The Loneliest Generation
I was on the U-Bahn yesterday, sat behind two English guys who were clearly friends. One was slowly scrolling through Facebook. The other was quickly flicking between Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter—frantically refreshing each app as soon as it opened. They spoke for about 10 seconds during the entire 30 minute ride.
I have no idea of their circumstances, or personalities, or anything about them at all. I'm not judging them or trying to shame them. But I can't stop thinking about them as a symbol of something bigger, that I also can't stop thinking about.
Maybe they were just bored, or had fomo. Maybe they hate being in Berlin, or secretly hate each other. Maybe they just wanted to be alone, and social media is the default tactic to avoid human connection. But, I don't think it's any of those things, I think it's the exact opposite. I think every time they (and we) open social media it's to seek connection, in some way.
But something in society tells us that it's more logical to seek connection by scrolling through apps where our contacts (who aren't always friends, and who are often miles away) may have posted something that's probably unrelated to us, rather than just speaking to the actual person we are sitting right next to. In this case a person who was clearly a friend, and clearly sharing the experience of being in a foreign country.
It's no real surprise that we are "the loneliest generation". It feels like the smaller the world becomes, the further we grow apart.
That night I went to Lidl to buy groceries. I'm very slow at packing when I go shopping on my own. I try too hard to pack everything neatly and efficiently as I go along. While the cashier rightly just wants to get my shit scanned as quickly as possible and move on to the next person.
At one point the cashier tried to balance a packet of ham amongst the stuff I was still slowly picking up off the counter. I reached out and took the ham from her instinctively, as if she was trying to hand it to me.
She looked a little shocked, which made me burst out laughing. She apologised and I said, "no sorry, I just really like ham" (in very bad German). She then burst out laughing and said, "ahh, me too!" We both laughed again, said goodbye, and wished each other a nice evening—while I quickly stuffed everything else in my bag.
Walking home I thought about how I'd connected more with that stranger in 30 seconds, than the two friends had connected with each other in 30 minutes. It felt like a ridiculous realisation, or reminder, of what can happen when you interact with another person while not looking at your phone.
A little further on, I stopped on a bridge to watch the sunset (pictured below). The warm breeze wrapped softly around me, conversations in many different languages bobbed through the air, and the (terribly packed) shopping bag started to cut deep into my shoulder.
A guy pulled up on his bike and stood next to me at the railings. We gave each other that kind of upwards nod of recognition, raising our eyebrows with a little smile. We stood next to each other in silence for a few minutes, watching the sunset. When the red had almost drained from the horizon, we exchanged smiles again and went our separate ways.
My first thought was, this would make a good Instagram post.