Who can forget the magnetism of Jay Gatsby as he woos Daisy in the 1920s – the post-World War I years, when people were drawn to excesses? Overflowing champagnes, Rolls Royces, alluring beauties, wealth accumulated through fraudulent means, indulgences, and people living in an illusional make-belief world of opulence and extravagance. After a century later, are we back to the age of excesses, albeit in a virtual society?
Just as high-class tea party invites and grand dinner party invitations were alluring for New York party-goers dying to catch a glimpse of Gatsby’s extravagant life in his mansion. Similarly, alerts and notifications from our devices compel us to enter the glamorous virtual world when we should be talking to our children or paying attention to something in the real world.
Gatsby projected a fake persona to dominate the party scene and win over Daisy. Similarly. Aren’t we all a little superficial online, in our carefully crafted personas? And don’t we all get smitten or insecure when others appear to look or do better than us. Social media and networking apps feed on insecurity and competitiveness, to pull us into a rat race where self-worth increases or decreases with every like or comment. Must we need this kind of pat-on-the-back every time?
Gatsby seemingly had many top-class ‘connections’ but none of them turned out to be his real friends. Are the people in our network real ‘friends’ or just connections? Do we know them at a deeper level? Should those ‘connections’ take precedence over our children, family, and close friends?
In The Great Gatsby, the narrator Nick Carraway (incidentally from Minnesota) observes the ever-changing social lives of people around him. It is similar to what we see as the status updates of our acquaintances. People absent from the party scenes were considered ‘common’ then! And now, we feel that the absentees from Facebook or Instagram must be leading such a ‘non-happening’ life. Online presence has become a must for everyone.
Agreed, we need our devices in the digital world – for our jobs, shopping, and to connect. We might miss important news and updates if we go to the other extreme of digital Samyasa. But shouldn’t we be calling the shots? How will our compulsive habit of reaching for the phone every few minutes end? How do we take the balanced approach when the virtual societal construct targets the human psyche and makes us play along (‘The Social Dilemma’ on Netflix was an eye-opener).
The virtual world is overshadowing our real-life and making it look so barren and stark? Where would our endless rush for virtual dopamine take us? Our attention span is decreasing and we are overwhelming our senses. But how are we going to stop? I often tell myself – ” I am simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of digital life.”
I believe the age of excesses won’t last long. It never did in the past. The great depression of 1929 brought the opulence of the 20s to a crashing end. Maybe ours will too. But would there be substantial damage done by then? Will humans become more superficial, insecure, extremist, and preoccupied? Will our kids know the difference between virtual and real?
There is a reason why author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby feels so relevant in today’s world where we have reached a new level of comfort and convenience. It presents human follies and the hopelessness of societal constructs. Gatsby knew he led a flashy and hollow life, but he created it for his love – Daisy. We know it too, but unlike Gatsby, we don’t know why are we nosediving into the hollowness of virtual reality?
How do we get disengaged and disentangled? – This, my dear reader, is a million-dollar question!