All that Glitters Isn’t Platinum, Copper, or Gold

We’re trading humanity for hatred, humanity for technology. Humanity’s a bitch.

Margeaux Perkins

March 31, 2014 | Gold | April 2014

The words “I hate people” have surely been uttered from your mouth before. I’ve said them. I’ve heard friends and strangers say them. The Internet glorifies the phrase, pokes fun at it, makes it seem “cool” to not like other people, to be a loner, to only enjoy the company of animals. It seems silly to hate other people, and when you say the phrase, maybe you don’t entirely mean it. Maybe you relate to it because you feel angry at the guy who cut you off on the freeway. In the same vein as telling a friend that you hate them when they do something to embarrass you, you don’t really mean it when you use the word hate. It’s a catch-all phrase meaning anything from, “You’ve disappointed me” to “I didn’t like what you just did” to “That hurt me” to “You’re being ridiculous, please stop”.

Our generation tosses these phrases around like they mean nothing, and they don’t mean anything to us, or so it seems. I didn’t think that saying “I hate everyone” meant anything until I found myself actually resembling the kids in the cartoons captioned “I hate the world, so I stay inside”, wrapped in blankets, feverishly checking websites like IWasteSoMuchTime and Buzzfeed, communicating only via Facebook, rarely seeing the outside world. Rather than flesh and blood connections, I craved the cold hard metal of my cell phone or laptop. I’d forgotten what was really precious.

The argument against this culture is similar to the argument for the self-deprecating culture. “It’s not really hurting anyone to be this way. It’s only a joke. People don’t really hate themselves. People only use that to be funny because a perfect life in which you make no mistakes is not funny. If a comedian took the stage to talk about how beautiful they are and how lovely their children are, no one would laugh.” If people wrote memes about how much fun they were having outside, no one would laugh. It’s funny to look at a meme and think “OMG that’s me. I’m inside right now, looking at my computer, as if the outside world doesn’t exist. It’s funny because that’s me right now. How do they know?” It’s funny because you can relate. You didn’t think anyone else did that. You no longer feel alone because other people do that. That all may be true. But I think there’s something a little more to the hatred culture than there is to the self-deprecating culture. I think it’s wrong that in hatred culture, the butt of the joke is humanity.

Imagine a world where everyone stays inside. People really do hate and fear one another. We’re all alone, each and every one of us. It’s happening right now on the streets of New York. People actively avoid one another. I performed a little social experiment the over the summer as I was walking to work in Chelsea. I smiled at and made eye contact with every person that I passed. Out of a whopping 40 people I passed, 1 made eye contact with me, 0 smiled. Each had their eyes averted to their cellular devices. Maybe you think that people are just busy. Maybe they’re in their own world. But there lies the issue. They’re in their own world.

Whether they’re in their own world when they’re at the computer, or on their smartphone, or just being in the outside world physically, they’re not really in the outside world, mentally. Maybe they don’t actively hold the opinion that they hate other people, but it comes out every time someone accidentally pushes them on the bus or brushes by them on a hot summer day. Their first reaction is, “What the fuck? What the fuck is wrong with that person?” When we’re jostled from the outside, it temporarily takes us out of our own world. This disturbs us. We think, “How dare that person interrupt my day?” When someone smiles at us, we wonder “Why are they smiling at me? What do they want?”

Try and think about the last time you thought of someone else before you thought of yourself. Have you ever wondered that maybe the man who cut you off on the freeway really needed to get home? Did you ever think that person who’s smiling at you is just smiling in the hope that someone in the world will acknowledge them and smile back? Have you ever thought that the person who bumped into you was in desperate need to get to where they’re going and they were too busy wrapped up in their thoughts to notice you? Undoubtedly, you’ve thought of that last one. It seems almost inescapable, we think people are bad, so we don’t talk to people, people think we’re bad, so they don’t talk to us. Technology is what we can trust. That is what has become important to us. That is what holds value. Our smartphones and laptops will never betray us. Not like humans. The only way this thing ends is perpetual loneliness, right?

margeaux gold quoteObviously we’re a selfish and rude little bunch. We’re taught that in the end all we’re going to have is ourselves. Arguably, the most important relationship you have is with yourself. A day is going to come though, when you’re a little fed up with yourself. You’re tired of being in the darkness of your bedroom. You don’t want to look at a computer screen anymore. You’ve watched everything that there is to watch on Netflix. You try to go outside but there’s nothing left for you out there.

Or maybe you’re already outside, and you rarely spend time inside. You’ve stepped on hundreds of people to get to the top of your field or your career and now you look down at all the people you’ve killed trying to get to where you wanted to go. You cut people off and when they cut you off, you got angry. You pushed people to get onto the subway car and when they pushed you, you were furious. You didn’t care about a single person and now you’re all alone. Just you and your smartphone composed of some of the most precious metals in the world: Platinum, Palladium, Copper, and Gold. Imagine it. Imagine all the people you’ve neglected in your life. All the times you were on the phone with your mother, half-listening because you thought you had better things to do.

Maybe all you want to do is be home alone. Maybe you’re pushing people on the train, cutting people off on the freeway, and impatiently waiting at the pharmacy, all so you can go home and be alone, drawing the curtains, cozying up to your laptop, and finally getting to just exist in your own little world for a few hours before you have to open the curtains and once again be disturbed by the outside world.

Maybe you’re thinking to yourself, how could this all happen by me just playing on the Internet for a couple of hours a day? I don’t really hate other people. I just like being alone. Everyone does. No one to bother you, no one to distract you from what you want to do. You finally just get to be yourself. You finally just get to do what you want and not have anyone judge you. It’s OK to enjoy being alone. In fact, not enjoying being alone is really scary to think about. It’s when your agenda begins to affect others that the madness begins. Take a moment and ask yourself, why do you matter so much? Why are you so important to the world? Why are you the center? Why should people get out of the way for you? When’s the last time you got out of the way for other people? When’s the last time you looked up from playing Candy Crush and realized there’s a world out there?

I was sitting on the train, headed into the city the other day when I looked up at the man sitting across from me. He looked tired. He was in a suit. His eyes were drooping as he looked out the window. I had sworn off using my cellphone on my way to and from work at this point, so I could see the outside world, and thought about a different time. In a different time, he would ask me where I was headed. I’d ask him what he did for a living. We’d interact with one another. Find something in common, something interesting to share during the twenty minute ride from Queens to Manhattan. The words, “How are you today?” formed on my lips before I sucked them back in out of fear that he’d reject me. I thought, “He looks tired. Maybe he’ll be annoyed at me. What would I do if someone tried to talk to me? I would probably be flabbergasted. Would I give short, curt answers to all of his questions? Would I feel threatened?” It’s a cycle. We don’t think that others want to talk because we don’t think that we want to talk, so we don’t bother anyone with talking even though we want to talk. We never stop and think that maybe someone else does want to talk.

We’re trading humanity for hatred, humanity for technology. We’ve forgotten that we’re the only ones here to help each other. Someday our smartphones will fail us. Those precious metals have nothing compared to the preciousness of another human being. We’ll crave the vocal, in person conversation. We’ll miss getting to know a stranger with no intention other than passing the time it takes to get from point A to point B. We’re afraid of others so rather than letting our barriers down to see what else is out there, we stack them up higher, grow thick, angry skin to defend ourselves from being pushed on the train and brushed up against on the street. This is wrong. I miss people. I miss the times before my friends told me that they didn’t need any more friends. I miss the times when making friends was fun, not work. When keeping up with people and going out with them was what was constituted a good time. When staying in, looking at a computer screen was not an option, let alone a priority.

There’s something strange about feeling hatred before you feel compassion for someone. We give up too easily on people. We don’t know anyone anymore. We just hate. We refuse to believe that good exists in the world anymore. We’ve closed ourselves off to the possibility that someone out there doesn’t suck. We’ve closed our eyes or averted them from the outside world because we don’t believe anything out there’s worth looking at. One day we’re all going to look around at everyone we’ve written off, everyone we’ve grown to hate. We’ll crave being jostled on the subway, and brushed up against on our way to work. Maybe we won’t ever get to feel that again. Maybe our skin will be too thick. Maybe the hate that fills our veins like toxins will prevent us from feeling anything at all for one another.

It’ll probably be really hard at first, getting used to hearing a voice other than the one inside our heads. I can’t imagine the pain and terror we’ll feel at first, touching something other than the metal and plastic that our technology is made of. But eventually, we’ll grow used to feeling something again. We’ll get up from our dark rooms, close our laptops, speak to someone on the train, and do more than bury our faces in our smart phones at parties. We’ll raise our children to play games using their imaginations again. We’ll get our creativity back. Or maybe we can avoid that altogether. Hopefully, you’ll look around the train or subway car you’re on and notice the frowns on everyone’s faces. Maybe you’ll try to make eye contact when you’re walking down the street and realize that no one is looking up. Eventually the silence that fills the elevator as you avoid the eyes of the person next to you will become deafening. And we’ll talk again. And we’ll love again. This time we’ll know what’s really precious.

Margeaux Perkins has made it her life's mission to never be described with the terms "shy", "boring", or "quiet". She tries to find happiness in the little things in life, like making her boyfriend's lunch with the early morning sun peeking through the windows or going pee after holding it in for too long. Writing has been her thing since she wrote her first short story at age 12. It was an 18-page Microsoft Word Document about a 20-something New York gal who falls in love with her male best friend. She's been tickling the backlit Mac ebonies ever since.

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