Standing in a line waiting for the personal deep-dish pepperoni pizza I ordered, I take out my phone as a substitute for a friend. In my mind this solves several problems: I won’t be bored for the four to six minutes it takes to make my pizza (heaven forbid), I won’t have to deal with the awkwardness of standing in a line alone, and I won’t have to talk to a random stranger. When I’m called to get my pizza, I say a quick “thank you” to whichever god allowed me to escape this situation unscathed. I pay for my food and grab a seat in the corner where most people can’t see me. A perfect location for someone eating alone.
In the middle of my realization that parts of my pizza were slightly underdone, a friend of mine walks up to my secluded table. After we exchange common pleasantries and I make a comment about my underdone pizza, she makes a mildly confused face and asks me, “Wait, are you sitting alone?” I laugh and tell her that I am, indeed, sitting alone. “Oh, wow. Good for you,” she replies with sincerity. I’m about to ask her exactly what she means by this statement, but stop myself short. I would have said those exact words if the roles had been switched.
At first, it may seem like a good thing that fewer people find themselves sitting alone at meals because it implies a more social community, but it unearths a nation-wide insecurity. We, as a nation, are uncomfortable with ourselves without the context of others, a quality that makes being social a difficult task.
Our self-uncertainty stems from several aspects of social media. The continuous barrage of pictures of happy-looking groups of people leads many to believe that all of their friends are constantly with others and that being alone is a sign of low social status. We mistakenly believe that what people post is a direct representation of their actual lives when, in fact, each post was likely revised several times, and the photo happened to be the one good picture out of the hundred that were taken.
The problem comes when we try to imitate what we see online in our everyday lives. It’s easy to forget that not every moment needs to be perfect. Our social anxiety is a product of trying to control every moment of our lives as if the real world were just another social media platform. We become focused on quantity — how many friends we have, how many people have commented on how we look, or how many people are sitting at our table. Many days, we fail to evaluate quality. Are we happy with these friends, or are they merely numbers in our follower count to keep up appearances? Are the people at our table friends, or just a wall to protect us from bewildered looks we are convinced we will receive if we sit alone?
At first, it seems that we are just as social as before, if maybe in a different sense; many even argue that our phones make us more connected. In a way, connection to others has become easier than ever, but so has disconnecting. We now have a way out when conversation lulls, a blue matrix pill that brings us back to a familiar place where all awkwardness in the previous conversation can be forgotten. And, unlike in The Matrix, this “pill” is not available to only a small minority. Nearly all Americans have a device that connects to the internet. We have constant access to our “matrix,” but it’s not real. Yet, we are so afraid of messing up or feeling uncomfortable that we forgo the true world for a place where everything can be carefully planned out and mistakes can be erased.
This escape from reality which our phones provide to us is not a good thing. Talking in person has become more difficult because pulling out our phone has become the solution when conversation lags, but this struggle has often strengthened relationships and made people more comfortable with each other in the end. Social media allows us to pull away and skip the awkwardness. Perhaps if I were brave enough, I might allow my true self to show; the little girl that used to ask adults what their favorite color is before asking their name.
Imagine this scenario; standing in a line waiting for the personal deep-dish pepperoni pizza I ordered, I turn to my right and start a conversation with the person next to me. In my mind, this solves several problems. I won’t be bored for the four to six minutes it takes to make my pizza (heaven forbid), I won’t have to deal with the awkwardness of standing in a line alone, and I don’t miss the opportunity to make a new friend. When I’m called to get my pizza, I say a quick “thank you” to the lovely person I met, for saving me from an uneventful wait in line. I pay for my food and grab a seat without thinking of its location because people are too focused on themselves to care if you are sitting alone. Then, I leave my phone in my pocket and enjoy my slightly underdone pizza.