I once heard a program on one of the local radio channels here in Ethiopia discussing how life abroad, particularly in the civilized world, impacts Ethiopians. During the program, the host described how Ethiopians cope with loneliness during their time abroad. One of the coping mechanisms mentioned was talking to oneself. Since several days can pass without uttering a word or engaging in meaningful conversation with another person, some individuals resort to talking to themselves while standing in front of a mirror. Isn’t that peculiar?
In Ethiopia, even if you don’t have many friends or close family members to meet every day, it’s difficult to stay quiet even for a single day. People on the street are always eager to engage in conversation, and those in public transportation seize every opportunity to strike up a chat. Sometimes, you might even feel as if you’ve known them for a long time, even to a point of divulging personal details. So, when Ethiopians go abroad into exile or for a few years, they might find it strange that having conversations with random people on the street or in public areas can be frowned upon by the host country’s residents.
Furthermore, even having conversations with friends, acquaintances, or neighbors becomes challenging due to the busy work schedules everyone has in developed nations.
This situation is further exacerbated by the advancements in information technology, which enable us to do everything remotely. People now work remotely, shop remotely, and even socialize remotely. Consequently, physical togetherness with others is becoming increasingly rare and almost a luxury.
What’s more, I’ve noticed that those who were initially unaccustomed to the “remote life” gradually become accustomed to it, finding themselves caught in a dilemma between desiring to engage in every aspect of their lives remotely, completely isolated from others, and yearning for physical proximity and conversations with fellow human beings.
As an Ethiopian, I can relate to this predicament as many of us tend to be shy when it comes to socializing with people from different cultures. As a student abroad, I found myself falling into the trap of getting used to loneliness and facing the dilemma of wanting to spend most of my time alone in my room while also desperately craving physical closeness and meaningful conversations with others.
Despite the fact that we have become accustomed to the “remote life,” especially in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which popularized remote work in numerous organizations, I firmly believe that humans are not meant to live in isolation from one another. We are, after all, social beings, as the saying goes. I believe that relying solely on remote interactions for work, shopping, and socialization diminishes our sense of humanity. Genuine relationships are forged through physical proximity, as people are meant to be physically close to one another.
Working from home provides the flexibility to tend to familial and social needs while allowing for a personalized schedule. Once you complete your planned work for the day, you have the freedom to engage in other activities as desired.
However, I can’t help but feel that this freedom also compromises our work efficiency compared to being in an office environment with minimal distractions. Being alone at home exposes us to unpleasant thoughts that can be distracting and detrimental to our health and relationships. Working from home also restricts our physical movement and exposes us to potential health hazards unless we make a deliberate effort to visit the gym at least once a week.
Personally, I believe it is essential to reduce the remote aspects of our lives and become more physically present in our activities and social interactions. In my opinion, this is the more humane approach.