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← You are not alone in your loneliness

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Showing Revision 7 created 06/27/2019 by Brian Greene.

  1. Hello.
  2. I'd like to introduce you to someone.
  3. This is Jomny.
  4. That's "Jonny" but spelled
    accidentally with an "m,"
  5. in case you were wondering,
  6. because we're not all perfect.
  7. Jomny is an alien

  8. who has been sent to earth
    with a mission to study humans.
  9. Jomny is feeling lost and alone
    and far from home,
  10. and I think we've all felt this way.
  11. Or, at least I have.
  12. I wrote this story about this alien
    at a moment in my life
  13. when I was feeling particularly alien.
  14. I had just moved to Cambridge
    and started my doctoral program at MIT,
  15. and I was feeling intimidated and isolated
    and very much like I didn't belong.
  16. But I had a lifeline of sorts.

  17. See, I was writing jokes
    for years and years
  18. and sharing them on social media,
  19. and I found that I was turning
    to doing this more and more.
  20. Now, for many people,
    the internet can feel like a lonely place.

  21. It can feel like this,
  22. a big, endless, expansive void
  23. where you can constantly call out to it
    but no one's ever listening.
  24. But I actually found a comfort
    in speaking out to the void.
  25. I found, in sharing
    my feelings with the void,
  26. eventually the void started to speak back.
  27. And it turns out that the void
    isn't this endless lonely expanse at all,
  28. but instead it's full of
    all sorts of other people,
  29. also staring out into it
    and also wanting to be heard.
  30. Now, there have been many bad things
    that have come from social media.
  31. I'm not trying to dispute that at all.
  32. To be online at any given point
    is to feel so much sadness
  33. and anger and violence.
  34. It can feel like the end of the world.
  35. Yet, at the same time, I'm conflicted
  36. because I can't deny the fact
    that so many of my closest friends
  37. are people that I had met
    originally online.
  38. And I think that's partly because
    there's this confessional nature
  39. to social media.
  40. It can feel like you are writing
    in this personal, intimate diary
  41. that's completely private,
  42. yet at the same time you want
    everyone in the world to read it.
  43. And I think part of that, the joy of that
  44. is that we get to experience things
    from perspectives from people
  45. who are completely
    different from ourselves,
  46. and sometimes that's a nice thing.
  47. For example, when I first joined Twitter,

  48. I found that so many of the people
    that I was following
  49. were talking about mental health
    and going to therapy
  50. in ways that had none of the stigma
    that they often do
  51. when we talk about these issues in person.
  52. Through them, the conversation
    around mental health was normalized,
  53. and they helped me realize
    that going to therapy was something
  54. that would help me as well.
  55. Now, for many people,

  56. it sounds like a scary idea
    to be talking about all these topics
  57. so publicly and so openly on the internet.
  58. I feel like a lot of people
    think that it is a big, scary thing
  59. to be online if you're not
    already perfectly and fully formed.
  60. But I think the internet can be
    actually a great place to not know,
  61. and I think we can
    treat that with excitement,
  62. because to me there's something
    important about sharing your imperfections
  63. and your insecurities
    and your vulnerabilities
  64. with other people.
  65. (Laughter)

  66. Now, when someone shares
    that they feel sad or afraid

  67. or alone, for example,
  68. it actually makes me feel less alone,
  69. not by getting rid of any of my loneliness
  70. but by showing me that I am not alone
  71. in feeling lonely.
  72. And as a writer and as an artist,
  73. I care very much about making
    this comfort of being vulnerable
  74. a communal thing, something that we
    can share with each other.
  75. I'm excited about
    externalizing the internal,
  76. about taking those invisible personal
    feelings that I don't have words for,
  77. holding them to the light,
    putting words to them,
  78. and then sharing them with other people
  79. in the hopes that it might help them
    find words to find their feelings as well.
  80. Now, I know that sounds like a big thing,

  81. but ultimately I'm interested
    in putting all these things
  82. into small, approachable packages,
  83. because when we can hide them
    into these smaller pieces,
  84. I think they are easier to approach,
    I think they're more fun.
  85. I think they can more easily help us
    see our shared humanness.
  86. Sometimes that takes the form
    of a short story,
  87. sometimes that takes the form of
    a cute book of illustrations, for example.
  88. And sometimes that takes the form
  89. of a silly joke
    that I'll throw on the internet.
  90. For example, a few months ago,
    I posted this app idea
  91. for a dog-walking service
  92. where a dog shows up at your door
    and you have to get out of the house
  93. and go for a walk.
  94. (Laughter)

  95. If there are app developers
    in the audience,

  96. please find me after the talk.
  97. Or, I like to share every time
    I feel anxious about sending an email.

  98. When I sign my emails "Best,"
  99. it's short for "I am trying my best,"
  100. which is short for "Please don't hate me,
    I promise I'm trying my best!"
  101. Or my answer to the classic icebreaker,

  102. if I could have dinner with anyone,
    dead or alive, I would.
  103. I am very lonely.
  104. (Laughter)

  105. And I find that when
    I post things like these online,

  106. the reaction is very similar.
  107. People come together to share a laugh,
  108. to share in that feeling,
  109. and then to disburse just as quickly.
  110. (Laughter)

  111. Yes, leaving me once again alone.

  112. But I think sometimes these
    little gatherings can be quite meaningful.
  113. For example, when I graduated
    from architecture school

  114. and I moved to Cambridge,
  115. I posted this question:
  116. "How many people in your life
    have you already had
  117. your last conversation with?"
  118. And I was thinking about
    my own friends who had moved away
  119. to different cities
    and different countries, even,
  120. and how hard it would be
    for me to keep in touch with them.
  121. But other people started replying
    and sharing their own experiences.
  122. Somebody talked about a family member
    they had a falling out with.
  123. Someone talked about a loved one
    who had passed away
  124. quickly and unexpectedly.
  125. Someone else talked
    about their friends from school
  126. who had moved away as well.
  127. But then something really nice
    started happening.
  128. Instead of just replying to me,
  129. people started replying to each other,
  130. and they started to talk to each other
    and share their own experiences
  131. and comfort each other
  132. and encourage each other
    to reach out to that friend
  133. that they hadn't spoken to in a while
  134. or that family member
    that they had a falling out with.
  135. And eventually, we got
    this little tiny microcommunity.
  136. It felt like this support group formed
  137. of all sorts of people coming together.
  138. And I think every time we post online,
  139. every time we do this, there's a chance
  140. that these little
    microcommunities can form.
  141. There's a chance that all sorts
    of different creatures
  142. can come together and be drawn together.
  143. And sometimes, through
    the muck of the internet,
  144. you get to find a kindred spirit.
  145. Sometimes that's
    in the reading the replies
  146. and the comments sections and finding
    a reply that is particularly kind
  147. or insightful or funny.
  148. Sometimes that's
    in going to follow someone
  149. and seeing that they
    already follow you back.
  150. And sometimes that's in looking at someone
    that you know in real life
  151. and seeing the things that you write
    and the things that they write
  152. and realizing that you share so many
    of the same interests as they do,
  153. and that brings them
    closer together to you.
  154. Sometimes, if you're lucky,
  155. you get to meet another alien.
  156. [when two aliebns find each other
    in a strange place,

  157. it feels a litle more like home]
  158. But I am worried, too,
    because as we all know,

  159. the internet for the most part
    doesn't feel like this.
  160. We all know that for the most part,
  161. the internet feels like a place
    where we misunderstand each other,
  162. where we come into conflict
    with each other,
  163. where there's all sorts of confusion
    and screaming and yelling and shouting,
  164. and it feels like
    there's too much of everything.
  165. It feels like chaos,
  166. and I don't know how to square away
    the bad parts with the good,
  167. because as we know and as we've seen,
  168. the bad parts can really, really hurt us.
  169. It feels to me that the platforms
    that we use to inhabit these online spaces
  170. have been designed
    either ignorantly or willfully
  171. to allow for harassment and abuse,
    to propagate misinformation,
  172. to enable hatred and hate speech
    and the violence that comes from it,
  173. and it feels like
    none of our current platforms
  174. are doing enough
    to address and to fix that.
  175. But still, and maybe
    probably unfortunately,

  176. I'm still drawn to these online spaces,
    as many others are,
  177. because sometimes it just feels
    like that's where all the people are.
  178. And I feel silly
  179. and stupid sometimes
  180. for valuing these small moments
    of human connection in times like these.
  181. But I've always operated under this idea
  182. that these little moments of humanness
    are not superfluous.
  183. They're not retreats
    from the world at all,
  184. but instead they're the reasons
    why we come to these spaces.
  185. They are important and vital
    and they affirm and they give us life.
  186. And they are these tiny,
    temporary sanctuaries
  187. that show us that we are not
    as alone as we think we are.
  188. And so yes, even though life is bad
    and everyone's sad
  189. and one day we're all going to die --
  190. [look. life is bad. everyones sad.

  191. We're all gona die, but i alredy bought
    this inflatable bouncey castle
  192. so are u gona take Ur shoes off or not]
  193. I think the inflatable metaphorical
    bouncy castle in this case

  194. is really our relationships
    and our connections to other people.
  195. And so one night,

  196. when I was feeling particularly sad
    and hopeless about the world,
  197. I shouted out to the void,
  198. to the lonely darkness.
  199. I said, "At this point,
    logging on to social media
  200. feels like holding someone's hand
    at the end of the world."
  201. And this time, instead of
    the void responding,
  202. it was people who showed up,
  203. who started replying to me and then
    who started talking to each other,
  204. and slowly this little
    tiny community formed.
  205. Everybody came together to hold hands.
  206. And in these dangerous and unsure times,

  207. in the midst of it all,
  208. I think the thing that we have
    to hold on to is other people.
  209. And I know that is a small thing
    made up of small moments,
  210. but I think it is one tiny,
    tiny sliver of light
  211. in all the darkness.
  212. Thank you.

  213. (Applause)

  214. Thank you.

  215. (Applause)