It’s All Relative (in aloneness)

Happy New Year!

It’s 2023, and my first blog write up for the year at that. What a finale of a 2022 for me. As I wrote in my previous blog post, I was carpet bombed with a plethora of things, mainly in the health department – potential heart problems (none, great heart), tooth problems, sinus infections and ear aches – but all is fine now. Healthy as a strong, Scottish ox raised on organic meals.

Today is talking about a feeling I had relative to the things I had done, so somewhat of a focus on what I had witnessed and how it led to an odd cascade of relative feelings of strange negativity…and then an immediate snapback to complete contentment and normalcy once I had recognized it.

In other words, perception. We’re talking about perception. It’s hard to not get abstract in writing sometimes when it comes to philosophy, but as I always tell my language students – keep it simple and efficient in communication and I’ll try to do the same.

I had about two weeks off work during Xmas and the new year, and during that time I did sweet fuck all. I slept a lot, stayed up late, exercised, cooked a lot, watched some films with my girlfriend online (she’s over in Scandinavia at the moment), got in touch with family in Australia, practiced music…lots and lots of things, and for the most part, it was done in complete solitude.

I like to be alone. I’m very private, almost hermit-like, in fact. I go out and sit about at a café having lunch, observing people and their behaviour – something I’ve always found interesting – and my work is also highly social, in that I am consistently communicating with students all the time; however, in my free time being utterly alone is a wonderful thing. I get irritable when I’m around people often, especially large groups and when it’s in excessive amounts in my free time.

I just really like my own company. I have lots of things that I like to do and get engaged in, but I’m cognizant enough to recognize that a lot of the things I do I ultimately share with others, too. I like to show my paintings or music to friends, get in touch with others online here and there, etc. It’s not completely isolated, and unless you’ve got God on your side there it’s practically impossible to be completely isolated. We are, after all, social creatures. Cue the collective screaming of egoists who don’t understand this – but nobody cares about them.

I digress, enough about my isolationist bullshit. The point is about the feeling I caught and was made aware of, and it was a feeling of loneliness.

Everyone knows that feeling. It’s somewhat of a hollow sensation and a strong yearning to communicate or get in touch with others. Pretty easy to spot if you’re interoceptive enough – but here’s the thing: the feeling was only relative to the content I had consumed. In other words, I was scammed by good marketing and social media trickery. In the words of Dutch from Predator, “It’s all buusheet, aww off eett”.

The context is I went to check something on Facebook, because although I almost never use social media anymore, I still hop on that mainly for family matters or something like that, it’s a tool. From here though, I “zoned” out and went down somewhat of a lane of curiosity. I followed the mutual friend trail, saw photos of people in big gatherings, memories, then eventually cascaded all the way into Instagram and stories of people with glitz and glam filtered photos of perfect lives with gigantic friendship parties all over the place.

This was about ten minutes of my brain zoning out and me just clicking. It was the limbic system in charge, fueling my moves. I’m fairly tired from work, so brain just went on cruise control.

And through all of this cruising through the lanes of other peoples lives, a sensation of emptiness suddenly hit me – the void of loneliness. Not quite heavy, mind you, but it was present, and suddenly I became more cognizant. I pay attention to strong physical cues in my body, and my brain woke up with a “the fuck is this?” kind of question.

That’s what led me to this blog post eventually, because something didn’t really add up. Am I a lonely person? Am I unhappy?

Well, no. Prior to this temporary black hole of social media tripping, I was tired but otherwise happy. I’d had a busy day with work, taught a bunch of classes, had my dinner and was doing some creative stuff in a video game to relax. I also checked up on my girl and organized some movie plans for the weekend. It was pretty fine all round – until that emotional cascade hit me, and it was total bullshit.

When I was younger, I was less experienced with physiological reactions in my own body and mind. I used to be more of a problem solver when it came to how I felt about things, and if it was a feeling that was uncomfortable, I’d immediately try to find the cause and kill the cause. In other words, I took an intense sensation seriously and focused on it like mad.

However, I think I’ve wizened up a little bit with this stuff now, because I identify that a lot of the emotions and sensations we actually feel are relative to the things we perceive with our senses. If we smell a certain aroma we like, neurons that relate to that aroma are activated – we have a positive reaction to it, and we might associate memories to it. It might even make us hungry if it’s a food. Likewise the things we hear can arouse particular memories and emotions, too.

So can sight, and social media is a fucking explosion of stimulation right in your face at all times. Your sight is bombarded with dozens upon dozens of photos of pretty places, filtered people (sometimes pretty but mostly filtered, fuck your filters), fancy music placed on top of highly choreographed wedding proposals, people on boats in over exposed all white clothing, happy families, etc.

This isn’t what we are normally accustomed to in daily life. I’ve written about it before, but life is quite mundane and slow. That kind of overexposed hyperstimulation that social media provides is almost 100% a total fabrication, and it’s essentially a form of marketing. It’s tapping into that behavioral economics trickery that has been around for ages, where you’re seeing all these dreamlike places that people are in, and it’s sending the silent message to the monkey brain asking “why isn’t YOUR life this cool?”.

Your brain gets overstimulated, and you start to look at these things relative to your life. Naturally, your life comes off as more mundane than others, and you start to yearn for better things. You’re being manipulated by what you perceive emotionally, and that conversely can lead to decisions that aren’t in line with what you actually value, but rather are based on things you believe to lack in life.

It’s all relative! Comparison can be a useful tool because it can help you gauge your own progress in several areas – however, comparison is a cognitive tool in a large toolshed – you use it for practical things, not for all things. It must be useful to you in some way, and to be blunt, the only use you get out of comparing and contrasting on social media is development of narcissism and mental problems.

Jonathon Haidt, a social psychologist, spoke about the dangers of social media and how it is a serious problem in mental health issues on Lex Fridman’s podcast. I recommend you check that out if you’re interested in that topic, but anecdotally I agree with him solely because I recognized this immediate swelling of emotions that previously just didn’t exist in myself.

Writing about this also basically eradicated them, too, because I’ve been able to thoroughly identify what the hell happened and I’m back to my normal self. That and the stimuli has been removed from my sight. Out of sight, out of mind is legit.

I think a holy shitload of people don’t recognize that social media and these kinds of applications can have catastrophically powerful effects on their psyche. It’s a lack of self-awareness of the dangers, but think of it this way: we know that movies and music as forms of entertainment can generate powerful emotions, why can’t social media? It’s essentially the same thing: a kind of entertainment, except the difference is usually there’s no good script or musical crescendo. Just shitty filters.

And don’t get me started on the ones where it’s some filtered up chick who wiggles her twig ass in a short dress for a few seconds and gets 40 billion watches while some dumb K-pop music plays in the background. The only emotion that brings out in me is annoyance. Stop watching that shit you plebs, go watch some real porn.

Anyway, time to sleep. Have a great day!

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