Khaya Dlanga: Love thy neighbour – from a distance

Those of us who live in cities and urban areas and are on the younger side are very likely to be living alone.

In fact we are most likely to hear the voices of our neighbours only while they are busy with the hanky panky. The nasty. The dirty. 

As one of my all time favourite philosophers, who goes by the name of Woody Allen, once put it: "Is sex dirty…? Only if it's done right." 

(Something he also said: "Don't knock masturbation, it's sex with someone you love."  I hope your mother isn't reading this.)

Ahem. As I was saying, our neighbours are like ninjas – except they have loud sex. I have heard many a huffing and puffing by guys and screams from ladies in the various complexes I have lived in. I would recognise their screams in public but not their faces.

We live on top of each other and next to one another, parking bays packed with cars yet we do not know each other. Because we live in complexes, it means that we have more neighbours than ever before, yet we are lonelier than ever before. We are all lonely together.

It is all very un-African to have neighbours and yet have no idea who they are.

(Allow an aside here; I actually can't stand the use of "un-African" in an argument because there is hardly ever any logic behind it. It has become a tool of dogma, to shut down debate.)

Of course no one forces us to live alone. We make the choice to do so, so that we can go where we want, when we want – without having to answer to anybody. Perhaps we are alone because we crave solitude. Perhaps it is a need we feel is a necessity because of the busy business of modern day living. Because of the salaries people earn, they have the luxury to make that choice.

The issue might not be loneliness after all. People who live alone, says Eric Klinenberg, a professor of sociology, are more likely to socialise. They go out more, perhaps it's because we are forced to find things to do and to meet people – as long as they are not our neighbours. It's as if we want to have the comfort of knowing that we have neighbours as long as they don't talk to us, ask us for sugar or come to visit uninvited.


Ironically, even though we desire solitude – when we are alone, we can't stand being by ourselves. Perhaps it is because of the human need to be social and to be in contact with others.

When we finally get the chance to be by ourselves and lock the world out and forget about the busyness of the day and relax and meditate – we whip out our phones, tweet and check Facebook because we still want to have a conversation with someone. In this case, a conversation with the world.

But how dare a neighbour knock and try to talk to you while you are trying to be alone with the people on our phones.

Twitter is like being a class full of noisemakers – with no one to write the noisemakers' names on the board. Remember when you were in school before the teacher arrived, and everyone was talking at the same time but you were all having such a good time? That's what it's like being on social networks. It takes us to those times when we made all that racket before the teacher arrived.

Being alone-but-together with others on social networks is like having lots of neighbours who talk loudly but who you never get to see. Invisible neighbours. 

And if any of your invisible neighbours makes noise on twitter during their… Woody Allen moments? Well, then – aside from the fact that they're doing it wrong – unfollow!

Khaya Dlanga is a writer, communications specialist for Coca-Cola, and a terror of the social networks. His new book in the Youngsters series, In My Arrogant Opinion, is available at leading bookstores. Follow Khaya on Twitter here: @KhayaDlanga.

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