Important official legal disclaimer: This is a short work of fiction. Any resemblances to real people, people you may know, people you think you may know, etc., is entirely deliberate.
When I’m at work I’m staring at a screen. When I’m not at work I’m staring at screens. Checking social media. Scrolling through updates. Scrolling through friends. Scrolling through products. Scrolling through #instagram. Scrolling through #amazon. The customer is always right. Make sure that what you’re selling is something that people want to buy.
On the subway we’re surrounded by people that we don’t know and never will. Our heads are tilted down, eyes connected to smartphones and pod devices. Playing free games. Bright lights and colorful shapes. Swipe swipe swipe. Group texts. #netflix. Fantasy football updates. #snapchats. The anxiety of being human. New Yorkers avoid looking at or talking to one another. Once in a while there will be a crazy person on the train and all of us normal passengers can smile at each other and sigh. At least we’re not crazy.
If you close your eyes the movement of the subway feels organic, as if the trains and underground tunnels are alive. The subway tunnels are the arteries and veins of the city, the passageways of the busy hive. A buzz of worker bees on our way. Where are we going?
I don’t want be a part of the hive. But I’m a human being. I need other human beings.
Something is broken in me. I hate myself. I don’t feel a sense of belonging or connection in any aspect of my life. friendships, family, romance, work. Ennui and alienation are my reality. A city of 8 million people. A hive of loneliness.
My life is no tragedy. There are no readily apparent causes for the dissatisfaction I feel. I wasn’t abused. My parents love me. I went to college. I had all the benefits of a middle class upbringing. I’m a white male in a society that has persecuted anyone and everyone who isn’t.
There was a terrorist attack and the nation was in shock. A maniac with a gun shot up a shopping mall. The president offered his condolences. We had an all-staff call at work to discuss how we felt. It’s important for us to remember that terrorists are evil. When terrible things happen on our TV screens it’s important to show solidarity.
We’ve never had an all-staff call at work to discuss our solidarity with the homeless people that we walk by each day between the subway station and our office. The woman who stands by the subway entrance shaking her cup of change every day. The couple that sleep in sleeping bags each night under the awning of the bodega. There was no all-staff call to discuss our solidarity with our co-workers who were laid off last week.
I eat mostly fast food. Fast. Food. Chinese delivery. #mcdonalds. #kraft macaroni & cheese. #dominos. Microwave dinners. High sodium. High Fructose Corn Syrup. MSG. Intense flavors. Addictive flavors.
Binge. Binge-watch. Binge-watch television. The revolution will be televised. The revolution will be tweeted.
#ThisIsUs #Freshofftheboat #Blackish #Blacklivesmatter #Change #Makeamericagreatagain #Strongertogether #Target
Browsing the internet, searching for a date. Swiping through thousands of profiles. The deep human need for connection. “Love to travel”. “Looking for a partner in crime”. “Enjoys witty banter”. Attempting to send thoughtful messages that will stand out. Being ignored. Rejected. Every once in a while a rare response. Variable rewards. You’ll never win if you don’t play the game. True love is just a swipe away. Dopamine. Slot machines. Addiction.
Sometimes I wonder if people have genuine friendships anymore. Sometimes I think back to the times when I had friends. My friends from college. I think I was always a little bit sad underneath it all. But friends are a good medicine.
We had a lot of fun back in college. This was back before our jobs dragged us to all different corners of the country. Nowadays we talk about the #nfl or #GoT through group texts. Sometimes we wish each other happy birthday. Usually we forget.
Breaking news. Check your smart phone. Turn on your television. President Trump did this. President Trump did that. Terrorist attack. Hurricane. Polar Ice Caps melting. Destruction. Human beings are terrible to each other. Stay informed. Stay alert. Information equals wisdom. Check #bbc, #cnn, #msnbc. Get updates and notifications. Twitter and social media keep us informed. Smart phones are smart.
Drugs make me feel better. Temporarily. Porn works too. Weed. A little coke. A little molly. Drugs and porn don’t really make me happy, but they at least make me not sad for a while. A quick bump to take the pain away.
Everyone is an addict. Addiction is good for the economy. Some addictions are respectable. Some not so much. work, shopping, smart phones, #facebook, television, fossil fuels, #marvel super-hero movies, #mcdonalds, #instagram, pornography, #dominos, coffee, alcohol, #snapchat, cocaine, #oxycontin, heroin. The economy is doing well.
I talked to my sister a few weeks ago, she lives in Colorado. She used to live in Arizona, and before that North Carolina. I miss my sister. Like most young people she goes wherever she or her boyfriend can find work. She told me about her job, about how all her co-workers seem so fake. No one really seems to care about what they’re doing. It’s more important to make it seem like you care than it is to actually care.
The other day I saw a picture she posted with her co-workers – “So happy to work with these great people and this awesome company #workfriends”.
The global economy is great. Even as it rips apart the connections that we need for our emotional health, it comes up with ever more products and services and gadgets for us to substitute for those connections and soothe our loneliness. One day we will all be staring at screens all the time and we’ll never have to interact with humans in the real world ever again. Life will be good.
I know some people who find meaning in their work. They work long hours. They go out drinking with co-workers. Mostly they work in advertising or tech or finance. These industries are important because they help our economy grow. Growing the economy is important. We may live on a finite planet, but we’re committed to an economy that can grow forever.
An economy is not the only type of organic system that can commit to a cycle of endless growth. Sometimes it happens with cells in the human body for instance. This is called cancer.
Most of my time at work I sit at my desk pretending to work hard. Wondering what the other cubicle bees are doing with their time as they pretend to be working hard. Sometimes I do spreadsheets that people tell me are useful. #microsoft excel. #salesforce. Being able to measure and quantify all aspects of life is a valuable skill.
Once in a while I’ll grab lunch at the bodega or at #mcdonalds and I’ll notice how the employees there work so much harder than I do. Most of them are bi-lingual. They probably work harder in an hour than I do in a day.
I sit at a desk in front of a computer, so my job is really important.
Smart phone. Smart TV. Smart car. Smart house. We are smart.
When I get out of work I walk to the subway with all the other worker bees leaving their jobs. The sidewalks are buzzing with people heading this way and that. It’s important to walk fast to wherever it is you’re going. It’s important to go where you’re going and for everyone else to go where they’re going. Thinking about where you’re going is time wasted when you could be getting to where you’re going. Be careful if you smile at other people, they may see it as a threat.
At rush hour there is always a man on the corner near the subway with a sign that says “Jesus Loves You.” His eyes are intense. He doesn’t seem to be in a rush to get anywhere.
I love to learn. I love to read. I mostly hated school. Some of the most intelligent, interesting, and creative people I knew were dropouts.
School was useful for teaching us that life is about measurement and performance and specialization and commodification. Your peers are your competition. Things like empathy and imagination and cooperation are hard to measure. They’re non-linear. School doesn’t like them.
Prison population is something we can measure. There are 2.3 million Americans in Prison. There are more black men in prison today than there were enslaved at the time the Civil War began. America is the home of the Free and the Brave.
There was a pretty young woman at the register at the bookstore. She told me that she was a huge fan of the Nabokov stories I was buying. Said she loved the way he plays with language and meaning. She reached to give me a bag for the book and I told her I didn’t really need one. She apologized and smiled and said that she must have asked me about a bag already. I told her that she hadn’t. She blushed. I asked her her name. I asked her for her number.
Later I sent her a message. Maybe I could take her out for a drink sometime. Smiley face emoji. I never got a response. Connecting with people is hard.
Social media. Social. Media. We are social. We connect with our screens. Social media connects us to what is important. Likes, upvotes, retweets, friend requests, updates, notifications. That friendly buzzzzzz from your smart phone. It feels good to be social. Dopamine. Remember – Your brand matters. Everyone is watching.
Technology makes the world better. Technology solves problems, especially problems created by other technology. If new technologies create problems, the solution is to develop newer technologies to solve those problems. Technology and progress are the same thing. Technology helps the economy grow. When technology makes human beings obsolete, that is progress.
Sometimes it seems that we relate to our machines better than we relate to each other.
One in sixty-eight children in America is diagnosed with autism. Autism is characterized by impaired social interaction, impaired verbal and non-verbal communication, and restricted and repetitive behavior.
I feel like my job isn’t actually about doing anything. Success is really about making it look like what you do is important. Lying to yourself to tell yourself that what you do is important.
Teamwork and cooperation are actively discouraged at work. No one knows what anyone else does, but supposedly what everyone does is important. Stare into your computer screen. Do we live in a world where success is about manipulating our fellow human beings? #winning
One day after work I saw an old woman on the subway with a young girl sleeping at her side. The woman was sewing a scarf. Sometimes people are good to each other. Sometimes the small things in life can be incredibly beautiful. Once in a while happiness will come when I’m not searching for it.
I wish I had a girlfriend. Someone I could talk to without feeling like I’m lying to myself.
People around me are growing up. Getting married. Having kids. Settling into life. My conscience is at war with my culture.
One day I took a train out of the city. I took some molly. I was hoping to escape the traps of language. I needed nature. I needed art. I was looking for something that wasn’t for sale.
Our culture destroys connection. Alienation is endemic to the system. Nobody knows anybody, nobody knows themselves. We blame and ridicule anyone who reflects the pain and fear hidden within ourselves – those who are suffering the most – the poor, the homeless, the drug addicts, the crazy, the uneducated. Anyone with a political ideology different from our own. Organic human interaction doesn’t exist, all that matters is your ability to sell and your ability to consume. Smile for #instagram, smile for #facebook. Image is everything. Human beings are commodities. We stare into screens, selling ourselves to each other. We desperately hang on for a sense of meaning and purpose to a culture which is destroying the ecosystems that we depend on for life. A culture which transforms our deep emotional need for meaning and connection into a deep emotional need for products.
In 2015 there were 33,000 deaths in America from heroin and prescription opioids. These drugs are pain killers. Pain. Killers. What pain are we trying to kill?
Some of the best people I know are chronic drug users, some of them functional, some of them not so much. What does it mean to be a human being?
Once I got so lonely that I was no longer myself. I was the hive. The people moving to and fro, the traffic, the ambulances, the delivery boys on their bicycles, the junkies, the couples hand in hand on the sidewalks, the children and dogs playing in the park, the street festivals, the subway cars rumbling through their tunnels. It was all me.
The sounds of the city are music. Everything is frequency. A constant buzzing.
Rather than acknowledging and sharing our pain and fear, using vulnerability to connect, we project onto each other. We revert to tribalism. Tribalism and hatred increase when our communities are our screens. Morality and empathy function differently in this environment. There is only the tribe and the Other. The safe space and the enemy. Stronger Together. I’m With Her. Make America Great Again. #BlackLivesMatter #BlueLivesMatter. Advertising is our culture. #hashtag your tribe.
I miss my sister. I miss my whole family. Including my extended family that I don’t really know. Sometimes I think that humans aren’t really supposed to behave like bees in a hive and that we are actually designed to live close to our families and our friends and work close to where we live. Maybe work and life and culture and happiness aren’t supposed to be separate things. “Commute” is a silly word. There’s a hope somewhere deep down that we actually need each other… that people are worth it.
As a straight, college educated, white male, I sometimes feel that I’m not allowed to be upset about the world we live in, I’m not allowed to be hurt by it. I need to #checkmyprivilege. Maybe I just need more drugs.
It’s important for us to be living in a state of constant consumption. After all, what are we if we’re not consumers? What does it mean to be a human being?
Sex sells. Sex is a good product. Orgasms can be counted. How many people have you fucked? I don’t know how to have a genuinely vulnerable emotional connection with another human being. What happens after the orgasm? Connecting with someone who you hope to have an intimate and beautiful relationship with is about selling yourself. Always remember: You Are A PRODUCT.
Make sure you have a great profile pic. Remember, self-expression is about crafting an image that other people will like. These are your #friends. This is advertising, people don’t want to know the real you. Make sure you look sexy at all times. Ugliness doesn’t sell. Swipe your way to happiness. Hearts. Likes. Thumbs Up. Everyone’s there. An entire city. The entire world. A busy hive.
Drugs are Good drugs when society says they’re Good drugs. Good drugs are legal, Bad drugs are illegal.
Good people Hate president Trump. It’s important to have socially acceptable outlets for channeling negative emotions when living in an oppressive culture. Ridiculing and making fun of Trump and his supporters is something we can all do together and share in the fun.
Is it possible that Trump supporters might be human beings too? Is it possible that hatred is just fear and pain turned outward?
How’s your social media presence? What does it mean to have “presence”? Where am I when I have #presence? Presence; noun; the state or fact of being present; current existence or occurrence.
Science and technology allow us to track and influence the behavior of massive numbers of human beings. The patterns of the hive. How does the swarm function?
Humans can be tracked by consumption habits and behavior predicted and influenced using algorithms. The more data there is the more accurate the predictions. Eventually feedback loops from past behavior can be used to influence future behavior. What we consume tells us who we are and who we will be. #hashtag it. Humans are just numbers after all. Numbers that can be measured, counted, commodified.
Tech and big data are amazing. It’s really great the way the tech industry helps our economy. Why judge people by the content of their character when there are statistics and algorithms? More products to help the economy grow. What does it mean to be a human being?
After the Civil War, the former slaves were free to make their way in this home of the Free and the Brave. In Florida and other parts of the south, during the reconstruction period, it was common for freed slaves to be thrown in jail for no other reason than the fact that they didn’t have work. Once there, they were forced into chain gangs to build railroads and other infrastructure projects. Many died due to terrible conditions and over-work. Railroads were important because they brought industry and technology and economic growth. Economic progress makes the world better.
Every once in a while the screens get turned off. I get the rare chance to talk with friends or co-workers away from the screens and outside of the office environment and I have the impression that they are genuinely interested in having a positive impact in the world and in their community. Why do I feel so alienated at work, and in life? Why are we so disconnected in a world of constant connection? It has something to do with the system, the wider culture. Culture is powerful.
Worker bees working, the rhythms of the hive.
A beautiful fall day in Central Park. An oasis amidst the concrete. The wind blows through the trees, leaves shimmering in the sun. Fractals. The individual elements reflect structural patterns of the whole.
A beehive is an amazing thing. We can’t understand the hive by looking at the behavior of an individual bee, yet the combined behavior of the bees create a new phenomenon that is more than the sum of its parts – the hive. Swarming is like a cultural phenomenon of the hive. It is a pattern of the hive reflected in the bees.
The heroin addict reflects our culture of addiction. The cancer patient reflects our pathological attachment to endless growth. The autistic child reflects a society in which we have lost the ability to empathize, lost the ability to feel. We relate more to machines than to each other and to the earth. A black man murdered in the street reflects a culture in which human life is just a number. Humans are products. A salesman for president is a reflection of us. It shows us who we are.
The art of the deal. President. Salesman. Don’t forget that you’re for sale. Everyone’s watching.
The personalities that thrive in the modern world are those that embody the traits of psychopathy. Rapid turnover in interpersonal relationships. Lack of any real need for a sense of community or place. Focus on the superficial and image-based forms of communication as opposed to depth and nuance. Lack of empathy. Commoditized, fragmented, specialized and depersonalized interactions with others and with the planet. We are all engulfed in this culture. There aren’t any good guys or bad guys. Causality is non-linear. We’re all guilty. We are a society in which the ability to consume is our highest virtue and being poor is a moral failure. Poor people hate themselves and each other for being poor and worship rich people for being rich. Rich people hate themselves just as much as poor people, if not more so. Can you ever consume enough to create an identity? What does it mean to be a human being? Technology, screens and financial capital. Fossil fuels. Endless War. Drone Strikes. 150 to 200 of the species that make up the biosphere of planet earth go extinct every single day. 2,220,300 people incarcerated in the United States of America. Home of the Free and the Brave.
I don’t have a single person that I feel I can talk to about things that matter to me. I don’t have a single relationship where I feel I can be comfortable being myself, where I feel understood. Attempts that I make to connect are met with rejection. I fail over and over and over again. The relationships I do have are superficial. Why am I so broken? Sometimes I think that I might have something positive to offer.
Does the bee comprehend the nature of the hive? There are 7.442 billion human beings on planet earth. The individual human brain does not work with those kinds of numbers. We can’t relate to 7,442,000,000. 7,442,000,000 are not faces that we know. 7,442,000,000 is not connected to place. The way we make sense of 7,442,000,000… is as a product. A product to be exploited and used for all that it’s worth and then discarded along with the rest of the natural world. Success in our culture, in the industrial juggernaut that we call our economy, comes from the ability to manipulate the largest number of human beings, from figuring out and implementing the most efficient ways of turning human beings and the planet into a #commodity.
#hashtag #hastag #hashtag #meme #meme #meme #imageiseverything #cultureisadvertisement #artisproduct #loveisproduct
Shorten your thoughts so your mind doesn’t wander
into the darkness beyond tomorrow.
Photo credit: Flickr user Blek (Creative Commons)