Last week I said goodbye to one of my best friends in the world. It wasn’t goodbye forever. Don’t panic, no one has died. But Goodbye physically, for probably quite a while. We live on opposite sides of the world and have 5 kids between us. It’s amazing we could even spend a week together, really. But we did, and it was magical. Not fakey, stupid glitter-princess Disney magical. But the real shit. The kind of contentment and coming home feeling you get from spending actual quality time with a true friend.
My friend is one of the cleverest people I know and does not suffer fools. She is frightening, powerful, wickedly funny and capable of extreme good. We talked a bit about our respective struggles with anxiety, workloads, kids, mothers and all that. Maybe unloaded a bit of baggage. We didn’t talk about everything ever, that would have taken another lifetime. But we got through a fair bit and, well. I don’t even know how to talk about how great it felt seeing her every day without just sounding hokey and ridiculous.
Our friendship always felt important. It was one of those where it seemed like we knew something – even many things – that others didn’t (and isn’t that the hallmark of all great love affairs?). As someone who struggles a lot with self-doubt, occasionally tipping over into self-loathing, I think having my friend here helped make me feel important. Like I mattered.
It got me thinking about real connections versus the internet. Then Pokemon Go happened and I feel kind of disturbed by it. I’m not much into video games myself and I’ll readily admit I’m paranoid about these opiate-for-the-masses type things. Hey: don’t sit still and quiet and think of things, don’t have real conversations, don’t make trouble – just play this inane game that will take up All. Your. Time. It would be horrible to be bored or unoccupied for even one moment, right? Or to just walk around the world without being plugged into a super-reality, or music or a portal to your mates’ current statuses? In a time when we’re all gnashing and screaming about gun violence and rape culture, how is anyone not making the connection between that and an augmented reality game where it’s fine to capture and/or battle any random creature you come across on the street? I can only shudder to think how this will escalate once the Grand Theft Auto augmented reality version comes out. Maybe I’m living in the past, but isn’t GTA the one where you can steal cars, bash hookers and waste passers by? As long as they’re the superimposed game characters, not people in real life of course… because no one will ever confuse the two. Ever.
Oh and then there’s the thing I heard that all the photos and videos you take with your phone in PokeGo are sent back to Google / internets HQ. So now they’ve got Google Maps and images and video of inside your house and all your stuff, and a nice little record of your daily routes as you go about your usual business as well. I’ve got friends saying they’ll ban other friends from playing it in their home. But my mate visited me in Zurich recently and played Ingress (basically the same game, but with aliens) almost constantly so I guess our place is already on the servers. Whachagonnado?
It terrifies me though, and makes me sad. I worry that, as a society, we’ve all cashed in our warm, living, breathing life-giving cows for handfuls of magic smartphone beans. Sure the beans might give us access to a fantasy world in the clouds of unimagined wonders. But it’s a dangerous place up there and, ultimately, does it help us live well when we spend all that time out of the real world, listening to magical harps on Spotify and hoping to steal a goose that lays golden Pokeballs?
I just finished an excellent book, Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko. It was set in and around the eponymous town near Byron Bay on the north east coast of New South Wales. My brother, his wife and their kids live there so I know the area reasonably well. The book was from a modern aboriginal woman’s perspective and I loved the connection to the land, this idea of sitting still – meditating in a way — to really hear what nature and the universe is telling you. Pretty much the opposite of Pokemon Go. Don’t get me wrong, I’m addicted to my smartphone. But I do yearn for a less connected/more connected life. And that Byron Bay hinterland area is so special – last time I was there, I sat by the Brunswick River and cried and cried all over my wonderful sister in law. She helped me feel better, but so did just being there on that sandy, scrubby ground by the water. I’m not aboriginal but, even for me, that feels like a sacred place. And I think that can be found almost everywhere if you pay attention to really observe and absorb – probably not via the medium of a little glowing screen.
Back to spending time with real people and hanging out with old mates visiting Zurich (two so far this summer…) . Spending time with them was wonderful and soul-satisfying in a way I don’t really get from social media. Seeing my friends in the flesh, it’s obvious to me that physically being with someone must light up a bazillion more brain synapses than just talking on Skype, Facebook interactions, letters or emails does. Don’t get me wrong. I totally rate these methods of communication and would be all the more lonely without them. But it’s not the same. It’s. Not. The. Same. Just feeling the breeze on your face, then seeing it touch your friend’s hair… feeling the same air temperature… even subconsciously, this must say “we’re here, we’re experiencing the same things” and that’s so important. Humans’ ability to quickly travel so far from (and back to) their childhood home, friends and family has surely evolved far faster than our lizard brains’ capacity to have relationships with people. I guess that’s why we invented social media in the first place: to somehow bridge that yawning gap.
I feel like I need a grand conclusion to this but I don’t know what else to say. I don’t want to preach to anyone. I don’t have any answers. I’m a smartphone-addicted sad old goth who wants to feel connected to my friends and is miffed by Pokemon Go. Tomorrow we welcome another old friend to visit us Zurich. Can’t wait.