When we meet James A. Corey, a convicted criminal, he is living out his 50 year sentence of solitary confinement on an isolated asteroid far away from earth. Except for the quarterly visits from a supply ship, James has no contact with any humans. On their most recent visit to see James, the supply ship’s captain brings James something he hopes will ease the pain of loneliness, a female robot named Alicia.
In the beginning, James is very hesitant to communicate with the robot. He feels the robot is only a mockery of the life he once had. But over time, James begins to see the robot differently, she can feel pain, emotions, heat, cold, and almost anything else a real human being can feel. James slowly forgets Alicia is a robot and begins to see her more as a companion. They play games together, talk to one another, learn from each other, and star gaze together. This companionship has changed James’s view on his life from barely making it through every day to enjoying the days he has to spend with Alicia.
While star gazing one night, Alicia and James see a spaceship moving towards their asteroid and run towards it once it lands. The ship’s captain, who has visited James before to deliver supplies, runs towards James and explains James has received a pardon and they have come to take him back to earth. The ship is to leave in 20 minutes and James is limited to taking only 15 pounds of his personal belongings with him back to earth. James is torn as he realizes he cannot take Alicia with him. With time quickly passing before they are set to take off, the ship’s captain does what he believes must be done to get James on the ship, he shoots Alicia in the face and exposes her for what she is, a bunch of wires. James, with nothing else to tie him to the asteroid, joins the ship’s captain and heads for earth.
What made Jame’s life have meaning and worth living was companionship. Companionship is necessary for human survival, even if in James’ case that companionship was with a life like robot. Companionship is connection. It is feeling part of something bigger than oneself, it is togetherness and comes in shapes of family, friends, romantic partners, and even co-workers. Human beings were not meant to be alone. We were meant to live our lives together, learning from each other, supporting each other, and growing together. In this modern world, we hunger for real connection and sadly we are not getting what we need because, I believe, we are seeking connection and companionship in the wrong places. Companionship is real connection with real people in real life situations not something that is obtained via “likes” on social media or sent and received text messages every so often.
What I believe we are currently experiencing is loneliness. The opposite of companionship is loneliness. When we feel lonely we feel disconnected, we feel lost, we feel like we are living on the outside while everyone else is living on the inside of a collective group. We feel a lack of belonging. Loneliness is not just feeling sad because you feel that you are alone, loneliness is disconnection and changes your view into self preservation. Loneliness can lead to deterioration in health, both physical and mental, it can weaken the immune system, negatively impact cognition and sleep, and make you feel that less empathic. Living with loneliness also increases your odds of dying early by 45%.
A University of Chicago neuroscientist, John Cacioppo states the following: “Hunger is a warning that our blood sugar is low and we need to eat. Thirst warns us that we need to drink to avoid dehydration. Pain alerts us to potential tissue damage. And loneliness tells us that we need social connection.” Feeling and being lonely is not something one should feel shame for experiencing. It is your bodies way of telling you, you need to be around people who mean something to you and you mean something to them.
So what should you do if you are feeling lonely? You are not going to order a robot on Amazon and call her Alicia. You need to seek out connection with people who matter to you. Just physically being around people in a bar or a restaurant isn’t going to make the feelings of loneliness disappear. It’s not lack of being around people that makes you lonely, it is the lack of connection. Seeking connection can be scary because it makes you feel vulnerable but it is that very vulnerability that links you and connects you to another human being. Without vulnerability, the relationship is topical and not one rooted in deep connection. You have to seek out people who you feel safe with, people you can share your ideas and feelings with. These people don’t have to see the world exactly as you see it, they just need to have core values of respect, compassion, and understanding. These core values are the beginnings of a beautiful connection.