A conversation with Thomas De Quincey about the end of social

There was ritual in my morning cafe visit, in which the need for coffee was rarely tested. Equally ritualistic was checking my phone while waiting, frivolous and oblivious.

While the randomly-gathered levered manhole covers to a deeper world, gazing into the light, flicking through a catalogue of expressions – surprise, concern, disarmed adoration, desire, mostly bemused indifference – the buttoned-down, intense figure at the corner table quietly nursed a china cup, turning it gently in determined hands. Lost with only himself in a distance beyond my suffocated imagination, he didn’t notice me take the seat opposite. I was sure it was him.

“Thomas de Quincey?” He affirmed with a deliberate close of his eyes, and continued on his kaleidoscopic journey. “Is that tea?” I asked, slightly unnerved by his reputation, not quite expecting what answer I may receive. If any.

“Tea will always be the favourite beverage of the intellectual” he offered. He glanced at the phone I had placed on the table, from habit raher than purpose. “Are you going to stare into the inconsequential abyss, too?”

“Its social media – social, something you seem a little unsure about?” I replied with the naive confidence scooped from skipping a stranger across two centuries of social and technological development.

“I’ve seen your social media, compressing your life through the throttle of a profile, the tyranny of the human face. As I can see you have pre-judged me, how does your addiction differ from my own?”

Was he really asking me this? “Addiction? From the stupefication of laudnum? When everyone has access to social, and your habit is a rare and expensive find, notwithstanding a social evil?”

“But imagine, if you are able. Here was the secret of happiness, about which philosophers had disputed for so many ages, at once discovered; happiness might now be bought for a penny, and carried in the waistcoat-pocket; portable ecstasies might be had corked up in a pint-bottle; and peace of mind could be sent down by the mail.”

“But” I protested “most are usually clear-headed, sober when using social media. We interact in clean light, our minds roll our thoughts before we speak, we decide its the right thing to say before we say it. We discover and culture beneficial relationships….”

“It is most absurdly said” he interrupted, seeming a little uncomfortable “in popular language, of any man, that he is disguised in liquor; for, on the contrary, most men are disguised by sobriety. For this reason, your social media is already aranging its life in order, for its imminent passing. Rest assured it will be expected, but unexpected nevertheless.”

I was confused. “Social is just coming into maturity, inclusive, all encompassing, integrated with our lives. How can you think this?”

“Allow me to offer my congratulations on the truly admirable skill you have shown in keeping clear of the mark” he smirked. “Not to have hit once in so many trials, argues the most splendid talents for missing.”

I didn’t understand where my aim was awry. Noticing my hesitation, he continued. “Your social media has reached its limit by the very nature of its sociality. Every creativity and insight is diluted, every shard of light lost in the daybreak of conversation. What you believe you have discovered, you have in fact already lost.”

I was agitated now. “So we’re better off drinking laudnum unaccompanied in a darkened room, speaking with and knowing no-one, alone with our own weakness and indecision?”

“I don’t say that my dissolution in opium is the answer, no dear boy. But your social media has no response, no outlet. It relies on conscious, waking experience, which is inherently limited. If in this world there is one misery having no relief, it is the pressure on the heart from the incommunicable. The limits of communication will hasten its demise, as our search for more ecstatic pathways continues.”

“So I’ve been – and am – wasting my time? If social media is extinguihsing itself, what follows, surely it is something more intensely social, more genuine still? I need to have some idea, if you’re so sure.”

His gaze wandered, he seemed finished with me, or at least the idea of me. “You are next, just and simply you….your thoughts….your imagination…that only you will know. Social will never be enough. The only pathways worth treading are open to you alone.”

“And what would you have me do?” I asked in frustration. But he had already locked me out, absorbed in his contemplation once more, detached from the physical form in front of me.

“Forget your anger before you lie down to sleep.”

My phone buzzed several times. Having been distracted by the alert, I was alone at the table. There was a little tea left, dark, cold.


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