Like Jonathan Franzen last week, Louis C.K., the other “Voice of Our Times” (White Male Demo), has come out against the tyranny of connectedness. He went on Conan last night to explain why he won’t be getting smart phones for his kids. “You need to build an ability to just be yourself and not be doing something,” he said. “That’s what the phones are taking away, is the ability to just sit there. That’s being a person. Because underneath everything in your life there is that thing, that empty—forever empty. That knowledge that it’s all for nothing and that you’re alone. It’s down there.”
Like everything C.K. says, it seemed sage and true, and True, and more importantly, funny-true–but it’s an oversimplification. It’s exactly the type of thing I was talking about in this piece, “Phones Are Better Than People” on Vice recently, in regards to that hugely viral video I Forgot My Phone.
He’s right about the emptiness, the all-consuming sadness that takes over, but the phone is a red herring here. I don’t know how it is for you young people, but I remember what it was like pre-social media addiction, pre-smart phone, and pre-cellphone. It was only like 5, 7, and 10 years ago for each. And guess what people felt like back then? Lonely. Sad. Empty. Smart phones didn’t invent weltschmerz or ennui, they just gave us a signal boost for expressing them. Was it better back when we kept all of it internalized and never shared more than a casual thought with anyone until we died?
We didn’t need smart phones to tell us that we were alone, they’re just another reminder among the dozens we encounter each day. Back before I had Twitter to constantly feed the empty spot in my soul like a glutton gorging himself with food, I would usually walk around with a book. Typically it would be something old and literary, and I would turn to it in the downtimes and read. You know what happened? It made me wallow in the loneliness, because most of great literature, and film, and art and so on, is about overwhelmingly lonely, miserable people. Was that a more productive, creative use of time than RTing some idiot’s one liner about Miley Cyrus? Sure, probably, but the underlying emotion was the same. I was lonely, so I wanted to read about lonely people in order to lean into the loneliness and come away with the feeling that I’m a little less alone than I was before. Social media lets us do that constantly, albeit with less interesting sentences and plot dilemmas. Maybe people should just write better sentences? Problem solved!
“And I go, ‘Oh, I’m getting sad, gotta get the phone and write “hi” to like 50 people’,” he went on. “Then I said, ‘You know what, don’t. Just be sad. Just let the sadness stand in the way of it, and let it hit you like a truck.'”
And then go on stage and share the stories to your millions of fans about your loneliness, right? The average person doesn’t have that option at his disposal. Instead, we’re left with warbling our pitiable cries to anyone who will listen, and they’re right there in our phones, shouting out for connection.