“And that perhaps is why I find the idea of a home on the Internet comforting: it is a never-ending break from tradition. To make a home online is to quiet yearnings by succumbing to them entirely. To succumb in this way is to be swept up in a zeroth culture where change constitutes a more fundamental layer of reality than tradition and constancy.”
– Venkatesh Rao, from the article “Life with a View” on Ribbonfarm.com
I had a fantasy of what my life would be like if I quit Facebook. I imagined how much happier, how much calmer, how much more focused I would be. I would give people better attention, I would finally sit down to write, and I would finally feel more connected to it all – a feeling I’ve only grasped in small bursts of moments scattered throughout my life. But what I noticed when I went on my week long Facebook hiatus was quite different. I realized that Facebook was not the cause of my restlessness. It was just a really ineffective tool for curing it.
I first noticed the power of my yearnings when I was traveling through Europe. I dreamed of backpacking through Europe for years. I thought that this experience was something I needed to feel like I had really lived my life. But what I came to feel at times was something more manufactured than real. A lot of this had to do with going to crowded, underwhelming tourist sites, but there was something else blocking me from fulfillment too. Something I couldn’t name at the time and which I’m only now starting to understand.
Venkatesh Rao, the head writer at Ribbonfarm might describe this “is this it?” feeling as symptomatic of the arrival fallacy. In short the arrival fallacy comes from the traditional notion of arriving at a certain desired station in life: finding the perfect job, true love, and/or having a family. Today we don’t have such a rigid idea of what it means to arrive, but we do have our own notions of desired states of being or certain changes we think would make our lives better. You might expect that fulfilling a life long dream, like world travel, would make a person happier and more satisfied with his/her life. But even something like travel doesn’t stand a chance against the epic power of yearning, because life is a series of never ending yearnings. Yearning is what propels us forward and only a fool expects to be satisfied.
The good news is that while yearnings may be numerous, so are the lessons we learn from acting on them. This is what happened to me when I finally took my trip. Despite that I’m now more hungry than ever for new experiences and that elusive feeling of connectedness, I am grateful for my time on the road and I learned a lot about myself. It gave me material for future yearnings and ideas on how to quell other yearnings. I may not have figured myself out on my travels, but I certainly got a little bit more clear on what I like and don’t like.
Facebook not-with-standing, I do see the internet as a pivotal part of my life and something that, like Rao suggests, will help me be more at home with my yearnings. For to establish yourself on say a blog where you show up and express yourself and build an identity and community, is one way of putting your foot on the ground, even if it’s a virtual ground. Likewise, you expose yourself for who you are now and your yearnings become more public, and perhaps the fact that they are public makes you more dedicated to acting on them. It’s better than being a virtual tourist, never setting any real roots, as so many of us are on Facebook. And right now I’m going to seek to fulfill my yearnings, to satisfy my desire for connectedness, by writing as much as possible and staying off Facebook – because right now Facebook is the waiting-in-line-for-hours at the empire state building type of internet travel. While I can’t say that this will solve all my life’s problems, it’s all I know to do right now. All I can do is ride the waves of my passions, even if those are numerous and each wave just leads to another. At least I am no longer burdened by the illusion that I must arrive somewhere, though ironically riding myself of that illusion almost makes me feel like I have.