Last night – and you may not believe this – I socialised. I traversed that lockable boundary of the front door and headed for the hubbub of a Monday night in St Andrews. The weather was clement, warm enough to get away with a shirt and a quarter zip. I sat with and chatted to one and the same group of people for approaching four hours. Consequently, I shall undoubtedly receive this morning a healthy amount of appreciation from those whose presence I graced, messages of the ilk “Great to see you last night,” from Roger, “Excellent banter, keep the faith,” from Gary, and “Just kiss me next time,” from Prue (not their real names, but definitely real messages). Whilst I wait, however, I’ve been reflecting upon why I went out last night and why I so enjoyed it. Was it the opportunity to rant about the misgivings of the day? The chance to recount the comedy of Freshers’ Week? Perhaps the awfully refreshing (full) pint of lager that was so graciously spilt onto my left thigh.
The point is, socialising is great. Furthermore, I think the large majority of us agree that socialising is, to some extent, great; from whence arises my utter astonishment that we are not merely allowing, but actively pursuing the desecration of this fine human endeavour. COVID intervened, obviously, like a prolifically-trained midfielder diving into a studs-up sliding tackle on our collective shin. It hasn’t helped our efforts to protect socialising, but it isn’t amongst the deeply-rooted and systemic problems that have driven the masses to watch on Netflix romanticised and feel-good series which, with a bit of welly, gumption and effort, viewers could instead create in their own real lives beyond the screen.
COVID has aroused within the population a peculiar fetish, which remained totally alien to me pre-2020, of ‘working from home’. Of course, as liberal as the next man, I’m a strong believer in “different strokes for different folks”; how one gets their kicks in modern society doesn’t profoundly affect me. Alas, I didn’t expect the nation to go weak at the knees over the thought of imposing upon themselves a further, professional, paid lockdown. Under the guise of ditching that infamous commute, we have now saddled ourselves with screen-hooked, snack-addicted email responders whose greatest daily dilemma is where to put their hands: on their keyboard or in their pants.
One of the deeply-rooted problems we do have is the quasi-enforced idleness that in fact shares characteristics of a pandemic with regards to its contagion and manifest threat to (the good) life. In other epochs, before our own, work was a necessity to live. How otherwise would your community have expanded, new houses been built, clothes tailored, and food harvested? Children and adults alike would plough the fields and manufacture linen; conditions were awful and difficult. Hence, I am not suggesting we return to these times. Rather, I am accentuating the contrast between those laborious eras, and our own. We still recognise productivity, of course, but it’s not necessary to be productive, and many institutional and commercial forces seem to discourage it actively. The disparity between those who are productive – those who start businesses, raise thousands for charity, become sports stars at the age of 18 – and those who aren’t, has never seemed larger.
The latter, those to whom productivity is not a concern nor motivating force – again, different strokes for different folks – are significantly disadvantaged by the ploys that we are now tricked into considering examples of healthy socialising: vanity; anonymous crowds; ultimately, a self-imposed loneliness. The awful vice of vanity displays itself regularly on the nouvelle vague social media, such as TikTok and BeReal. I am irrevocably convinced the latter was named with a cruel irony, simply to highlight the tragic artificiality that afflicts those who obsess over photographing their chocolate-flavoured oat milk, to prevent that their contemporaries dare suspect that they’ve ingested the nutritious secretion of a cow’s udder during the day. The joys of gigantic anonymous crowds remain a mystery to me, often situated in these sprawling and overpriced concert-festivals where the warmest human interaction you’re likely to have is with the excretion a fellow camper has left in the Portaloo.
We’re blessed to be at university, particularly one where the friendliness of all counters that self-imposed loneliness I have mentioned. Yet, beyond this town, in the world that be, the self-imposed loneliness is so much closer; swathes of you know this already. Sadly, tragically, as we fall out of touch with the traditions, community and weekly goings-on that have sustained us for decades – church, youth groups, local associations – and fall into a way of life that shuns small talk and is averse to spontaneous interaction, we shall be planting on socialising’s cheek a kiss of death.
Illustration: Sarah Knight