I dream of an age without the internet.
When hangouts with friends were not confined to Google, shopping was a real-time experience that required us to take a day off from work and spend quality time with our family members.
When dating was not reduced to swiping left, right and centre but involved approaching a person at a bar or at the workplace after lending them the privilege of our attention.
Relationships were not damaged because of a misleading, suspicious message on our partner’s phone. Meeting each other was not the last resort; it was a given. It was seen as the most significant manifestation of love, a larger chunk of the commitment which is now measured over how many of the calls were returned or if someone’s ‘last seen’ status coincides with their promised bed-time or if all the social media check-ins were coherent with the knowledge of each other’s whereabouts.
I have 2,000 friends on Facebook but spend most of my evenings alone at a coffee place reading a book I have no one to tell about, or taking a stroll outside the apartment I stay alone in, wondering why no one ever calls.
Road-trips and visits to home for festivals are losing frequency, so even a pastry that I have at the office canteen or a simple trial room selfie or a good hair day makes it to my Instagram profile. I glare at it for hours on my worst days and think – 15,000 followers but none by my side.
The art of meeting people has drowned while we have been trying to sail over the turbulence of a capitalised adulthood, constantly fighting against the devastating winds of unbearably long work-hours.
Our childhood friendships have been reduced to notifications on their new jobs, weddings and first trip abroad, but when did we last sit and talk about how life changed after school? I met my boyfriend online and while I console myself that a long distance relationship is worthwhile because compatibility wins any day over convenience of proximity, I wonder if I had ever cared to meet someone without already disqualifying them over an unlikeable Facebook bio or a conflicting shared post.
While I complain of loneliness everyday and watch the movies of Chantal Akerman and read books on depression, smoke cigarettes and meet men only if it’s been too long since I last had sex, I have realised the lack of friends is only a by-product of setting stringent standards of socialising.
Similarities in political opinions or taste in literature between a prospective friend and me have suddenly started mattering so much that I have embraced self-inflicted isolation rather than choosing to build a friendship devoid of filters, even for the sake of company.
I am incompetent in short talk but I take great pride in it, as if conversations always have to be visceral. But short talk is also important. Those little exchanges of words with a co-passenger in a flight or a stranger in a doctor’s waiting room does not give me enough time to open the channels of my heart but quickly pulls me back to the comfort zone with human beings which I have been trying to evade since the day I learnt appreciating the company of dogs.
Last November, I met a lady on a train who introduced herself as a bank employee and went on to talk about how she is pulling off 70 hour-workweeks owing to the sudden turmoil of demonetisation.
A few weeks ago while I was taking a Uber to the airport in Bangalore, a kind greeting by the driver made us have a long conversation about our families, cities and religious views. When I asked him just out of general curiosity how large was his family and how big was his house, he replied, “Five members. Must be a little larger than this car.” We were traveling in a Tata Indica.
Short talks bridge the lacunae in human understanding. They let us close the cracks of intentional avoidance, burst open our closeted personalities and challenge our cowardice. They let us stitch back the loosened seams of a society ridden with economic and social diversity – a society where there are people drinking sparkling champagne in five-star hotels just by the road where many families sleep at night.
Audis with the heads of Labradors popping out of their windows often splash mud over the faces of children who were born and raised in the streets. Where it is easy for corrupt politicians with criminal histories to win the trust of millions but not so for dedicated charity organisations working in war-zones or flooded villages. There is a world beyond our social circles of selective like minds. There is more to communication than a trade of emoticons.
This constant urge to escape life, this insatiable craving for vacations and this incurable feeling of alienation must have a permanent solution. It is building a home wherever you have taken shelter, rather than dwelling in the delusion that everything is makeshift and something more perfect remains after this chapter.
In this dual life we are leading online and offline, our virtual compensations are falling too short for our real-life demands. The internet may provide us with appreciation, acknowledgment and acceptance but these can never be synonyms for love, for the holding of hands while watching a sunset, for the sharing of a large pizza over mindless gossiping.
The Internet can only help us bring our lives online, but can never fix it. It can be fixed by homemade food, tight hugs and forehead kisses, picnics and drunk dancing with friends.