a moment to think before I hit that button.

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