Picture yourself if you will, standing in the centre of a large public space. Next to you, a display table and behind that an erected wooden display wall.
People of all ages, races, religions and inclinations walk past and around you, many taking a keen interest in the contents on display. Some faces you’ve seen before, once in a while a good friend or family member comes to say hi.
Most are complete strangers.
At the top of your wall, written in large clear type, is your name for everyone to see. Below that, a large professional studio portrait photograph of you — with perfect lighting, great composition and splendid colour.
Neatly laid out next to your portrait is a collection of photos of you in different settings; with family, at parties, kissing your ex and scantily clad in your latest swimsuit at the pool.
On the bottom half of your wall, your personal details are listed. These include your age, birth date, who you’re in a relationship with, where you work, where you’ve ever worked, where you live, where you’ve ever lived, your spiritual beliefs and contact details. Lists of your favourite movies, books and foods are also on display, as well as groups, teams and people who inspire you.
On your table, a long list of contacts show just how many people consider themselves your friends. Blank spaces allow strangers and other acquaintances to add their names.
Next to your list, a pile of photo albums allows anyone interested to peruse the intimate history of your life. From photos of your childhood, to snapshots of meaningful moments with each of your exes. An album dedicated to get togethers with your family, another dedicated to your spiritual retreats and three more with holiday photos at three different beaches.
The rest of the table contains news articles you like, book and movie reviews, statements you’ve made about incidents in your life, philosophical views and inspiring quotes from heroes you hold dear.
As people stop to look, great interest is shown in your portraits and other photos. Friends and strangers alike take great care to scrutinise some of their favourites. Every now and then, they make a point of telling you (and everyone around you) that they like particular photos; once in a while starting conversations about them. Sometimes, strangers with an unnatural inclination to not look you in the eye, decide to add their name to your contacts list after indulging in one of your holiday albums. The one where your friend took those revealing shots of you on the beach without telling you — or asking whether she could include them in her public album.
A lovely young lady you met at a party last month visits your table, excited to have found you again and starts a lively, engaging conversation about your favourite movie this year. You feel as though you’ve known her your whole life as you both share so many common interests. After adding her name to your contacts list, she decides to look through the interests listed on your wall. With surprise and disappointment, you notice a grimace appear on her face. Reading through your spiritual beliefs, she quietly erases her name from your contacts list and quickly disappears into the crowd.
A 13 year old boy climbs off his skateboard to peruse through your holiday album and comes across a group photo of you and your friends on the beach. Tanned young women in their early twenties clad in bikinis, bodies oiled with drops of sea water glimmering in the summer sun. He sneakily shows the photo to his group of friends who spend 10 minutes ogling every inch of it, periodically glancing over at you as a sort of comparison.
As you sit averting the gaze of ogling teenagers, a bombardment of opinions are suddenly thrown back and forth as a heated debate ensues at your table. At a party last year, a brazen artist — a favourite with the ladies (and gents) — made extremely vulgar advances towards you. On the table is included a little note of your response to that evening; “Sometimes I wonder how far modern men have evolved from their barbarian ancestors — sometimes not too far.” Apparently, this has awakened great thoughts and opinions from a growing group of men and women.
You watch with interest as each person tries harder than the last to impose their point of view. None of them touching on what actually happened that night — nor concerned with how it made you feel.
Late in the afternoon, after hours of watching not just strangers but the strangest of them indulging their insatiable curiosity on the tantalising journey into the most intimate corners of your life, you decide to make your way home.
As you walk the busy streets, you ponder the course of the day. You remember a handful of seemingly interesting people who connected with you for a couple of minutes at a time. The depth of those connections remain a mystery as you recall conversations about sport, movies, books and politics before they moved swiftly to the next table on display.
The memory of 500 complete strangers sifting through your life sits in your mind, like a silent burglar rummaging through your underwear and under your sheets, leaving only a trace of an uncomfortable, niggly feeling.
As you quietly enter the comfortable recess of home, your mind casts itself back to your life on display, still open in the darkness of night. Who knows what prowls public spaces while no one sees, feeding on the intimate, salacious details of you.
And as you lie down to sleep, a hunger stirs deep within, like something unseen moving beneath the comfortable recess of your mind. It is a hunger that every day, while strangers and acquaintances inspect your life at a glance, hopes to be sated. A hunger unsatisfied by the daily plethora of people. The same hunger shared by all of humanity.
The hunger for connection.