“We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men.”
I’ve been thinking about Melville’s words lately as they relate to the human species. I’ve been thinking how we are all inevitably connected, yet craze isolation. We disconnect ourselves, detach ourselves from the common norms of social interaction to create our own little bubbles, inviting only a few people in at a time. We put up walls and barriers to keep others out. And yet we remain, connected.
In the most existential terms, imagine yourself an alien looking down upon the world. Everywhere people are avoiding each other, passing by each other on the street without an acknowledgment, perhaps missing some vital human experience that comes from interaction and “connectiveness”. And they wouldn’t even know it. Just a bunch of atoms colliding and repelling and splitting, with a few cases of attracting, scattered here and there.
We are some times burdened with social etiquette that makes it okay to say some things, and not other things. To say anything beyond those socialized norms is to appear strange, because those walls exist, because we don’t feel connected to someone, even though we are. And in those moments; in those precise seconds of missing that human experience, I some times think we are missing opportunities. Opportunities that perhaps render us fearful of being honest and blunt, perhaps fearful of being misunderstood. And so, so many things in this life time go unsaid, and maybe that’s why poetry was created.
And I suppose the physical presence makes it that much harder.
People have no problem in saying what they want to say in the virtual world. People are never more honest than they are in the virtual world, when all physical interaction is absent.
A quick look at Facebook and you can see how the interaction differs; how human beings differ. We add people whom we’ve never met as friends. And those people accept the request for friendship on the same premise. We comment on people’s photos, people we might not even know, and we tell them how beautiful we think they are. And those people accept that. We share the intimacies of our lives, and exchange the small salient details that would slip unnoticed in the physical world. And I think that’s why movies are so fantasy-like, with characters saying and doing the most random things, and making it look easy. From a character standing up to someone with no regrets, to characters declaring their love for one another. And these are scenarios that play out perfectly on the silver screen, and in our regretful minds where we vocalize them with “I should’ve said”.
So maybe when Melville said a thousand fibers connect us, he really meant optical fibers, because it seems the digital age has rendered us unburdened with formalities, verbal etiquettes, and self-censorship orbiting around the emotional galaxy. But it’s virtual; it’s not real, which is not to say that it’s fake, it’s simply contrary to that human inclination to define all that is real, by all that is physical.
Yet imagine, all of that taking place in the real world.
Imagine seeing a random person as you walk down the street, and saying hello to them; requesting their friendship, telling them how beautiful you think they are, saying the most random thing that comes to you. Imagine their first thoughts, their first reaction; imagine yours. No underlying sub-purpose or sinister intent. No strings. No piracies. No charades. Just honesty. Just a desire, an instinct, to fulfill that human need.
And in that single moment, that precise second, that glance, that physical engagement, that verbal grafitti, we are acknowledging, if only for that second, that we are all connected.
And I think some times, when sitting in a public place just watching people pass by, that if we were ever to have such an exchange in the physical context, if we were ever to be brave enough to say what we want to say unburdened and unrestrained: that we would feel those thousand fibers that connect us all, come alive…
…in a single moment.
I think you’re vastly over-intellectualizing this issue.
I see people meeting, greeting, hugging and kissing all over the place — sometimes so taken by it they have no problem doing so in the street. Sometimes it’s overdone, but they’re still putting the effort in. And nine-times-outta-ten (talk about 78% of statistics being completely made up), I bet they *do* want to see him. I don’t always want to see people though, but that’s typically my problem: I just can’t be bothered.
Facebook is an exception to normal social etiquette for all the wrong reasons: it’s an exercise in narcissism, it’s not just flattering someone for no reason: it’s flattering them to make it acceptable for people to flatter *you*. It’s a hollow figure of normal human social interaction. People don’t act like they do on Facebook because it’s asinine.
Accepting “friends” on Facebook costs nothing: a couple of clicks, but reaps rewards: “Oh, you have 87 friends? I have 105.” Massaging our own egos, being “popular” is cool. Having a friend in real life can be hard work: you have to go out of your way to help them (pick them up from the airport), listen to their problems (the same ones, again and again and again…). Facebook “friends” carry no such baggage.
Social etiquette is good for society — it’s generally not too restrictive, but instead a useful barrier between us: hearing what people REALLY think all the time would lead to a lot more murders-of-passion. And “being honest” and “brave” online to say what you want to has negative consequences: do you read the comments on Digg much?
Staying on the subject of social manners: egaling tales of your sexual exploits is not something people want to hear, however your close friends might just (in the West anyway); having a problem with your bowels is gross to many, but of great interest to say, your mother. Social barriers help us judge this, effectively “who wants to know what”.
People are connected, we’re just not connected to everyone in an intimate way: we live in a city of millions of people, it’s impossible to care about everyone in any meaningful way. I don’t care about the thousands of people I pass when walking down the street on a deep level, however I am bound to them by our fundamental shared humanity: if I see him get hit by a bus, I’ll call an ambulance — but I do not want to hear about the troubles he’s having with his wife, or the fact that he thinks one of his kid’s teachers is attractive.
In no reality — in a bustling city or a tightly knit village — would I care about his problems. That’s not negative, it’s only human. If we cared for everyone on an individual and personal level, we’d never stop crying: thinking about Darfur, Palestine some other hell-hole would have us paralyzed in tears.
This little blue marble may not be ideal, but it’s not that bad either.
Sorry, that came out a little longer than I intended.
P.S: that quote is awesome. 🙂
publicfacing: thanks for the comment and i appreciate your opinion on the subject as it’s quite interesting. however, just to clarify, i am not referring to a level of honesty that is based on destroying privacy, i am merely looking at the way human beings connect with one another or don’t for that matter. it’s not as simple as what we choose to say or not, or even who we choose to connect with, but also, more specifically, why don’t choose to connect with all, or at least indulge in that human experience that is not bound by walls and barriers of isolation.
Your post reminds me of the HU campaign for Dow, particularly this one:
For each of us
There is a moment of discovery
We turn a page
We raise a hand
And just then in the flash of a synapse
We learn that life is elemental
And this knowledge changes everything
We look around and see the grandness of the scheme
Sodium bonding with chlorine
Carbon bonding with oxygen
Hydrogen bonding with oxygen
We see all things are connected
We see life unfold
And in the dazzling brilliance of this knowledge
We may overlook the element not listed on the chart
Its importance so obvious its presence is simply understood
The missing element is the human element
And when we add it to the equation
The chemistry changes
Every reaction is different
Potassium looks to bond with potential
Metals behave with hardened resolve
And hydrogen and oxygen form desire
The human element is the element of change
It gives us our footing to stand fearlessly and face the future
It is a way of seeing, it gives us a way of touching
Issues, ambitions, lives
The human element
Nothing is more fundamental
Nothing more elemental
I was recently given the link to your blog and have enjoyed it tremendously this past month.
I graduated university in the States last year and have been living here for about 7 months, your post rings true true on a number of levels for me.
When i worked in DC I used ride public transportation everyday and would talk to people all the time, it was amazing the deep conversations we would get into upon first meeting, I would smile at the constructions workers and have daily conversation with the mad who handed out the newspapers. These small interactions were some of the things I missed the most in coming to Amman.
However, I am slowly finding that people are people everywhere, sure I may not smile at all the construction workers who throw derogatory comments at me, but I find when I meet the eyes of women I pass on the street and genuinely smile, or strike up a conversation about something, they stop a moment, then genuinely smile or respond. In those moments I have acknowledged their existence, and more importantly the beauty of our existence together in this world.
Maybe the people on the street and the beauty all around is waiting for your acknowledgment, for you to take the first step. People respond to genuinity more than we anticipate and all have the ability to sense that while someone may be out of the social norm, they want to connect on a real level.
hope thats not to melodramatic or abstract
I like this post, with all the replies! I personally can’t really compare any virtual interaction with face to face or what i call, body to body interaction. and Nas on what you suggest of seeing a random person and trying to say hello or say you have nice hair or any compliment, believe me, if its truly what you felt, and its coming from your heart. if you felt any type of connection ( which i find rare for someone you dont know) but if it happened and you approached that person, they will accept and appreciate your courage, and your compliment might make their day. I believe in real human to human experience and relations, and the virtual world never moves my feelings or makes me passionate, attached, on in love. but the real world diffeneitlely does. And what proves our need for those real connections, is the campagin that started with signs saying free hugs, and how so many people so willingly approached complete strangers coz they wanted the hug. The human….. Remains Interesting …. at least for me….
Could these fibers be the equivalent of what we call “sha3rett mu3awiyyah” in Arabic I wonder where this term came from. Virtual encounters are stripped of all preconceived notions and prejudices. That is why they are probably so different. I play scrabble online a lot. I often wonder if the game would be the same had I known the persons I am playing with.