Synthetic Lives

If you’ve ever been in psychotherapy, taken a yoga class, meditated, or engaged in just about any kind of spiritual endeavor, you’ve no doubt encountered the concept of living an authentic life. It sounds great, living an authentic life. It has the unmasked scent of purity, decency and, perhaps most of all, that often elusive quality…happiness. But just what does it mean, living an authentic life? Are we all trapped in a false existence, toiling away at meaningless careers when we’d rather be stringing beads together into one-of-a-kind treasures and selling them at the local arts and crafts show? Or growing organic fruit to make artisanal jam? Would we all rather be living on a beach somewhere, or up in the mountains, writing the next great American novel rather than in our comfortable homes in the city? Perhaps. Someone once said to me that most fantasies make for a lousy reality which may be why most of us will not leave our jobs to make jewelry or jam, or move to a remote beach shack or mountain cabin to write in solitude. Nevertheless, as enticing as they may be, are those existences any more authentic than the ones most of us currently lead? That’s open for debate. So rather than debate the highly unique qualities of just what might make for an authentic life, let’s examine one aspect of our lives that just might make it a bit synthetic.

There is no right or wrong answer to this question, but how much face-to-face interaction did you have with other people today? Could you quantify it in minutes?

Hours? Was there eye contact? What about telephone conversations? Now, how much time did you spend online? Emailing? Facebooking? I recently saw a New Yorker style cartoon depicting a funeral with rows of empty chairs and two people talking at the back of the room. In the caption one was saying to the other, “I’m surprised there aren’t more people here. He had 2000 Facebook friends.” Exclusively putting our best face forward on a social network site, propagating the notion that our lives are perfect, is synthetic. Conversely, so is using social media as a means of on-going griping. But having a few good friends who know us inside and out, our joys and our sorrows…that’s real. That’s authentic.

As some of my friends and acquaintances know I’m not a fan of certain applications of social networking which may make me a relic but I’m also a realist. I don’t think most people want to see the pictures of what I did this weekend anymore than I want to see theirs. Now, if they’re particularly compelling that’s one thing like weddings, Bar/Bat Mitzvahs, even birthday parties. That’s ok. I’m off to the gym now…come on. I suppose social networking has it’s place, promoting our wares and our businesses, getting the word out en masse about a particular event, but as a primary means of connection it’s the height of synthetic. We need to see each other’s faces, hear each other’s voices, hug and hold each other. Authenticity lies in our ability to fully connect..with others as well as with ourselves.