COMMENTARY, Feb 14 — You can’t stop scrolling. The sequence of random, beautifully arranged and photographed images stretch to infinity.
We see an entire world outside — several worlds, in fact, depending on our particular schools of interests — yet we can stay inside, indoors, never leaving the comfort and security of our homes.
How many of us are living lives through the lens of social media, playing voyeur while simultaneously showing the world how we live rather than actually living and participating. Twitter flame wars aren’t the same as a talk cock sessions at the kopitiam with your regular table of buddies.
This is where crêpes can save the world from social media isolation.
(I’m serious, bear with me.)
A crêpe party can be an ingenious and elegant solution; instead of social media, how about socialising?
Someone hosts and flips these paper-thin pancakes; the guests can bring their own spreads of choice and drinks. It’s not slaving over the pan if you’re laughing and someone is bringing you a drink.
Also, you can eat your own mistakes. What could be better than that?
My first crêpe party was years ago while studying in Munich. A quick trek from the Olympiazentrum, the rows of student bungalows are almost militant in their layout.
But each one starkly different from the next as every occupant has had the luxury of painting their own abode the way they desire. The façades were colourful, rebellious, an expression of individuality within a system. (Everything felt like a system back then. Maybe now, still.)
Each maisonette apartment had two levels but it was the kitchenette that was the centre of activity that day. Yes, a kitchenette because to call it a full-fledged kitchen would be too generous though what does it matter so long as one could cook?
And we managed to fit two cooks at a time, taking turns, beginning with the two French girls from Brittany who lived there. They showed us how to stir the batter first to make sure it hasn’t clumped up, ladle just enough, never too much, and to spread it on the pan by tilting it at an angle just so.
Most of us didn’t get it right the first time. They didn’t either; it was part of the process. They say the first one is always the price you pay for the rest or that it’s to feed the rubbish bin.
Certainly the first crêpe wasn’t pretty but we didn’t throw it into the trash. Spread with Nutella or drizzled with Hershey’s chocolate syrup or sticky honig from Bavarian beehives, folded in half, then half again into a wedge you could hold and it tasted as excellent as anything a professional crêpier could conjure up from a custom-made griddle.
Some party-goers may like it savoury — how about a spinach and cheese crêpe? Just put on an apron and let your creative juices flow where toppings are concerned.
And really, it wasn’t the crêpes that mattered but the conversations in between cooking and chewing that did.
Gossiping about clandestine affairs and boasting about romantic exploits; grousing about an unpopular professor who was stingy with grades but generous with rebukes; confessing to bouts of homesickness.
Even the poor crêpes weren’t safe from being debated: we made a game of likening certain misshapen specimens to various body parts. It’s adolescent humour, you could say, but we were just barely out of adolescence ourselves.
Barriers down, without a care in the world, we could be ourselves. A crêpe party is a safe space.
The truth is you don’t need saving from social media.
In one sense, this is simply because social media usage — or addiction, or abuse — is not that different from any other perceived collective malaise.
Sure, recent signs have been worrisome; one 2017 study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine reported those who spent more than two hours a day on social media had twice the perceived social isolation than those who spent a half hour per day or less.
The thing is, social media is just a tool. How we employ it is utterly up to us. And let’s be honest: it is fun to take pretty pictures and share it with friends.
No, it’s too easy to point fingers and blame something outside of ourselves.
There are coffee shops and there are kopitiams. Even the smallest of kitchens can accommodate a fine assembly of friends to share duties and laughter, ladling batter onto hot pans and competing to come up with the filthiest joke.
To not congregate and to break bread together will be to lose something precious even if we can’t quite name it.
Neuroscience has shown that when we are accepted into a “tribe” of trusted members, our brains release oxytocin, a hormone that makes us feel good and safe.
According to biologist E.O. Wilson, “Tribes gave visceral comfort and pride from familiar fellowship, and [...] made the environment less disorienting and dangerous.”
Clearly, we are conditioned to be tribal. Which makes the loss of this communal interaction and time so harmful to us without us realising it.
We want to spend time together with others we like, others who like us, others who are like us.
So fire up the stove. Get the pan hot and the batter smooth and silky and let’s make some crêpes.
Let’s argue over whether chocolate syrup or hazelnut spread is better. (Or make it Malaysian and make some thosai instead. Add some muhibbah flavour to the party.)
And let’s live the life we painstakingly curate in our Instagram feed, only for real this time.