It’s 2 a.m. and for whatever reason you’re lonely.
Maybe family issues have escalated, or the guy you like barely waved at the bar, or you’ve been holed up at work alone for the last three days. But right now you need the quickest distraction you can find, a barrier from your thoughts.
You grab your laptop from its resting place on the bed. It had been humming, sleeping quietly at your feet. You open it, and for a moment feel relief as you prop it up on a pillow and your fingers resume their familiar places on the keyboard. You begin typing “facebook.com” except all you really need to type is “f” and the site loads instantly.
No real notifications, other than a mass invitation to a concert in Chicago you can’t go to. And a slew of notifications from a picture you now wish you hadn’t commented on.
Your newsfeed offers unlimited stories and photos, a colorful digital collage so bright it strains your eyes. As you trudge through this wealth of stimulation, other people’s lives become a distraction from your own. But watching as friends post Instagram-filtered pictures of pomegranate mojitos isn’t helping the lonesomeness.
It’s not helping at all.
But you keep staring. That computer backlight — steady, sterile — at this time of night is like the light of loneliness. It reminds you that at any moment in time you could be connected to anyone but at this very moment you’re alone. The light serves no purpose other than to illuminate the infinitely more fabulous lives of others.
What are you looking for? Not what you’re finding. You scroll and scroll. You’re looking for validation, but of what sort you don’t know.
It’s 3 a.m. now. The laptop heats up and the fan starts going, puncturing the silence. Nothing exciting is on Facebook anymore but you keep “watching” it, blankly, blindly, your fingers dragging languidly down the touchpad.
You close the laptop, shove it away. You’re done. Time to sleep, but you’re less tired than ever. The bright computer backlight is gone but now the small light on the side of your Macbook pulses in the darkness. You cover it with a pillow and everything is dark.
You push off the pillow.
You open the laptop.
You click click click click. This isn’t like watching TV before bed, when sounds eventually turn rhythmic and distant, luring you to sleep. No, the computer keeps you constantly engaged, and the only way to sleep is to close it.
You’re not the only one. Other people peruse Facebook late at night, circling like hawks on friends’ walls, revisiting friendship pages with exes, desiring nothing but distraction from whatever they’re thinking about. But Facebook is so overwhelmingly positive, select moments from the best of times, it’s much too easy to forget that.
It’s too easy to forget that a few nights ago, others may have enviously come across your own photos from an evening out in the city, feeling the same feelings you’re feeling right now.
Tonight, though, you’re on the other side of the virtual wall.
Your last resort is to log onto Facebook chat. Late-night chats tend to be unfulfilling, and the people available at those times are never the ones you want to chat with, but a small bead of hope rises in your chest. But the only “friends” you even recognize are your fifth cousin and some people you barely knew in high school who “friended” you three years into college.
Who would be up at 3:30 a.m. on a Tuesday, anyway?
You close the laptop, tenderly this time, like you’re caring for a child.
But now it’s just you and your thoughts. And that light of loneliness — persistent, gnawing, refusing to subside until you slip into sleep. For all you know it will vanish by morning, but it’s so potent right now.
The light on the side of your MacBook keeps pulsing, ominously. Like someone sleeping beside you. Like millions sleeping beside you. It’s a very small light, just a heartbeat, and it hardly breaks the darkness.
You click Apple, Sleep and pray that you can too.
Sara Felsenstein works in television in New York City and keeps a writing and photography blog, sketchingastory.com. Contact her at email@example.com.