Rabat – Have you ever had a friend to confide to your most secretive and intimate feelings with the belief that you are speaking to yourself? Have you ever had a consoling shoulder to cry on when people or life sadden you and fill you with anguish and sorrow? Have you ever had a faithful source of support, unconditional love, sympathy and empathy? Have you ever had someone beyond your kinship who always helps you up when you fall down, someone who puts your pieces together when you are broken up? If yes, you are lucky because you had a true friend indeed.
I was immensely overwhelmed today by the big number of posts on social media on the occasion of Friends Day celebrations. People shared lots of posts, and tagged others in videos and pictures which are beautifully captioned and professionally edited and touched by “all of [them] in Facebook” and other social networks. Celebrating friendship is indeed something to cherish, but what friendship?
The post-industrial global context which we live in today is marked by the quick dissemination and pervasiveness of the values of individualism, materialism, and consumerism, which dramatically altered the way we handle our daily lives. Traditional practices and ways of life are slowly but steadily eroded. The concepts of time and place have been compressed through the creation of a virtual reality where neither time nor space is important. Consequently, our days seem like fleeting hours and our years collapse and elapse like a film put on the time lapse mode.
Though starkly pessimistic this statement might be, values such as friendship, love, and solidarity would soon be belongings of the past and stories of friendship would be awe-inspiring and completely alien to the near-future generations. “Once upon a time, there were two friends who truly loved and supported each other and who held each other for better and for worse until death did them apart,” parents would wistfully tell their children like they tell fairy tales. The overwhelming triumph of technology over Man and the automation and digitization of every aspect of modern life will certainly lead to sweeping transformations in society as many prominent cultural theorists predict.
One of those transformations would be in human relationships. What characterizes human relationships today is superficiality, pretence and frigidity. A growing body of scientific evidence suggests that the over-dependence on technology in general and the Internet in particular has made us too superficial with scattered thinking and shallow emotions. In other words, we are growing incapable of loving affectionately, thinking profoundly and feeling empathetically.
The Internet is shaping the way we think and feel and even writing on behalf of us to our friends on the occasion of Friends Day. Those ready-made and standardized videos “from all of [them] in Facebook” or any other social network would never mean anything to me. A simple text message with spelling mistakes but true words and no music or special effects would be way more expressive. After all, what makes us human is the depth of our feelings, the complexity (not the speed) of our thoughts, the warmth of our hugs, and the empathy we have towards each other. TS Eliot’s poem The Hollow Men was written in a different historical and social context. Yet, in terms of its themes, it does perfectly fit our context of alienation, fragmentation and disillusionment. The first stanzas sum it up very succinctly:
We are the hollow men
We are the stuffed men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
Or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
Those who have crossed
With direct eyes, to death’s other Kingdom
Remember us-if at all-not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow men
The stuffed men.