It was the first time in nineteen years that I had been so far from home, a full 7,833 kilometres. I could not find anything familiar in this land and loneliness clung to me. In the two months I’ve been here, I’ve barely spoken my mother tongue. I began to miss home. And because of my country’s policy requirements, it might be three or five years before I can go back.
I didn’t use my mobile phone or computer much before I went to university. High school students in China tend to be like this, with schools and parents convinced that electronic media distracts from the time left for study. But now, everything has changed. I use media devices frequently and extensively. As long as I’m awake, I’m looking at my phone (if I’m not looking at my computer). This is most likely out of a sense of revenge to compensate for my infrequent use of media devices over the past few years. But there is another, more crucial reason, I am dispelling my loneliness through online media.
I have daily video calls with my family via WeChat. One call is over an hour long and I basically do this with all my relatives who have phones that use WeChat. But at home, I am a quiet and non-verbal person. I often didn’t say a word to those relatives for months. I never used to use WeChat except to read my high school teacher’s notifications. Now I feel like WeChat is like a piece of driftwood I encountered in the ocean, and I need to hold on to it as if it were my last link to the world.
I still don’t like WeChat, I hate the setting that automatically deletes documents after seven days of not saving them, and I hate the fact that my phone can’t sync with my computer, but I’m almost grateful for it all the same. If I hadn’t come here to study now, if I had come here even ten years ago, I think I would have gone crazy in less than a month because I missed home and had no one to communicate with. For the first time, I felt that the media was so important.
I am well aware that I am now overly addicted to the media, and while it brings me surprise and relief like driftwood in the sea, it also wants to pull me down like a sticky bog. Just the day before yesterday, I had just spent a whole week reading an online novel. One might think that’s nothing when hearing that expression, but what if that whole week means staying up until 6am every day reading nothing but web novels? I have to say, I loved that novel but I hated how out of control it felt. It made me feel like I was being exposed to a spiritual opiate.
Reason told me that I should refuse, that I should focus on my studies and my life, that I was supposed to do, but a voice in the back of my mind said: admit it, you just like this feeling, this feeling of being addicted and not having to think about the outside world, that you are in another world, the online world. Now I will swipe through social media for hours before going to bed without any sense or motivation. Crying and laughing at things that are thousands of kilometres away from me or fictional. I feel like I’m being divided into two people, one increasingly anxious about the status quo I’m addicted to, and one focused on immediate pleasures, just as online media increasingly amplifies the dichotomy.
Whether it’s driftwood or a mud puddle, no matter what psychology I have about it, I can’t leave it anymore, I’m like a patient undergoing Stockholm by the media, attachment and fear at the same time.