The “I” of the Storm

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Writer Janet Fricke Gilbert made several new social connections during the worst moments of Sandy — live, human ones…

There’s a persistent loneliness in this age of connection.

We install our prefabricated selves on Facebook and acquire electronic friends. We text remote people when we are in the presence of actual people, so that we can simultaneously and ineffectively communicate with both groups. And we obsessively record the events of our lives as if they will somehow be more meaningful in the future than they are in the present moment.

All of us want to be noticed and celebrated the way we were when we were potty trained. But the new technolocacophany just doesn’t deliver the way a warm hug from Mom always did. We are so driven to distinguish ourselves, but we end up feeling like the child who was dropped off for the day at a public pool and shouts, “Hey, watch me dive!” to no one in particular.

The fact is, no matter how many followers we attract on Twitter, no matter how fast our achievements pop up on a Web search, no matter how many times our faces flash by on the Jumbotron, we feel increasingly inconspicuous and unoriginal.

Of course, some manage to rise above the technolocacophany with brief extreme stunts, like jumping out of a plane 24 miles high, or declaring there is no way I am your baby’s father on national television. But while we may briefly dance with the stars, be smarter than a fifth grader and know what not to wear, it is obvious that we are just plain lonely and disconnected.

Naturally, because we are American, we have no problem expressing this ennui of the individual spirit in a proliferation of blogs and talk shows and in the theater of the street, where right now, across the country, you can enjoy regional stagings of the popular off-Broadway hit, “Why-bother-voting-my-voice-doesn’t-count-anyway.”

Leave it to a walloping, impeding force of nature to point up the power and purpose of the individual in this new age.

Sandy, baby, you have us talking to strangers in the grocery store. Offering to help each other. Looking after the elderly or housebound. Checking in with the schools. Praying.

And that’s the “I” of this storm.

Janet Fricke Gilbert is a freelance writer who works in Baltimore and lives in Woodstock — read more at her website.

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