It’s obsessive: young people forever phoning, texting, phoning, texting; forever on Facebook or other social networking sites; forever caught up in the consequences of who said what to whom, who stabbed who in the back, who’s going out with whom….
Like any powerful obsession, this manic activity protects against something equally powerful: in this case, the fear of being alone. It’s a fear that haunts young people, a constant sub-text in their behaviour and conversations. Any young person conspicuously on his own is quickly spotted and labelled because his aloneness is disconcerting for everyone else: it’s too much of a reminder. Groups will attack the aloneness they see in others to make it go away while adults will threaten and punish young people with aloneness – isolating them, sending them to their rooms, taking away their phones – because adults sense how much the prospect of aloneness disturbs and frightens young people. The anxiety is primitive. A baby learns that it exists only by seeing itself reflected in the face looking down. Take away the face and it’s as if the baby no longer exists.
At some level, young people remember this experience and dread it. Ironically, boys persist in calling each other Wanker! Jerk-off! Tosser! while leading full masturbatory lives of their own. For them, it’s not the masturbation that’s so shameful. It’s the aloneness of masturbation: that’s what they scorn and ridicule and attack. A virtual or fantasy relationship with someone – anyone - goes some way to easing the pain of aloneness. Acknowledging that pain is shameful. Our cultural assumption is that the person conspicuously on his own (the loner, weirdo, freak, misfit) must be up to no good, sinister, unpredictable, beyond our understanding, some kind of sociopath…. Or someone self-contained in ways we can only envy.