Society “Welcome to Your Tape.”
Have you watched the show yet? Undoubtedly you have heard about Netflix’s most recent Original series. The plot is set against the aftermath of a young girl’s suicide and the 13 people that played a role in her decision to kill herself. Since it was released last month, there has been an onslaught of concerned parents’ groups that make the accusation that it glorifies suicide. Although, I can honestly say the revenge plot does seem pretty impressive at times, by the end of the series you are no longer left with any illusions about how painful these decisions are. Instead, we are left with what I think is the real indictment of our times. That for all of our connectivity, our posting in support of, the Je Suis Charlie’s, the I (heart) Insert tragedy/disease here or #CauseoftheDay, We have only become more horrible to each other. The message I took away from the show, is that it was not about Hannah (the girl who killed herself), rather this show was about the kids, or society that causes this isolation and pain through our selfishness and failure to understand and connect with each other.
It’s So Common
Technology is a passion of mine, and I love to look at the ways that it can make life better and how it has the possibility to translate into transformative movements in the world. I love that the hotel industry that has enjoyed over a century of taking advantage of the consumer is now getting its butt kicked by Air BnB. I also love that we can learn new skills and abilities by just streaming videos that experts produce for mass consumption. Of course, there is a downside, all of these advances have come hand in hand with an ever decreasing disconnect from the society in which we live.
Six Pixels of Separation
We now experience life through a filter. Whether it’s a computer screen or a phone, there is now a layer of separation between us and the people around us that never used to be there. If I can put this is simple terms, think about the starvation and poverty in some African nations, there are some shocking and terrifying tragedies going on in some third world countries. The majority of us, however, don’t lose any sleep over this. It is because we are physically separated from the issue, the greater degree of separation from any pain point the less it is felt. It works in economics too, oil prices fall, well the people working in that industry feel it the most, and then secondary producers, and so on until the Walmart manager just simply sees a small shift in the cost of goods.
So because we are no longer able to experience the ramifications of our social interactions, we inevitably become less attuned to the emotions of others. In short, we become desensitized to the suffering of others and begin to act in a way that showcases that lack of concern. Unfortunately, this occurs both digitally and in real life and that is what I feel is showcased in 13 Reasons.
I live in a small village, only 1400 or so people, most of whom are over 45, so this is not age-centric. Most of my Facebook friends are naturally from the same community I live in, and I don’t think I can go a day without seeing a post thread of very sharp comments and an out and out dumpster fire of a fight. I don’t say this in judgment, I’ve been guilty of this too, and you know what, I have never felt better after one of these exchanges and I imagine that not many others do either. I am not a saint by any means, I have engaged in some awful online desensitized, ignorant crap and upon reflection, I feel horrible about all of it, like I am sure most do. But it is this trend of desensitization that makes us unable to connect, or even have healthy conflict or arguments. As a result, we are now emotionally inept to the point that we are no longer able to fully and successfully function as people.
If you don’t think that I’m right, try calling the next three people who text you. No? Is it too awkward and weird to call someone, I remember being able to talk on the phone for hours about sweet FA. The truth is that we are out of practice connecting with one another, and are now so much more comfortable just to keep the filter set up as active as possible. Don’t believe me, just try it and notice your hesitation, that hesitation is the same kind of delay that someone feels before they are about to undertake a task or activity that they are unsure that they can complete successfully. But it’s just a call, shouldn’t it be easy?
Without Real Connection, There Can Be No Momentum
One of the reasons you may not want to call someone is because you may think that you are inconveniencing them. We have internalized that we are not valuable enough to warrant a few minutes of someone’s undivided attention. Instead, we are more comfortable to fire off a text message iMessage and wait and wonder why that person is not texting back, further compounding our inferiority complexes and driving our sense of isolation.
Getting back to 13 Reasons Why, the “Reasons” are delivered on cassette tapes. The exact reason is that “It’s not supposed to be easy.”
The beauty of the device of the tapes is that it forces the listener to endure a slow and archaic process to get a sense of the entire story. Even in this fictional character’s last act, she understands that the act of making her targets abandon their comfort zone technology will create a more substantial connection to the tapes and her message. Hannah doesn’t include pictures of the locations she mentions; the expectation is that the listeners will physically visit these places to experience the story in a more profound way. As a society, for the most part, we have lost this level of connection. Yes, it’s great to take a virtual tour of Machu Pichu, you can even throw on a VR helmet and look around like you were there, but have your ever really been there? In the same way, when we opt for the text or sad face emoji on a Facebook post, are we really there for our friends and family? We delude ourselves into believing that we are still good friends, despite the fact that all we see is a carefully curated glimpse into the parts of someone’s life that they choose to share.
This lack of authentic connection makes it next to impossible to tell what is actually going on in someone’s life. The lack of real communication we experience also makes it next to impossible to share a common goal or belief amongst a large or small group of people (this is why team sports are critical people). Video music and many other stimuli still elicit emotional responses, but we experience those feelings in silos. Because we experience this filtered world in a silo, we are never challenged when we begin to curate the view of the world that suits the version that we’ve created which can have good and mostly bad consequences. This trend has resulted in the rise of Flat-Earthers and anti-vaxxers. Or in the most extreme scenarios, we begin to believe that there is no way forward except for an irreversible and permanent path.
So as we go boldly forward into the world of dick pics, Tinder, Instagram, and further and further isolation, I’d like to ask you to view 13 Reasons Why with a bit different of a lens. Firstly, it’s a work of fiction meant to entertain and make Selena Gomez a ton of money that she doesn’t need. But take some time and look at the metaphors that are at play throughout what was a superb series (and I hope they leave it as is #NoMoreReasonsWhy). Ask yourself if you have a better relationship with the friends you text or with, or with the people you see at work every day? Yes, they are work friends, but because you are forced to interact with them every day, it is far more likely that they would notice if something is wrong.
For all the criticism of millennials being soft and self-centred, I call bull-shit. They are just experiencing a hallowing of the soul o
f society, and unfortunately for them, they don’t have the memories of what it used to be like before this started to happen.
I know that no one is going to throw away their phone after reading this, I certainly won’t be. If I could graft it onto my hand and still hold a hockey stick, I would seriously consider it. But let’s take a second to realize that there must be a reason that shows like 13 Reasons Why and movies like Garden State resonate with so many people. Apparently, we are living in a time where something is missing for a lot of people, and we latch onto stories that address that loss. But maybe a bit more authentic conversations, a bit more connection and a lot more authentic living can make a difference.
Ps. This song is awesome!