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Dining Alone in the Social Media Age

I’m sitting at my local café and I’m busting a gut. It’s rather embarrassing actually, but the laughter is spilling out of my lips like vomit after a round of Kahlua shots – which is to say, I can’t hold it in. Hastily I check my peripherals for onlookers, but as per usual, no one’s paying me any attention. It’s the podcast I’m listening to (Boners of the Heart) that’s causing such bewildering, though unnoticed, giggles. It’s plugged to my ears while I wait for my lunch to arrive.

Any introvert will be aware of a headphone’s true purpose: signalling to the world that one wishes to be left alone. They also provide an easy out for those feeling conspicuous in their solitude. Don’t pity me, it says, I’m enjoying the company of my iPhone.

For the sophisticates, there’s the alternative option of a book. Though harder to navigate with a knife and fork (how the hell do you keep the pages from flapping around?). A solitary consumer with a novel says to the world: I’m a super-deep thinker who enjoys the finer things (unless you’re reading 50 Shades, which is a borderline thing to do in public anyway). Or, there’s always the option of a magazine, easier to manage, and far more casual.

And then there’s the full monty: dining in public without the social lube of accoutrements. The best way to eat without the assistance of a friend, podcast, magazine, or book is to just immerse yourself in your meal. Yes, it sounds wanky. But it’s rare that we truly enjoy things by ourselves these days, and it might surprise you how lovely it is to focus on the flavour of your food. Trust me; no one’s going to think you’re strange.

I don’t find it lonely to wine, dine, or even see a film by myself. In fact, in the face of Instagram, Snapchat, and vlogging every moment of one’s life, reading a book in a café feels like a tiny rebellious act. Or an active form of meditation. Social media is called such for a reason – it exists under the guise of helping us socialise. But I suspect our obsession with the form stems from a deep well of social anxiety. It’s important to present yourself correctly on your channels: carefree, fun-loving, happy, popular... To not do so is to place yourself squarely on the outside.

I’m not particularly lonely in my life. I have a loving partner and wonderful friends and family. But I do feel lonely when I lie in bed, crumbs on my collar, thumbing through highly edited photos of my prettiest acquaintances. Social media has irreversibly altered the way we live our lives. ‘Why waste a sunset on your own eyes,’ it tells us, ‘when you can film it and show it to everyone on your contact list?’ Everything we encounter these days makes for potential content, whether it’s a weekend trip to the beach or your daily walk to work. In the face of this culture, it’s refreshing to do something on your lonesome. It’s even nicer not to post it on the internet.

It’s most refreshing, however, not to care what people think of you. And as I look around this café, in which I was just painting the walls with my solitary laughter, I remember that people don’t care very much about the lives of those around them. That’s the deep irony of social media: the only content people really care about is their own. So focus on your meal. Truly, no one cares.

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