If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it a thousand times.
It’s all about who you know.
I’ve been thinking quite a lot lately about whom I know, and I’m beginning to think my “network” is something far bigger than is illustrated by my LinkedIn connections.
I have really cool friends. I’m referring here to the three individuals whose Academy Award red carpet photos graced my newsfeed last weekend; the two Broadway leading ladies among my Facebook friends; the college classmate whose most recent Instagram photo prominently featured Oprah; the childhood acquaintance who recently performed on Ellen; the visual artist who got a HUGE shoutout in this month’s Atlantic, and with whom I once shared a Thanksgiving dinner; and the Grammy winner’s brother who bought me a drink in a Roman bar – to name just a few.
Most of these are people I’ve spoken to maybe a handful of times – acquaintances of happenstance – but nonetheless, they, and their lives, remain a part of my network.
There are a couple different trains of thought set off by consideration of this mightily-impressive network of mine. The first, and by far the shallowest, is an unsubstantiated belief that my turn must be coming. It is difficult, isn’t it, to scroll through the remarkable accomplishments of your happenstantial peers without feeling that singular mix of envy, motivation and hope?
My network is fast becoming a collection of stars, and I begin to think my wagon is hitched up, and departure imminent.
The other, more sweeping thought, regards what modernity means for we oft-maligned 20-somethings; the first to truly come of age together, all at once, right out loud, here online.
The Internet has in equal measure both broadened and diminished our world. At times, I am overwhelmed by the bigness of it all; there are so many things to know, so many worlds within worlds that exist in this online dimension. Today, for instance, I learned about “Homestuck,” an interactive Internet epic which has existed in plain view for more than half a decade – which has garnered millions of devoted fans and which I’d never heard of, and still can’t quite figure out how to read.
There are countless communities here; message threads and Tumblrs and sub-Reddits and small, dark spaces for meeting, and hiding, and sharing and existing. It is inexplicably big.
But in a way, I think the magnitude of our connectivity makes everything so much smaller; not just because we can drag and drop an orange stick figure and be suddenly standing on Wollestraat, or Settlers Way, or the Malecon, or Via Del Corso – but because suddenly, everyone just belongs.
It used to be there was a healthy loneliness to life – especially these tumultuous, transformative years of it. There was a shared isolation in which we privately examined our idiosyncrasies, perhaps sharing the big questions, the what-am-I-meant-for questions, with friends and family, but largely going it alone through a period of self-discovery.
The late 20th century gave us a slew of coming-of-age stories, and we made them into instant classics with our hunger for understanding and camaraderie. It felt so damn good to read “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and realize everyone else is just as uncomfortable as you are; to read “Gone With the Wind” and realize it’s fine to not understand the first thing about loving another person; to read “Bright Lights, Big City” and realize your success doesn’t have to be executed by the book, and that it’s normal to hate New York City but still belong nowhere else.
Now, the breadth of our networks makes acceptance far simpler, and that means we’re not hungry anymore. In the Internet’s corridors and closets there is someone who shares your every idiosyncrasy. In so many ways, this is a wonder of the modern world, the existence of this plane where every human experience has a place at the table, and every seat has an unobstructed view. In so many ways, it is good.
Please don’t misunderstand me. In 2015, things are not as they should be. There is racism and sexism and classism, poverty, hunger, death and disease. There are those who wish to harm the weak, and those who do nothing to defend them. There are voices of reason and understanding being constantly drowned out by voices of anger, fear and mistrust. The inhabitants of this world are not equal – but on the Internet, in our networks, where we all have agency, where our voices can all reach equal volume, and our words can have equal impact… we actually kinda are.
But I think the drawback to all this belonging is a loss of some intangible connection. I’ve lost the joy of entering a room of strangers and chancing on a kindred spirit. That deep, independent part of my brain that instinctively knows when I’ve met a human who is my kind of human has lost its edge. And I think it’s the Internet’s fault. My network is full of like minds, full of stars. I belong in my network – and my spidey sense for souls has been rendered unnecessary.
So I guess what I’m doing here is just your run-of-the-mill shout into the void. Is anyone else lonely? I feel empowered, and accepted, and loud, and lonely.
Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself. My network is large, it contains multitudes.