Freedom on a String
© Victoria Evangelina Belyavskaya
2.05.2008 “Are you on Facebook?” asked Martin, looking out into the maze of the 1,696 big and small islands of Ha Long Bay, Vietnam. Our bout was cruising towards one of the islands, hosting a canoe rental spot. “And how many friends do you have there?” It was… hmm… I think about 120 then. Today I am 162 friends “rich” but I am very proud to say that with the exception of three people I have met all of them personally. Martin’s reaction was classic: “What?? Get out of here, I have just 75…” Making friends and “poking” people seems to be an essential part of socializing these days, and not only for teenagers but for their older siblings and even parents. There are several CEOs, the head of a very famous PR-group, the head of a wide-ranging TV-network, many politicians, businessmen, lawyers and so on on my Facebook; not to mention several very famous writers, actors and singers. My math skills are very modest, but I estimate the median age of my Facebook friends to be 40-42 years old, with the youngest being 22, and the oldest: 70+. “It gives me a good opportunity to see what my kids are doing,” a friend once told me. He is in touch via Facebook with his three kids, aged 18-22, all going to colleges in different countries. When the same man started repeatedly “throwing cows” at me I recognized the familiar pattern of “spying” intentions layered with getting sucked into the addictive maze of easy interactions. I have to confess I am a Facebook junky. Not to say that I throw lots of cows at my fellow coFacebookers, though I am a big fan of “group hugs”. But I do bear the responsibility of “converting” many busy people, who sometimes remain very traditional and devoted, using the Facebook profile just for checking out my new photos and leaving comments… yes, they do not even add other “friends”. The “Fun Wall” on the profile of another “Facebooker” of mine consists of my failed attempts to interest him in acquiring more friends. “I’m at 98! When will you start using your Facebook?” I wrote at the end of December. “I am at 115…” read the January note. “I am at 120,” read the next post. He stayed with two friends on his profile, and is still making fun of my “collection”. About half a year ago, he asked me: “Why do you need so many people in your life?” and even though I had never before thought about the reason, I knew the answer: “They are the strings that keep me afloat.” Though I still doubt my answer, I accept that this is a part of the reason. The dependency of being needed by someone, of being of sincere interest to someone is what keeps many interested in life at least to a small degree. “I live for the children,” “I live for my parents,” how many are mature enough to live for themselves without getting depressed? The security of pseudo-intimate relationships online minus the risk and vulnerability of a tete-a-tete meeting is the freedom of a kite, flying in the blue sky covered with puffy gorgeous clouds in the rays of the sun, getting ready for the night. Freedom on a string and attempting to connect while loneliness grows…
“And does Facebook really connect people? Doesn’t it rather disconnect us, since instead of doing something enjoyable such as talking and eating and dancing and drinking with my friends, I am merely sending them little ungrammatical notes and amusing photos in cyberspace, while chained to my desk?” asks Tom Hodgkinson in the article “With Friends Like These” published by Guardian/UK (January 2008). “I count my friends on my hand, and not on my Facebook,” said Ivane, my charming “social bug” friend from London, and I have been using this phrase ever since. I have almost started to believe that it was me who first said it. Today, being “popular”, in the sense which is much loved in American high schools, is as “groovy” as ever, and if you are asked “Are you on the Facebook?” be ready for the follow up “How many friends you have?” sometimes followed by the humble explanations that the other is on Facebook for solely for one reason, such as: to share pictures, stay in touch with siblings, keep an eye on the kids and you can fill in the blanks yourself. But the truth is it is easier to maintain a broad circle of acquaintances rather than nurture a close friendship. On the other hand, empty-nest loneliness when the kids became young adults and leave the parents’ house leaves many out of the circle of people with whom they are used to sharing activities. Elderly people find it challenging to find friends. It is especially true for those who live in the former Soviet countries, where the whole concept of “groups of interest” is not developed and the main concern is how to survive on the pension, which here in Georgia is somewhere between 40 and 80 lari a month. Those with set religious beliefs find friends in churches and comfort in God. Many do turn to religious practices out of loneliness and the growing spiritual awareness which comes with age. An additional/alternative way is to surround oneself with a favorite pastime such as playing golf, traveling non-stop, helping out in kindergartens, watching TV, getting into word-fights with neighbors and stocking up on pets. In 2007 a group led by UCLA scientists discovered that loneliness can wreak havoc at the molecular level. “While everyone feels lonely from time to time, researchers say incessant feelings of loneliness can significantly weaken one’s immune system and lower defenses against a variety of diseases,” wrote the dailycardinal.com “This pilot study provides the first indication that gene expression is altered in human beings who experience chronic social isolation,” said Louise Hawkley, a research scientist at the University of Chicago and co-author of the study. “The study showed that DNA from the immune cells of those with chronic loneliness differs from the DNA of healthy patients. According to researchers, the difference in DNA between the groups predisposed the chronically lonely to an increased risk of developing heart disease, viral infections and cancer,” continues the article. The study supports the findings of the Law of Attraction which teaches that “low” feelings such as sorrow and loneliness do have a negative physical impact on a person, while happiness and peace brings him or her on a higher lever of existence and ultimately attracts more happy experiences.How do you create your happy experiences? Going to reconnect with nature or drinking wine while surfing the World Wide Web and “throwing cows” at your “friends”? The Internet and its many social networks does provide a false sense of freedom in human relations but how would you compare it to the dear old way of communication: sharing by talking while looking deep into the eyes and soul of your real, not a Facebook, friend?