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Thanks to the internet, we live in a museum of loneliness



We live in a museum of loneliness. Pretty strong words. But hear me out.


I stumbled across an interview with Mother Teresa the other day. On a visit to the U.S., she was once asked what is the poorest country in the world. The interviewer expected she would say Bangladesh, or any other country that struggles with the needs of its people. But she said United States. The U.S., among other things she warned, had a poverty of loneliness.


Looking at how we interact with the internet, I am inclined to agree.


Mother Teresa was talking about more than physical loneliness, she was talking about our spiritual loneliness. With the internet, we have the worst form of loneliness, we have the loneliness of the crowd.


We suffer from the loneliness of the crowd.


For many people, their self-portrayals on the internet are not real, they are just a twisted projection of themselves in the vain hope of gaining a false social likeability.


We are like the sound of one hand clapping. It cannot make a noise because it lacks its essential unity. It is only when two hands clap together that the unity is complete. But even when we make noise it will be chaotic if it does not synchronize with itself. We are like a drummer who drums alone; we are waiting for someone to hear our beat and respond.


Ironically, we have created a museum of loneliness out of the internet. We showcase our disguises for everyone to see. We have reduced friendship building to friend gaining on social media. Our new spiritual metrics are likes, views, and subscribers. How long is a tweet, a mere 280 characters at the most. TikTok video? Just 60 seconds. The constrained rules of social media are our new prison house. No wonder we are lonely, we don’t talk.


Even we do not talk to each other, we either do not listen or we talk about talking. Did you see my post, did you see what Kevin or Tia posted? We like without laughing, we forward without reading. We are like a tree whose roots have been exposed and has started to die.


Our insecurities are our downfall. We buffer ourselves in a thousand ways to prevent revealing our true selves. But others cannot see through our protective facades, mostly because they are engaged in the same senseless charade. It is no wonder that they do not provide the authentic responses we long for. We cannot read through each other’s misty signals.


Our problem is our insecurities, but we don’t even see them.


We are all whistling in the dark; creating an imaginary portrayal of a well-lived life because we are afraid of the truth. The sad part is, we don’t even know we are empty inside.


The contemporary marriage counselor asks, Are you happy? The implication is that if we are not happy with what we have we should discard it and seek something else. We glorify the person who had the courage to throw away the old and begin again. But we do not glorify the person who polishes and repairs what they have. Ultimately, it is a fool’s errand. No matter how many empty, new relationships we proudly tweet about, we cannot find happiness if we do not really know what it means. Simply put, if we do not know what we are looking for, we will never find it.

We must regain the power to see ourselves from the inside out.


In the end, the internet has created a contemporary, pop, and social culture that is endlessly focused outward. A smile is more likely to be brought to us by an internet algorithm that recommends a video than interaction with another human being. We see ourselves indirectly through the mirror image of how we portray ourselves and how others respond to us on social media. I wonder what happened to our ability to see ourselves from the inside out; the ability to have a different form of courage, the courage to be authentic and truly honest with ourselves.


For more insights see my books and blog at https://www.jamesmcginley.com.


James McGinley, PhD is a professor, author, certified life coach, and licensed counselor. He is interested in cross-cultural and applied psychology, whether at work, as a part of a team, in our personal lives and in our relationships with others, or when we face adversity in life – whether from stress, addiction, or exposure to crisis.


(Image is from Joshua Reddekopp on Unsplash)

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