"Mission" Solvang, California 2018
It was seven gay guys in a hot tub on a Saturday night drinking wine and shit talking about anything and everything when the subject came up — another friend had recently committed suicide. That made three friends gone just this year. All of them handsome, sweet guys with whom we had laughed and partied and whom we sincerely adored. And each passing came as a complete and total shock. And perhaps it would be one thing if this story was just relegated to people I know who have taken their lives. But the truth is, it’s happening everywhere. Suicide is up 30% over the last ten years in America. One person dies of suicide every twelve minutes: Poor people. Rich people. Men. Women. Boys. Girls. Liberals. Conservatives. Black. White. Just this morning there was news that a youth pastor for a megachurch here in Southern California whose ministry was focused on helping people with depression, anxiety, and suicidal tendencies took his own life. He was handsome, sweet, kind, caring, a man adored by his family and his flock, and now he was gone in the most devastating way possible. What the hell are we supposed to do when even the people who have all the tools to cope with the horrors of depression aren’t able to beat it?
I truly and whole-heartedly believe one of the biggest solutions begins with disconnecting ourselves from social media and reconnecting with actual people around us. I’m not saying disconnect from the internet or emails or facts and information. No! A computer and 100Mbps is just about the most powerful tool at humanity's disposal in this day and age. I’m talking about social media: Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, etc. I don’t think those platforms are really making anybody happy anymore. At least, I don’t see it. Instead of truly bringing us together, I believe they're actually splitting us apart, and even worse, keeping us from being our authentic-selves. In my opinion social media has become a contest in which people are judged, dismissed, scorned, ridiculed, and yes, exalted for a word, a picture, a filter, no matter whether it truly reflects their actual lives or not. People have learned to lie to not just others but to themselves about their worth based on how many clicks they receive for a post. There are fights, break-ups, murders, and yes, suicides all as a result of the fact we’re living life behind screens instead of in front of one another.
I keep asking myself what would have happened if instead of liking a picture from my buddy’s last trip abroad, I would have had a phone conversation with him about it. Maybe I would have picked up on something, maybe I would have known he'd literally come home with a plan to take his own life. Maybe I’m wrong. But this I do know, humans are made to connect, to laugh, to talk, to physically be in one another's presence. That’s why in business the most important deals are made face to face. That’s why the best companies know giving a consumer a good user experience means far, far more than sending them ad upon nauseating ad. Humans are more than just eyes, we like to feel, to sense, to hear. Even those of us who prefer time alone and get our energy from being by ourselves need interactions to remind us we are still part of a larger whole. And yes, even if there was no social media some people would still chose to take their lives. I know all about it. I myself have had deep, dark bouts of depression where I literally felt like I didn’t want to go on another day. But in those times the worst part was feeling like I couldn’t share it with anyone, that no one would understand, that I was alone in my hurt and my fear. This was mostly when I was growing up gay on a farm in the middle of Missouri, and indeed I didn’t have anyone to talk through it with. I didn’t have a community to help me wrangle all the agony I was in. And perhaps at that time finding people similar to me on social media would have helped. Or perhaps it would have made me feel even more alienated and it would have made things worse as I compared myself to them and believed I might never achieve what I perceived made life worth living.
I hope in the not-too-distant future the whole of our humanity realizes authentic connections are far more valuable than we've given them credit for, especially since the explosion of social media across our planet. I can’t help but feel having a few quality friends whom understand you and care for the real you is going to be far more important than having a half a million followers who experience the tiniest fraction of you in sound bites, photographs, and boomerangs. As we’ve learned over the last three years, even the twitter-feed of a President often doesn’t actually reflect reality! My hope is that humans allow their lives to be more physically interconnected with one another going forward. We need it. It’s not going to erase the fights we’ve had, the jealousy we’ve felt, or the relationships we’ve ended over some stupid social media post. But it might help us connect for real and maybe that will allow us to share more than pretty pictures and funny memes, maybe it will help us show our pain to one another and the fear and the hurt we all go through at times, and maybe we’ll start to truly understand one another again and help heal each other, not to mention the very sick world around us.