Single-serving Life

“This is your life, and it’s ending one minute at a time. If you wake up at a different time, at a different place, could you wake up as a different person? Everywhere I travel; tiny life. Single-serving sugar, single-serving cream, single pad of butter, the microwave cordon bleu hobby kit. Shampoo-conditioner combos, sample packets of mouthwash, tiny bars of soap. The people I meet on each flight; they are single-serving friends. Between take-off and landing we have our time together, that’s all we get.”

Chuck Palahniuk, Fight Club


Couple in a restaurant: “I will have the duck, and for the lady, the lobster,”

Heard on the tube: “You do want to get out of your mum’s house, don’t you? You need a job and a place of your own if you want to live your own life.”

Friends at a bar: “Your order cost £4.50. And yours was £5.50,”

Family at airport check-in: “Can I have your passports and tickets one person at a time please?”

Studio apartments, single-serving frozen dinners, single-seat cars.


For the unacquainted, in India, there is no concept of individual servings. When we go out to eat, we order dishes to share among ourselves. When two friends meet, they don’t split the bill, and they share a rickshaw home. When we travel with our families (and we often do), one of us handles everyone’s tickets and passports. We live with our parents no matter how old we or they grow. If we do move out, we know we have a safety-net to fall back on, a network of members who will support us in case we fail.

In London, I see people as individual agents, who have a semblance of independence. They are free-moving, without any shackles of domesticity or obligation. Even children are independent, rolling along on their own scooters. However, it can be deduced from observation that there is a lack of networking, and the aforementioned safety-net does not exist. They are part of a network of disconnected beings, each with an iPod as a best friend.

Is this a cultural crisis? Or is it an increasingly global one?

Does independence equal disconnect?

Must life be about constantly forming new and simultaneously breaking old connections?

How do friendships become obsolete?

With the emergence of various social networking websites, this disturbing disconnect between people has gone largely unnoticed. The very idea of the existence of a disconnect seems absurd. The world is becoming more and more connected every second; how could one suggest that humans are not in touch with one another?

Nevertheless, rapidly growing virtual networks of today are not only connecting people, but also distancing them at the same time. In one instance, people are able to interact with one another as never before: communication is more accessible, faster, and decentralized. Collaboration is possible at an intricate and sophisticated level. Portals like Facebook make it possible to search for old friends, colleagues and acquaintances, and keep in touch with almost every person you ever met. Never before have people been able to keep count of their friends, and in hundreds.

On the flip side, distances between individuals have grown and the need for ‘real’ relationships has declined as online social networking creates the illusion of connectedness. Of the 365 virtual friends on Facebook, an average person may have only five to ten real relationships. As the number of connections increases, the intensity of the network decreases. With people from all over the world logged onto the Internet at different times, it is possible to have conversations with different ‘friends’ throughout the day, and eliminate loneliness altogether. However, not being alone with one’s thoughts results in an intellectual decline.

Spend too much time alone, and you become emotionally stunted. Spend too much time around others, and you become intellectually stunted. Ironically, with so many virtual connections, we are becoming stunted both emotionally and intellectually. Virtual friendships lack the depth of real ones, which involve not only the transport of words, but also a physical and emotional association and devotion of quality time and undivided attention. In the virtual world, there is no sense of responsibility towards another person, and thus, an emotional disconnect. There are no consequences to actions taken online. A lack of concern is the result of the disappearance of a fear of consequence. One may effortlessly transport any number of words across the planet, and not necessarily intend anything. Simply typing LOL (laughing out loud) may not necessarily mean that the sender is actually laughing aloud. Simply making appointments or promises online does not entail the sender should be expected to keep them. It is, after all, online and not in reality.

Today, we seem to be playing a virtual-reality game in our everyday lives, and it is becoming more and more difficult to distinguish between the real and the virtual. The most dangerous part is, we are completely oblivious to the fact that we are playing this game.



This entry was published on March 22, 2010 at 06:20 and is filed under One Man's Utopia. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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