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The End of Solitude
January 25, 2009 6:17 PM   Subscribe

The End of Solitude. In an age when many people are rarely alone, in near-constant contact with social networks composed of both friends and strangers, are we facing the end of solitude as we once knew it? Have we lost the ability to enjoy our own company, and learned to fear loneliness instead? William Deresiewicz seems to think so.
posted by sarabeth (87 comments total) 30 users marked this as a favorite

 
Yesterday was lonely as hell.
posted by gman at 6:19 PM on January 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


Get me a shovel. It remains easy to be alone; take a pad and pen and go sit somewhere without your iButtPlug or whatever, and you will likely be surrounded by nature or anonymous strangers, depending on your coordinates. It's also much easier than ever to avoid being alone. The percentages of sheep and wolves in the population remain unchanged.
posted by Ella Fynoe at 6:25 PM on January 25, 2009 [7 favorites]


I am alone, but I don't feel lonely.

Some of the my most lonely moments were when I was in the midst of crowds.
posted by porpoise at 6:27 PM on January 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


I think being alone is an acquired skill and one of the most important anyone can ever have. This was a big focus for me (which became totally natural) over years of travel.
posted by gman at 6:30 PM on January 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


i'm always lonely...
posted by billybobtoo at 6:31 PM on January 25, 2009


I don't understand the point of this article.
Maybe the reason the author thinks people are not spending time alone is because he's looking at people who are highly visible to him.
Maybe he can't find people who spend time alone because they're off by themselves?
posted by nightchrome at 6:31 PM on January 25, 2009 [23 favorites]


Relatedly, it seems like childhood daydreaming is dying too. There's value in sitting in the backseat of the car, staring out the window and just...thinking, as opposed to watching yet another screening of Shrek 2 on the back of mom's seat.
posted by davebush at 6:32 PM on January 25, 2009 [22 favorites]


I don't like people.
posted by OverlappingElvis at 6:35 PM on January 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


6.75 billion.
posted by Corduroy at 6:36 PM on January 25, 2009


I work alone, and spend much of my time by myself. Not lonely though. I have a social life too. If you have to be with people all the time to fight off loneliness, well surely that's a difficult way to live your life.
posted by FieldingGoodney at 6:39 PM on January 25, 2009


Loneliness is involuntary solitude or an intense awareness of separation/alienation when in the midst of crowds, in the real world or this other one (which is also real).

The desire or longing for solitude seems only natural to me, if one is surrounded day and night by company (albeit loved) and noise.

Sometimes I do want to be alone. But leave the God stuff out next time. This is what Sam Harris is talking about in The End of Faith.
Meditation is somewhere in my future, I hope. For now, sleep will have to do.
posted by emhutchinson at 6:40 PM on January 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's a funny tension between pieces like this -- emphasizing our interconnectedness -- and pieces like Robert Putnam's Bowling Alone, which are all about the isolation and disconnection of modern society. Perhaps both are true, or perhaps neither.
posted by Forktine at 6:42 PM on January 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I treasure what little solitude I can get. Yesterday, during The Great Metafilter Outage of 2009, it also occurred that my wife and all three children were out of the house. I grabbed my iPod, laid down on the bed, & listened to two Porcupine Tree albums front to bak. I hadn't been able to do that in waaaay to long. It was positively meditative.
posted by Devils Rancher at 6:49 PM on January 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


He's looking to college students for evidence of a new disdain for solitude? College students that show up to class, where he can interview them, no less. Did he try contacting the ones who don't attend class? How about the ones who chose distance learning over in-person education? Or the ones who graduated (or not) high school and found their solitude in other places?

That's not to say that students who attend classes in college shouldn't crave a bit of solitude. It's worth noting, however, that the people who provide you with data are often at one extreme or the other of an issue. I wouldn't be surprised if he put out a call for people to interview about solitude, and got the gregarious/social ones. Since it's nothing more substantial than a piece in the Chronicle, I guess his methodology will remain obscured.
posted by librarylis at 6:51 PM on January 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


William Deresiewicz's Greater Internet Theory Of..
posted by stbalbach at 6:51 PM on January 25, 2009


But wait, I just read another article saying that we're actually the loneliest and most solitary generation of people in history because we wear iPods all the time! WILL SOMEONE TELL ME WHAT IS TRUE
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 6:51 PM on January 25, 2009 [7 favorites]


emhutchinson: I agree about the God stuff. My read on the article was that the author was including it for historical context on scholarship, but I could be wrong.

While I certainly don't concur with every point Deresiewicz makes, I'm sort of intrigued by the basic question of whether a popular trend toward needing to be one hundred percent in touch 24/7 might make it less likely for people to value or seek alone time. I enjoy my time with my friends and family, and love to feel close and connected to them, but sometimes I also like turning off my phone to catch a movie by myself or take a walk just because. That time is just as precious to me. It's a matter of finding a balance. Like you said, the whole key might be the difference between "solitude" and "loneliness"--embracing the former rather than fearing the latter--and that's what I took away from this essay.
posted by sarabeth at 6:56 PM on January 25, 2009


Interestingly one of my theories about 10 years ago sprung up when I saw people on their cell phones at the supermarket who looked intensely oblivious to their surroundings. It seemed to me that many of these people were completely anxious or lonely being out alone and used the cell phone to retreat in their social networks, using their body as a corporeal bag of fluids to run the errands and hold up the phone. As time goes on I'm sensing a "Childhood's End" transformation of society where our descendents need to feel plugged into the grid 24 hours a day. No value judgement cast here, rather just curiosity as I think we are in fact heading into a sort of Borglike social network.
posted by crapmatic at 6:57 PM on January 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Anthony Storr's Solitude: A Return to Self expounds upon the connection between creative genius and the capacity to be alone. He suggests "creative attitude and the ability to have peak experiences depends upon being free of other people; free, especially, from neurotic involvements, from 'historical hangovers from childhood,' but also free of obligations, duties, fears, and hopes."

This is solitude in extremis, something voluntarily chosen by some, but foisted upon others, particularly society's misfits. Overpopulation and hyper-connectivity may diminish possibilities for an introspective life.
posted by terranova at 6:57 PM on January 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


My young life was a mixture of solitude and violence, so I learned early to appreciate solitude, and do to this day. I don't have a MySpace or Facebook page, or a blog, and don't feel a need for any of that. I go weeks where I see only one other person. In an average month, I might interact with half a dozen people in person, if that. And that's totally fine with me; I'm extremely comfortable with my own company. I'm also a voracious reader; I'm reasonably certain that I've read more than 10,000 books in my life -- and that requires solitude in large quantities.

If I should survive my significant other, which is quite possible, my plan is to liquidate everything and go nomad, full-time in an RV or truck/trailer. I'd still retain the bulk of my solitude, which I greatly value, but it'd suddenly be mobile solitude. I could live a week in this national park, a month in that one, and really take the time to appreciate the world around me while I'm still here to appreciate it. And I'd rather gasp my last few breaths, whenever that time may come, on top of some distant mountain with a good book on my lap and a fresh breeze blowing across my face than spend my last minutes in a hospital reeking of chemicals and death.
posted by jamstigator at 7:06 PM on January 25, 2009 [7 favorites]


I was just thinking about Bowling Alone yesterday, that what Putnam couldn't forsee in 2000 was that way the internet and cell phones would change our level of connectedness to others. Even when I am physically alone, I send and receive messages to and from family, friends and co-workers all day. After divorce I thought it would be hard to adjust to time alone but I never really get lonely.

It's the form of the communication that causes the connectedness - not as formal as conversations, but little blips between people all day, commenting on sights and sounds around them, we're really becoming like hive insects almost.
posted by readery at 7:10 PM on January 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I was told by one of her older relatives that a teenager I know had sent 3,000 text messages one recent month.

And I was told by one of his friends or "buddies" as they call them now that a teenaged boy I know had had sex with eleven thousand three hundred and seventy-four women in the last month. Enquiring after the welfare of the ladies involved, I was told that I did not know them, and that they lived in Canada. Wherever the domiciles of the boy's paramours, the fact remains that at that rate his penis must have been erecting, ejaculating, and detumescing faster than the wingbeats of a hummingbird.

And since I like nothing better than to generalize from one or two anecdotes that, really, anyone who cared to think about it would regard as clearly aberrant, I will now devote the rest of my essay to what it means for society to have multitudes of young men flying about on the power of their rapid cycle of sexual arousal. Shall we all need to carry umbrellas even on -- nay, especially on -- sunny summer days? Should women, when they are in their season, garb themselves in especially semen-proof undergarments to protect against accidental conception?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:21 PM on January 25, 2009 [16 favorites]


The person you are going to spend the most time with through out your life is yourself. So everyone should learn to love hanging out with themselves. You have to be happy with yourself before you can have healthy relationships with others.
posted by ckainalu at 7:22 PM on January 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


"Today, of course, universities do everything they can to keep their students from being alone, lest they perpetrate self-destructive acts, and also, perhaps, unfashionable thoughts."

Definitely found this to be a hallmark of my university experience.
posted by limeonaire at 7:26 PM on January 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


The advent of social networking, hot on the heels of cellphones, has just made it easier for extraverts to indulge their extraversion.

Watch a movie with a friend who is playing the DVD through their XBox 360 and they have to stop to send the occasional message when their online pals show up. Incoming zombie-making phone calls can cause people who were previously walking at a brisk pace to match the rest of the traffic flow suddenly halt and sway like one of the living dead as they jabber into a Bluetooth headset. Go to a concert, there's people on their cellphones bellowing to their friends that they're at this concert, and taking really crap pictures of it. I can be sitting there, between sets or whatnot, taking down notes of the concert's setlist, and strange women will come by and ask what I'm doing, then ask where my friend/date is. Try explaining that you're not there with anyone, and they get that "DOES NOT COMPUTE" light in their eyes. The concept of going to a concert alone is like a four-sided triangle to some folks.

Extraverts just don't get it when other people aren't extraverts, too, and it's as if they are unable to not respond to a social cue or take advantage of an outlet. If it's there, they have to do something about it. Introverts have gone on being introverts by, whoopsie, forgetting to charge that cell phone battery and otherwise doing what they've always done.
posted by adipocere at 7:29 PM on January 25, 2009 [10 favorites]


Being connected can certainly become an obsession for many. It reminds me of a story I heard about obsessions.

A psychiatrist was conducting a group therapy session with four young mothers and their small children...

"You all have obsessions," he observed.

To the first mother, Mary, he said, "You are obsessed with eating. You've even named your daughter Candy."

He turned to the second mom, Ann: "Your obsession is with money. Again, it manifests itself in your child's name, Penny."

He turns to the third mom, Joyce: "Your obsession is alcohol. This too manifests itself in your child's name, Brandy."

At this point, the fourth mother, Kathy, gets up, takes her little boy by the hand and whispers. "Come on, Richard, we're leaving."
posted by netbros at 7:29 PM on January 25, 2009 [21 favorites]


Interestingly one of my theories about 10 years ago sprung up when I saw people on their cell phones at the supermarket who looked intensely oblivious to their surroundings. It seemed to me that many of these people were completely anxious or lonely being out alone and used the cell phone to retreat in their social networks, using their body as a corporeal bag of fluids to run the errands and hold up the phone.

The thing is, being stuck in line at the supermarket sucks. Even if you cherish your solitude, it's still stressful and tedious — to the point where David Foster Wallace, in that graduation address that made the rounds a while back, used it as the canonical example of the Shitty Grown-Up Tasks that you have to deal with day-in and day-out in the Real World.

I mean, I'm one of the biggest introverts I know. If I can't spend a few hours a day in total, blissful solitude, I start to go a little crazy. And even me, even back before I got a cell phone, I'd take a friend with me to the grocery store if I could, just so we could distract each other from the Blah of it all.

So I'm sure some of the people you see on their cell phones, yeah, it's solitude that's making 'em anxious. But a lot of 'em, it's that asshole who WON'T STOP LEAVING THEIR CART RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE OF THE FUCKING AISLE AND GRAAAAAAH!

Er, sorry about that.
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:33 PM on January 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


As time goes on I'm sensing a "Childhood's End" transformation of society where our descendents need to feel plugged into the grid 24 hours a day.

I'm not sure we'll have to wait for the descendants. I feel this already, and it bugs me more than a little bit. And it bugs me more that there's enough real utility in being plugged in that I can't figure out a rational way to unplug that wouldn't involve a career change. I'm pretty sure I haven't spent more than three or four consecutive days off the net since I was traveling in Brazil 12 years ago.

See also: how many times did you check to see if Metafilter was back up on Saturday?
posted by weston at 7:50 PM on January 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


And I'd rather gasp my last few breaths, whenever that time may come, on top of some distant mountain with a good book on my lap and a fresh breeze blowing across my face than spend my last minutes in a hospital reeking of chemicals and death.

It's not distant if you're there, homie. And who wants to have their face frozen off when they can spend their last minutes in a hospital reeking of chemicals and death. I'll yank out my iv and squirt Heparin at the first fool who steps in the room. I'll convince my kids there's a secret lever in the basement that shoots anesthetic through pipes up to ugly old ladies rooms to keep them jolly. I'll grind up my meds, rub 'em on my nethers and see what happens. And while my thing is wilting, I'll dye my hair with my medicine cocktail. Howl at the moon on the mountain, I'll yell at Lebron's son on Sportscenter that he'll never be as good as Pistol Pete.
posted by cashman at 7:51 PM on January 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


Even if you cherish your solitude, it's still stressful and tedious

Really? I often think it's a perfect time to flip through the magazines I'll never buy.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 7:54 PM on January 25, 2009


strange women will come by and ask what I'm doing, then ask where my friend/date is.

Man, where do you live? It'd be nice if strange women came by and asked me stuff when I go to concerts alone.
posted by Caduceus at 8:01 PM on January 25, 2009


Thoreau is such a weird example in these sorts of instances. He had principles, sure, and was pricly enough that he enjoyed his own company for long stretches o ftime, but he also walked home for meals and knew fuckall about real solitude. I mean maybe it's easy to complain about someone who complains about the ugliness of MySpace -- anyone who thinks that's all there is to social networking barely deserves response, in my opinion, so far are they missing the point -- or maybe I'm in a different place since I

1. spend a good deal of my days alone in terms of nearby-real-life-people
2. can interact with people online whenever I want to.

I think the big thing about solitude now is that it has to be chosen, because there are ready options as far as the Born Digital generation is concerned, and there is some dismay that people won't be chosing it enough. But people do, for lots of reasons. I keep my cell phone off if I'm out snowshoeing in the woods [actually I usually don't bring it] and unless there's someone in the car with me, driving time isn't conversation time. Most of the people who live near my don't have the option of always-on internet access OR cell phones so I think they're on a vaguely different path.

I guess the big question is, are the not-always-on people developing dramatically different lifestyles and patterns and desires and concerns than the online/offline people? If we go to the public library to read because we like doing recreational activities with others, is that seen as the same sort of pathology as sitting with our friends while we write our paprs. I admit I skimmed the middle part of this article as he started talking about Hume to see if my YouTube video was done uploading yet, but isn't this just another moral panic form someone who talks in the "we" and the "us" but really means "them"?
posted by jessamyn at 8:03 PM on January 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


yeah...i've reached the point in the last few months where my attitude is : if it's not important enough to just break down and call me, dont interrupt my day with your texting, dickbag. is it EVER important enough to warrant the interruption? no, never.
srsly...as an adult, i have work to do...don't pass me notes in class when i'm trying to take a test...
i need to change my plan so i dont even recieve them...is that even possible?
posted by sexyrobot at 8:10 PM on January 25, 2009


I guess the big question is, are the not-always-on people developing dramatically different lifestyles and patterns and desires and concerns than the online/offline people? If we go to the public library to read because we like doing recreational activities with others, is that seen as the same sort of pathology as sitting with our friends while we write our paprs.

Hey, Jessamyn. Very good point. Like I said, I really value having the occasional movie alone or phone-off ramble, but I also have unlimited texting on my phone plan, and use Twitter and flickr and all that other business. I also work in public services, which is something I chose over other library specializations that are way more solitude-centric, because I love working with people, helping people, and spending time with people. I think, for me, the idea of "quality alone time" is important not because I want to live in a cave and yell at people to keep off my lawn, but rather because I love living out in the world, and I love having a lot to give the people I encounter, so it's good and important to have time on my own sometimes to recharge and "nourish" myself as a person. (That sounds seriously corny, but it's true.) Of course, that's just my own case, and I'm sure it's by no means generalizable to Society In General.
posted by sarabeth at 8:12 PM on January 25, 2009


adipocere writes "Extraverts just don't get it when other people aren't extraverts, too, and it's as if they are unable to not respond to a social cue or take advantage of an outlet. If it's there, they have to do something about it. Introverts have gone on being introverts by, whoopsie, forgetting to charge that cell phone battery and otherwise doing what they've always done."

I like this summation. My sister is currently very angry with me for not calling her on Christmas day. I wrote a cheery email instead but oh no, I done fucked up. Despite the fact that I live on the other side of the globe in a country where I speak very little of the language. In some ways this pretty much sets me up for conventional loneliness, but I've never been happier or felt more "connected" to people than before.

But yeah, I kind of hate having a cell phone. South Koreans are kind of manic about them, and some of my Korean friends literally can't grok how I could ever want to leave my apartment without it, or "forget" to charge it.

I need my alone time at least once a day, thank you very much. And to assume that it's because I don't like you is in fact a selfish and foolish thing to say or think. Then again, I should probably never have kids.
posted by bardic at 8:12 PM on January 25, 2009


P.S., mildly related: Thoreau was, to say the least, kind of a toolbox.
posted by sarabeth at 8:15 PM on January 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Caduceus, you've confused random curiosity with any kind of genuine interest. Someone can and will invite you to sit at a table and offer to buy you a drink purely because they wonder how it is someone can be at a concert without another person with them, rather than out of any desire to make friends or otherwise form an ongoing connection. Women will do it a lot more than single men, though, probably because there's that whole weird guy thing where they fear a posse of random guys will appear and scream "HOMO!" if they're caught talking to some guy out at a concert. Couples are about in the middle. Fun social experiment: in any given conversation with these folks, mentally tally the number of different ways they've asked if you're there with someone, why you're not there with someone, or if you often go to these things alone. It's rarely less than three.

Extraverts don't seem to filter a lot and will cheerfully ignore any supposed barriers to communication, like an open book and brightly-colored earplugs. Works pretty much the same on airplanes. The explosion in various human communication channels is something they're helpless not to take advantage of, is all.
posted by adipocere at 8:24 PM on January 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


David Brooks is a "reliable index of the social-scientific zeitgeist"?
posted by blucevalo at 8:28 PM on January 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Hollywood is an infernally plugged-in culture. About two years ago, I was introduced to a very successful, eccentric television producer who is "de-connecting" against the tide. On evenings and weekends, she unplugs her landline and shuts off her cell phone. She refuses to keep a computer in her home. She bought a new car, but had the dealership remove its radio. She says she thrives in solitude, gets her creative ideas from being alone, and if people were able to live without hyperconnectivity in ages past, she can do so now.

Because she is so talented (she's won Emmies), people tolerate her eccentricities and find "workarounds" for when she can't be reached. Some are infuriated by her lack of 24/7 availability, for she toils in an industry that expects this of its best people. But she hasn't lost work because of this. She says it's how she stays sane and productive.
posted by terranova at 8:29 PM on January 25, 2009


I know several people who at one time have said to me (sometimes exactly, sometimes in paraphrase): "I can't stand to be alone. I need to be around people."

I always thought that was the weirdest thing. I do my best thinking when I'm the only person around for a few miles - given that I live in a city, now, that's infrequent at best. It saddens me to think that I know a lot of people that have never just thrown some snacks and water into a small backpack and wandered out in whatever direction seems right, returning when they had used up the daylight and dusk or had some other pressing obligation. I agree with posters above about it representing the end of childhood, and I think in part it's an absence of curiosity about what happens when other people don't generate and choose substance/media/content for you and serve it up on a screen.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 8:31 PM on January 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


adipocere, I see what you're getting at. Still, though, that almost never happens to me, and I go a lot of places alone, particularly concerts. Maybe Portland is just more introverted than other towns, because people usually seem willing to let well enough alone here.
posted by Caduceus at 8:37 PM on January 25, 2009


Shits me how I'm in a room by myself, doin' my own thing, havin' a bit of a think, and someone comes in and starts yapping at me.

Like, I'm in the lunchroom at work making a toasted sandwich. "Making a sandwich, are we?"

SHUT THE FUCK UP!!! Jesus.

/semi joking
//they're just trying to be polite
///remember the scene from Pulp Fiction: "Just shut the fuck up for a minute and comfortably enjoy the silence"? No? Well you do now. Study it.
posted by uncanny hengeman at 8:38 PM on January 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Thoreau wrote some beautiful prose about some points which are pretty poignant when you're in tenth grade, and did it while affecting solitude on a lake where many other people had houses, while receiving lots of visitors. Not that I'm knocking him - it's more than I've done.

That's not true. It's very similar to what I've done, in fact. I've just not gotten anything published and then taught in every high school in the land.

In any case, as a highly extroverted person myself, I can say that I value my solitude highly and guard it jealously and defensively - because being extroverted is exhausting. It's fantastic if you've got friends who feed back as much energy as you're exerting, but if you're often around people for whom that's not the case, taking breaks to be on your own isn't just nice, but absolutely required to keep from going mad/slipping into depression.

I hate my cell phone, and am in fact notorious amongst the people I know for keeping it off/silent unless I need to call one of them for some reason. Even then I generally keep my calls short. Can't stand the interruptions or the stress of feeling "on" when I'm just not feeling it, or else risking offending people who have good reason to expect certain ranges of reaction from me. Gchat is almost always the best way to reach me, but that can often be trying as well, as if I ignore that for even a full minute then the counter has ticked showing just how long I'm ignoring the other person, and I don't want to be that guy either. Really, ideally, you want me in person, and at that, ideally, you're a person who I'm comfortable enough with to not talk for a while at a time if I'm just tired or lost in my own thoughts or whatever.

Into all this comes Metafilter. I think I'm such a Metafilter addict because it allows for my extroverted tendencies if and when I'm feeling up to them, and has enough variety of ever-changing topics and a high enough level of topics to feed back. And really, for someone who feels constant pressure of speech except around his closest friends and loved ones, what better remedy is there than a place where one can talk to one's heart's content, or else just shut up and listen to whatever everyone else has to say, and not feel any eyes on them, imagined or otherwise?

In this way I think being "plugged in" all the time (I have my computer open in front of me probably 90% of the time that I'm not sleeping or in transit, and with Gmail and MeFi open that entire time) allows for a much more workable solitude. I can talk to people, and listen, learn a few things and get excited about a few others, and all without the general stress that being around too many/too few people can create.

It does a number on my productivity though, I'll give it that.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:39 PM on January 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


I guess the big question is, are the not-always-on people developing dramatically different lifestyles and patterns and desires and concerns than the online/offline people?

Also, not to over-comment and irritate everyone, but I think the answer here is "probably so".
posted by sarabeth at 8:40 PM on January 25, 2009


Three phones rang. A duplicate wrist radio in his desk drawer buzzed like a wounded grasshopper. The intercom flashed a pink light and click-clicked. Three phones rang. The drawer buzzed. Music blew in through the open door. The psychiatrist, humming quietly, fitted the new wrist radio to his wrist, flipped the intercom, talked a moment, picked up one telephone, talked, picked up another telephone, talked, picked up the third telephone, talked, touched the wrist-radio button, talked calmly and quietly, his face cool and serene, in the middle of the music and the lights flashing, the two phones ringing again, and his hands moving, and his wrist radio buzzing, and the intercoms talking, and voices speaking from the ceiling. And he went on quietly this way through the remainder of a cool, air-conditioned, and long afternoon; telephone, wrist radio, intercom, telephone, wrist radio, intercom, telephone, wrist radio, intercom, telephone, wrist radio, intercom, telephone, wrist radio, intercom, telephone, wrist radio, intercom, telephone, wrist radio..."
-Ray Bradbury, "The Murderer" (1953)
posted by Iridic at 8:41 PM on January 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


I love being in crowds. So many more people than being alone.
posted by Postroad at 8:43 PM on January 25, 2009


Navelgazer, I'm not entirely sure you use the same definitions for "extrovert" and "introvert" that I do, because you're claiming to be extroverted, but then describing yourself as an introvert who happens to like people. It's my understanding that actual extroverts aren't tired out by other people (except for exceptionally difficult ones), and genuinely don't like solitude.
posted by Caduceus at 8:49 PM on January 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Extraverts don't seem to filter a lot and will cheerfully ignore any supposed barriers to communication...

This is why many extraverts piss me off. They don't, perhaps can't, understand that there are in fact people in this world who at times want to be left alone. Completely, utterly alone.

Does silence offend you?! Jesus H. Christ on a frigging pogo stick.
posted by illiad at 8:51 PM on January 25, 2009


Caduceus, I don't know the exact definition of extroversion vs. introversion that I'm using here, to be honest, but I know that on many different personality test, from the completely casual to those administered by licensed psychologists, I'm apparently at the farthest reaches of extroversion on the scale. I'm highly energized by people given that they're people that I can relate to. It's like an insane high almost. But that doesn't mean that just everybody, or all situations where other people are around, will allow for that to work out. If I'm at a party with a bunch of people who know each other but don't really know me, for example. That situation is exhausting, and at least currently I run into that sort of thing quite often. When I'm back in my old town, where that rarely occurs, I'm the lampshade-on-my-head life of the party.
posted by Navelgazer at 8:55 PM on January 25, 2009


Weston: I didn't check at all. Sometimes you skip the party, sometimes you aren't invited. One is solitary, the other loneliness.

These connected young folks are building their own little digital village where everyone is invited to be aware of the coming and goings of the residents. Metafilter is not particularly different, we've fenced off a space and arraigned our streets in our own little way. We don't have the shrieking typography and clamorous imagery of myspace, we are presenting something else to the world, but the fundamentals are similar.

Deresiewicz is incorrect to assume that public spaces like mefi or facebook has "replaced the journal and the letter as a way of creating and communicating one's sense of self" these are merely new journals and letters and replaced nothing. Perhaps they crowd the expressive landscape, but a plethora of tools is superior to a dearth. A modern young person's sense of self is perhaps quite different than what Deresiewicz thinks it ought to be, and that seems to be the crux of his argument that is particularly interesting to me.

In Putnam's defense I would argue that a self-selected virtual community like facebook is quite different than actually interacting with a random group of people in your geographic proximity at your local bowling alley. If your digital community is nothing more than words and pictures, I can see where this wouldn't increase the social capital or civic participation. Your twitter to your mates may increase their awareness of the sweet show you are catching at the Metro, or some aspect of the recent Gaza conflict, but awareness doesn't necessarily mean any action. That may be overly generous to Putnam, in part because I don't think there is hard distinctions between different types of social groups based only on the dominant medium of connection between members.

I think the de-personalized nature of many of the new communication methods is part of what fuels their popularity, for example:
in my experience, texting is the preferred method of communication between FB's, flings, what have you. if i was in this situation and the guy CALLED me, i'd feel incredibly awkward. texting is more nonconfrontational.
posted by zenon at 8:55 PM on January 25, 2009


Aside from times when I'm watching baby drezdn, I don't find it hard to be alone at all. I don't have a cell phone and don't use any IM services. If I want to talk to someone, it's in person, by email or landline. It keeps me somewhat in control of when I talk to people or deal with the world around me. There's just not much anxiety for me in solitude. When I'm around people though, I'm constantly worried that I'm offending them.
posted by drezdn at 9:14 PM on January 25, 2009


Regarding some earlier comments on death: when the end comes you won't know it. No one chooses to go into a hospital to die, and quite a few probably regret that that's where they're last moments are spent. But for a lot of people it's a far better death than most. I suppose it's fun to imagine you'll go out screaming obscenities at the Gods on a butte somewhere in the Andes, but more than likely you'll pass in a fashion all to banal. And that's if your lucky. One's thoughts on being alone change dramatically over time.

Watching people cope after the death of a spouse is terrifying and humbling, and I can't imagine being any better prepared for having witnessed it dozens of times. If anything it's more upsetting as I get older. The idea of connectedness doesn't negate the notion of aloneness. There are virtues to both. I don't think people were any better at being alone a decade or two ago. They were just unhappier in the knowledge that they weren't being included in the larger community, either because of their own social ineptness or because of the whims of the crowd. Some of the paeans here to solitude hold water right up to the point that it becomes evident that they were written to be viewed by tens of thousands of eyeballs.
posted by docpops at 9:33 PM on January 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


sexyrobot writes "i need to change my plan so i dont even recieve them...is that even possible?"

Yes. Well, if you have Verizon, and it should be possible with any carrier. People think I'm crazy for blocking text messages, but it keeps me sane in a crazy world.
posted by krinklyfig at 9:37 PM on January 25, 2009


That's really interesting, Navelgazer. I'd describe myself similarly, as being energized by a very small, select group of people (my closest friends, basically, and, when I'm in a relationship, my SO), but pretty much everyone else tires me out, rapidly. And I come out on the extreme end of the introversion scale in all the significant tests. Of course, I'd never say I'm the life of a party, and I guess I'm putting forward "energized" as a term for "they don't actively tire me out," so I guess there's the difference. Certainly wouldn't go with "insane high."
posted by Caduceus at 9:46 PM on January 25, 2009


I don't know what I am with respects to intro/extroversion. I don't really think a label is necessary, but it sometimes gets confusing when I try to justify to an introverted, skeptical friend why I thought dancing for two hours at a social event with ten other girls I vaguely know was so much fun, or when I try to explain to an extrovert why I didn't go on IM for ten days.

As has already been pointed out, there seems to be a very different definition of what "alone" really entails. To a lot of the people who didn't grow up with technology, the horrors of being connected all the time seem to be overwhelming, but we still have a lot of control over how much we communicate.

I tell people that if they want to reach me, they should email me, as that is the venue I check the most. My phone is on silent pretty much all the time, since I'm in and out of class all day and can't afford to have it go off in the middle of class. Half the time I don't even know where it is, and if it's charged. I prefer communicating via text. When someone calls, I often let it go to voice mail and check it later (when it's cheaper). When I'm at my computer, which is more or less 95% of my leisure time, I'm signed in to instant messengers and the like, but set to "offline" so I can talk to someone if I need to, but only the one or two who know my habits will actually message me.

I guess these habits are centered around this idea of communication on my terms. It seems a bit selfish, now that it's laid out like this, but the way I've set up communications between me and my peers is that I can now prioritize which ones are the most important and which ones I need to respond to the most urgently. The reason I prefer text is because I can safely ignore it for a few minutes, a few hours, instead of having it interrupt whatever I was concentrating on. And I think this ability to prioritize is often missed in the generation gap.

At the same time, having this set up allows me to disconnect. Of course, when I get back into the intarwebs after having disappeared for a day or two, I've got two dozen things to deal with, but because everything is digital, there is the understanding that there is delay built into the communication. It's not like having a home phone (which I don't), where if you're home, not answering the phone seems downright rude.

So when you examine this supposed trend of preference with regards to solitude, you also have to look at the many options that the internet offers, as well as the barriers.

The main downside I've noticed is that solitude seems to be more socially unacceptable, especially among people my crowd. I have friends who are otherwise introverts, but who still feel hurt if I don't check in after a couple of days / a week or so. They'll randomly text me just to say "hug" or something inane along those lines, and are annoyed when I don't reply. When I say I want a weekend to myself to draw and listen to music, the reaction is generally "oh but don't you want to do XYZ with us instead?". It can be a bit annoying, but otherwise this article seems to be a bit ... overblown.

Aside, with respect to MeFi: My idea of a relaxing afternoon is closing all my books, shutting off instant messenger and email notification and cellphones and whatnot, and finding a couple of good political-filter discussion threads on MetaFilter. I do realize, of course, that I'm technically still interacting with people; these are comments made by real people across the world somewhere. But the environment at MetaFilter is so low-pressure and high-traffic that it feels like you can pretty much just melt away into the background if you want to. This kind of flexibility in human interaction is pretty rare. That's probably why I spend so much time here.

And sorry for the novel.

posted by Phire at 9:55 PM on January 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


No man comes home straight from work.

A man get off work,
he got to go somewhere.

He got to drink something,
he got to smoke something...

he got to watch the game,
he got to hang with his boys...

he got to take a drive.

He got to do something
that will mentally prepare him...

for all the talking he gonna hear
when he get home.

Ladies, it ain't that you talk too much.

You just talk too much
as soon as we get in the fucking door.

Let a man get situated.
We don't need to hear everything right away.

http://www.script-o-rama.com/movie_scripts/c/chris-rock-bigger-and-blacker-script.html

http://au.youtube.com/watch?v=Zr1xppNU9w4 [1:55]

posted by uncanny hengeman at 10:17 PM on January 25, 2009


I treasure what little solitude I can get. Yesterday, during The Great Metafilter Outage of 2009, it also occurred that my wife and all three children were out of the house. I grabbed my iPod, laid down on the bed, & listened to two Porcupine Tree albums front to bak. I hadn't been able to do that in waaaay to long. It was positively meditative.

Not to single this out, but that isn't solitude, in the sense of this article. The point of solitude is reflective time spent with your own mind. Plugged into an ipod, just like plugged into a laptop, is turning off your mind and becoming a respondent to the world instead of an active, thinking, mental being who is just by themselves.

When Descartes sits and thinks as he stares at the wax, he is not watching TV or listening to iTunes or chatting on a website, and that's part of what makes his thought process patient, reflective and deep. It's true there is a whole philosophy of active audiences - Bertoldt Brecht wrote about the interactive, engaged audience, who won't just passively watch but will be thinking for themselves the whole time - but that is hard to maintain the entire time you're watching TV or listening to an iPod, and it gets noisy in there... not really "meditative". So if it's relaxing to watch or listen, then you're letting the other do the creative part.

The idea of solitude is that you do the thinking /creative part, and the listening part, all by yourself.

As we started to discuss the other day on that facebook thread, the new social network these days seems to fundamentally alter the nature of interactions - we know more about each other, we are automatically closer in certain ways just by having access to more, and more directly, but simultaneously, we have less opportunity for greater depth of awareness. It takes more effort to simply sit and create a thought than it does to bounce the same thought back and forth, and a network gets us invested in the bouncing rather than the moment of thinking itself.

It's not all bad - we're more connected, more open, more equal in lots of ways... but it's hard to deny that the time for sitting alone, staring at nature, pondering the meaning of things, is harder to come by when it's so easy to be entertained or distracted by so much.

As the article said, boredom is a modern phenomenon - at one time, having leisure time was a time to think, to use the mind. But now, we want to be entertained! And if we're not, we're "bored", waiting for the next thing to come along and entertain us. ON the other hand, although boredom is new, it is not that new - it's modern as in industrial age, not TV age - but that's a whole other thing to explore (and has been by some interesting philosophers, including Heidegger). One could say, we have been losing solitude all century, and recent innovations are just pushing things again. But people push back, as well, and the conversation goes on (as I said in the other thread, the 70s saw a lot of "back to nature" anti-technology movements, etc).
posted by mdn at 10:25 PM on January 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


What's with the ragging on Thoreau? Did you even read the fucking book? He says:
Is it the source of the Nile, or the Niger, or the Mississippi, or a Northwest Passage around this continent, that we would find? Are these the problems which most concern mankind? Is Franklin the only man who is lost, that his wife should be so earnest to find him? Does Mr. Grinnell know where he himself is? Be rather the Mungo Park, the Lewis and Clark and Frobisher, of your own streams and oceans; explore your own higher latitudes — with shiploads of preserved meats to support you, if they be necessary; and pile the empty cans sky-high for a sign. Were preserved meats invented to preserve meat merely? Nay, be a Columbus to whole new continents and worlds within you, opening new channels, not of trade, but of thought. Every man is the lord of a realm beside which the earthly empire of the Czar is but a petty state, a hummock left by the ice. Yet some can be patriotic who have no self-respect, and sacrifice the greater to the less. They love the soil which makes their graves, but have no sympathy with the spirit which may still animate their clay. Patriotism is a maggot in their heads.What was the meaning of that South-Sea Exploring Expedition, with all its parade and expense, but an indirect recognition of the fact that there are continents and seas in the moral world to which every man is an isthmus or an inlet, yet unexplored by him, but that it is easier to sail many thousand miles through cold and storm and cannibals, in a government ship, with five hundred men and boys to assist one, than it is to explore the private sea, the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean of one's being alone.
The point isn't that he went to the woods. The woods were just a place like any other. He could have sat in the middle of Union Square. If you read him expecting him to be Robinson Crusoe, building a hut in the trackless wilderness with nary a soul around, you're missing the point. He's in New England, he knows very well that there are people within five miles (or, in his case, less) in any direction. The woods just happened to be a good place for him to "transact some business," as he says in the beginning--the business of figuring out what in his life belonged to him, and what to the society around him. Did he achieve perfect isolation, like a monk? No, and he never claimed to want it. Solitude is for him not a physical state, but a moral and spiritual one; although the former aspect might help to cultivate the latter ones, it's the least important one of the three. If you think going to town every day made him a hypocrite, you've understood nothing of his message.
posted by nasreddin at 10:28 PM on January 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


I don't have a cell phone and don't use any IM services. If I want to talk to someone, it's in person, by email or landline.

You and me both. Folks like us seem to be a dying breed, though. Maybe it's just the company I keep, but it seems like the pressure to "get with the program" (get a cell phone, IM, Facebook account, text messaging, etc.) gets stronger every day. It's almost routine for someone in my social circle to assume I'm accessible in these ways. (After all, isn't everyone?) They'll say "just call me on your cell when you get there, and I'll come down and meet you" or "hey, didn't you get my text?" I have to remind them again and again that I am only reachable in person, via landline (corded phone!), snail-mail or e-mail...and then watch them look askance at me when I tell them that I intend to keep it that way for the foreseeable future.

If they start joking about how it's high time they drag me into the 21st century (and it's surprising how often they do), I get sassy. I mean, jeez, I was playing Space Invaders and writing BASIC code in 1984, I've been on the intarwebs since 1993, I had a web site in 1996...what's with all the neo-Luddite jokes? I tell them: Go ahead and mock me if you must. When your phone battery dies or your signal fades at a critical moment, I'll be happily chatting away on my landline, or writing (gasp!) an old-fashioned handwritten letter to a loved one. When the electricity's out for whatever reason and you can't charge your phone battery, meanwhile my phone line will work just fine.

More to the point, though: I'm a classic introvert. I love my solitude. It's essential for creativity, study, reflection, meditation, spiritual and emotional renewal, reading, writing, and introspection. I defend it against all kinds of intrusions, demands and interruptions already. Why would I want to add more demands on my time with all these non-essential services and devices - and pay for the privilege, to boot? No, I think I'll continue with my anachronistic habits as long as possible, thanks very much.
posted by velvet winter at 10:52 PM on January 25, 2009


The main thing that bugs me about this need for face to face conversation or phone line is that it actually ends up being far more demanding on my time than any other for of communication. I mean, I appreciate meeting up with friends and hanging out, or calling someone up just to chat, but my time is pretty limited. When I don't have as much time as I like, I like having the option of just sending off an email or a text to make sure they're okay, or to let them know they're in my thoughts.

I imagine this attitude is pretty prevalent among people in my generation, and you would probably say that's indicative of the larger issue, this whole concept of not having time for people (or ourselves) anymore. But then you have to look at the environment that seems to have generated this insane need to be constantly busy, to make yourself stand out from the crowd, to be engaged in five things at once (otherwise you're wasting your time). I would argue that the communication dvices (IM, etc.) that are so derided here are more the solution than the problem, and I guess I'm okay with the fact that we might need to adapt to a world that's no longer as accepting of a monochronic view of time.
posted by Phire at 11:04 PM on January 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


And I forgot to mention that I don't think checking up with friends in between meetings diminishes our face-to-face meetings in any way, though I can see how it could.
posted by Phire at 11:05 PM on January 25, 2009


Just because solitude was more popular, it doesn't mean anyone enjoyed it.

Perhaps only in the absence of something else.

When we get stressed out from too many electronic devices or cars or too much noise or whatever, what if it isn't solitude we need? It could be something else.
posted by setanor at 11:08 PM on January 25, 2009


You know what I want to die? People saying that things without bodies are dead.

Anytime I see a death-notice on the internet I'm dubious, because the internet loves a good death hoax... But anytime anyone anywhere says something non-physical is dead I don't believe it, because whether its punk or hiphop or irony or solitude or disco or God, somehow it still manages to be there in six months, and then I have to sit through another lecture or debate about why it is or is not dead, and why if it is dead its really dead this time... As if irony, or solitude, or faith in a higher power, or rhythmic spoken poetry, or an urge to spit in the face of conventional society, or danceable music, or other hobbies or personal attributes which come entirely from within individual people, and which seem to have existed within some people and not in others throughout recorded history could somehow, magically, universally disappear, or as if the decisions of society to not emphasize these traits could somehow kill them off...

If you think the history of disco being declared dead is ridiculous, wait till you read about the death of solitude: according to Jack Hitt's book Off The Road, which is both a history of medieval pilgrimages and a description of an attempt at a modern pilgramage, the very idea of a monastery was formed because centuries ago it became obvious that it was not safe for most monks to live the hermit lifestyle they had instinctively drifted to; they needed to live in protected / walled areas with other monks for purely practical reasons. But many of the monks were wary because even with a vow of silence, and no formal social interactions, and living exclusively in the presence of other avowed hermits, and putting an absolute premium on study and reflection, they were afraid that they'd be socialized and lose the ability to meditate and pray the way they wanted to, and that they would lose total devotion to God. I mean, what if the guy whose spending hours doing repetitive garden work next to you is a Chatty Cathy? You just might be tempted... Everyone knows monasteries are hotspots of sins compared to the middle of some uninhabited woods.

So, basically, solitude - the ability to be completely alone - has been dying for a thousand years. Hell, its probably been dying since people first founded cities. But dying is a long way from being dead, and now that we can order groceries through multiple websites and cut out a conversation with a bank teller by getting our paycheck direct deposited and buy a car and then only drive with one person in it, now that we can get our porn through the internet and never even have to be present with a physical person to get our most interactive desires excited - well, I suspect that there might be more ways to be anonymous than ever before. It seems to me that the people who want solitude will probably find away to get it - the exact same way that monks who wanted absolutely no contact with anyone probably stayed hermits instead of joining the monasteries, and then came to regret it when they got eaten by wolves in the middle of the night.
posted by Kiablokirk at 11:08 PM on January 25, 2009 [6 favorites]


Inspector.Gadget writes "I know several people who at one time have said to me (sometimes exactly, sometimes in paraphrase): 'I can't stand to be alone. I need to be around people.'

"I always thought that was the weirdest thing."


Me too. Last week Mitheralette had a birthday party and by the end of the second hour the pressure of the people was over whelming. I didn't get relaxed until the next day.

velvet winter writes "Folks like us seem to be a dying breed, though. Maybe it's just the company I keep, but it seems like the pressure to 'get with the program' (get a cell phone, IM, Facebook account, text messaging, etc.) gets stronger every day."

Don't worry, the poor have got this demographic well covered.
posted by Mitheral at 11:28 PM on January 25, 2009


It's amazing that so many people have the comment of "well, I have a real life, soo..." but no one seems to say they have no life.
I'll be the first to admit it:
I love Facebook. I love texting. I have no other life. Without these tools my life would be even more empty than it already is. I'm not important in anyway. I need diversions to make my life palatable.
posted by traver at 5:10 AM on January 26, 2009


jamstigator, you'd probably enjoy this documentary about Ernest Borgnine and his RV travels.
posted by orme at 6:01 AM on January 26, 2009


Reflections from an old fart:
Solitude? An ipod doesn't exclude solitude. Perhaps one's choice in what is played, does. An intimate experience with music (and what is more intimate than to be alone, with the music inside your head?) can be as much solitude as anything. Or not.

Cell phone? I have one. I rarely give the number out, because I loath (LOATH) people who phone my cell before trying my land line. The connection is rarely as good as the landline. And frankly, if I'm not home, I probably don't want a phone call, unless it has to do with the reason I'm out!

Text messages? Absolutely. I find them far more polite than actual calls. I can read a text when I choose, and respond as I see fit. If I'm with other people, I can wait for the appropriate moment to excuse myself to read the text. I text people with the idea that this is not interrupting whatever they are doing at the moment.

Metafilter? I'm soaking in it, right now! And I'm not dressed. I can leave even this comment, mid-sentence, if I wish. None will be offended. However, I am fairly sure that Metafilter, and the internet in general, prevents more productive activities. Without the net, I'd get bored to a life-threatening degree, then I'd find something useful to do that pleased me. However, thanks to Metafilter, I'm exposed to people and ideas for which I would otherwise be totally clueless.

Social networking? I don't know why I'd want that. I'm an introvert, I don't have a long list of friends. I am the sort who keeps very few, but very close friends. I see nothing beneficial from the loss of privacy represented by these social networking tools (as I see them, which may be misinformed, except I get most such impressions from Metafilter).

IM: I used to IM all the time. But eventually I got tired of the idiotic spam and annoying people. I rarely even think of turning on my messenger program, the name of which I don't even recall, it's been so long. (I do kind of resent having forgotten my ICQ password, considering I had a 6-digit user number, as an early adopter).

Of course, I'd appear completely different if I were single! No power on earth can get me out of the house as easily as the pressure of being single. I hate being single. I can't help but wonder how many of these 'solitude is dying' notions are really driven by nothing more than single people casting a wider net than has been possible, in the past.
posted by Goofyy at 6:01 AM on January 26, 2009


People who own technologies and constantly bitch about them irritate me. If you hate your cell phone, GET RID OF IT. Are you a slave? I'd say if you are unable to get rid of it when you hate it, you're a slave to some extent. I pretty much hate cell phones and I don't have one. I like email and don't understand why people bitch about it constantly. It's certainly less intrusive than a telephone. Look at it when I want, and when I don't I ignore it.
I messed around with Facebook for a while until I got sick of reading "Tim likes his wallpaper". I like Metafilter because there's actually some content to what people say.
Regarding solitude: I was on a bus yesterday from London to Manchester. Made it to Milton Keynes with a seat to myself through strategic placing of books and coat, but at that point the bus filled up and a woman sat next to me. I would estimate that she was talking on her mobile phone for about 90% of the distance from Milton Keynes to Manchester (about 2 1/2 to 3 hours). Then when I got to Manchester I had the most unfortunate necessity of using a public bathroom, where I had the pleasure of wiping a total stranger's piss off of a toilet seat.
When I was younger I usually craved company but was then usually disappointed with it. I spent my 30s accepting the fact that other humans are in general kind of disappointing, and now at 45 have come to the realization that I'm more interesting to myself than anyone else, in both senses that that statement can be taken.
Currently I live on a farm in Canada 4 miles outside of a village of 500. I am very happy that all the people who don't understand solitude are very far away from me.
posted by crazylegs at 6:09 AM on January 26, 2009


I love Facebook. I love texting. I have no other life. Without these tools my life would be even more empty than it already is. I'm not important in anyway. I need diversions to make my life palatable.

Thank you for that. I'm a misanthropic introvert who doesn't like to be alone. Think how great THAT is. Electronic communication with non-present friends and strangers is heaven to me.
posted by Summer at 7:37 AM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not alone. I'm with Elijah Craig...

(or sub in friends from my youth like Jack Daniels and Mr. Johnny Walker)
posted by zpousman at 8:15 AM on January 26, 2009


Having a bath is solitude for me. Just a little time out, with the radio on, or a book, or my eyes closed, and a cup of tea on the side.
posted by mippy at 8:29 AM on January 26, 2009


What's with the ragging on Thoreau? Did you even read the fucking book?

I've read a lot of his books. Speaking as someone who was born in Emerson Hospital which was a stone's throw from Walden my issue with Thoreau is just how he's become whatever people want to see in him. Sort of like Helen Keller, how people like to talk about how much her human spirit overcame the tough adversities she faced but no one likes to talk about how she was a socialist and aggressively political in support of rights for women and etc. So, a lot of people use Thoreau as a convenient shorthand for the splendors of nature and overlook a lot of his civil disobedience stuff and how the remarkable thing about the man wasn't that he was sort of a living-among-nature man (he wasn't) but that he put a lot of thought into how we self-organize by removing himself from those organizational structures so that he could get some perspective. By modern day standards many people think he would have been more of an anarchist type and while that's neither here nor there, it's a lot different from the "oh isn't it cool to go live in a cabin with no television?" thing that people oversimplify it to.

And actually to me a lot of this mindfulness that is good about solitude is that it's Your Own Deal. These articles seem to read like the writer knows the right balance of people/solitary and sadly shakes his head knowingly at peopel who are doing it wrong. It's a really tough mindset to get to the point where you see peopel doing things differently than you might chose to and still not looking at that different choice as a UR DOING IT WRONG situation. This is sort of what Thoreau was after, looking at the laws and the things that govern us, to the baseline desire for food and shelter, up and above to companionship and intellectual pursuits, and figuring out how much of that we needed dominion over to be human and to be social.

So, not only do you need to strike your own balance, but I'd argue you need to accept and tolerate people's other balances. This is hard when your friends rag on your for not having a cell phone and you defend your desire to not have one -- people can decide what the balance is between banging your own drum in this regard and your desire to fit in and be contactable and interactive with your chosen peer group -- or if you make the choice not to have a car and you have to decide between public transpo, renting, bumming rides and/or not going places you can't get to without a car. It's not so much the choices as the consequences of those choices and the things we can't chose.

I'd rather live in a planet without cell phones some days, but that's not a choice I get to make -- not if I also want to keep some things the same like living where I do and having the friends that I do, and I've decided I want those things -- so I chose this. Other people chose and enjoy the always-on life they've picked for themselves. The sort of "tut tut oh what we've lost!" handwringing just makes me feel that if people weren't irritable about cell phones they'd be cursing the darkness or whatever other thing gets under their skin. To me the goal is satisfaction - with yourself and with others - and if you find that at the end of an ipod, that seems okay with me
posted by jessamyn at 9:06 AM on January 26, 2009 [6 favorites]


As the article said, boredom is a modern phenomenon - at one time, having leisure time was a time to think, to use the mind. But now, we want to be entertained! And if we're not, we're "bored", waiting for the next thing to come along and entertain us. ON the other hand, although boredom is new, it is not that new - it's modern as in industrial age, not TV age - but that's a whole other thing to explore (and has been by some interesting philosophers, including Heidegger).

I don't think I quite buy the boredom as a modern phenomenon claim. Now, I wasn't alive 400 years ago, granted. But consider the premodern French or Russian peasant who dealt with cold winters and inadequate food supplies by hunkering down in bed for six months every year. If not boredom in the modern sense (with no TV remote to argue over), that's also not a life of contemplation, either.

And when I lived in a small village in a developing country -- again, in the modern age, not 400 years ago -- there was plenty of boredom, even without phones and most other modern entertainment and communication devices. Imagine the most endless of endless MetaFilter discussions (say, on obesity and Palin), but with only a handful of other people whom you've known since childhood. Every few days, someone comes walking in from another village, and you get to expand the obesity/Palin discussion for half an hour with another perspective, and then it retracts to the same core group as always.

Oh, but then you get in an argument with two of the people there, and instead of an internet flame out, you just start giving each other the silent treatment for a few days or weeks. Getting the banhammer really sucks when it takes away most of the people within a two-hour walk that you could talk to.

People I knew there certainly got bored, and chafed at the limited social and communicative options available to them. I have trouble imagining a past distant enough that people would not have sought out and welcomed news from the outside world, or gotten bored when caught waiting for the weather to change.

So even if Sartre really did say "Hell is other people," an even bigger hell is having very few other people. I can be plenty introverted, and resolutely refuse to use IM and texting, but on the whole we are an exquisitely social species, and hermetic outliers aside, we all need a certain amount of human interaction and connection in our lives.
posted by Forktine at 9:11 AM on January 26, 2009 [3 favorites]


To me the goal is satisfaction - with yourself and with others - and if you find that at the end of an ipod, that seems okay with me

I can't favorite jessamyn's comment enough. I try to apply the above to all aspects of my life and find the patience and acceptance with people who have decided differently from myself. Personally, I fall into the mid-range with slightly stronger introverted tendencies than I've observed as 'normal' among my peers.

One thing I'm not sure about however: does introversion lead to introspection? The latter often requires the former, but I don't think the former always induces the latter...
posted by slimepuppy at 10:03 AM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think being alone is an acquired skill and one of the most important anyone can ever have. This was a big focus for me (which became totally natural) over years of travel.

Seconding that piece of wisdom.

People holding cellphones, imo, all look like Linus holding his security blankie.

The only relief from childhood loneliness for me was snuggling my siblings but it was saturated with ongoing chronic depression, a sense of existential isolation and a lack of feeling understood or connected with mentally or emotionally. There was brief, physical, relief but nothing lasting or meaningful. Loneliness haunted me all through my teen years.

In my 20's I learned through shamatha meditation, taught by Trungpa Rinpoche, a better teacher than example (I recommend Goenka's 10 day Vipassana course), that boredom and loneliness sluggishness/agitation are unawakened mental states and if one observes them in meditation, gets beyond to awareness, awakened awareness, life is interesting pretty much every single moment, even in the supermarket waiting online. Once life became vividly interesting I didn't feel so alone and solitude became not only a necessity but a joy. I love being and doing things on my own, can focus on just being in the moment.

The loneliness rooted in childhood only healed through years of studying psychology, therapy, learning about people by street vending, learning to become a better friend to myself and others. Participating in the Metafilter community has been the most satisfying, ongoing creative mental stimulation in my life, filling a deep need with great enjoyment.
posted by nickyskye at 11:07 AM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


The advent of social networking, hot on the heels of cellphones, has just made it easier for extraverts to indulge their extraversion.

It also makes it easier for introverts to indulge their extraversion.

I'm not being facetious. Extraversion/introversion is a continuum, not a dichotomy. Rare is the introvert who doesn't desire some human contact, and rare is the extravert who never wants to be alone.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 11:36 AM on January 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


When the electricity's out for whatever reason and you can't charge your phone battery, meanwhile my phone line will work just fine...

Seems like a possibly poor assumption. What if your house collapses or blows away?

Everyone (who owns a cell phone) should have a hand-crank radio/cell-phone charger in their emergency kits.

Like others, I straddle the line between introvert/extrovert, yet I think I enjoy solitude more than most. I often eat alone, go to movies/shows alone, travel alone, go on bike trips alone, etc. I own a cell phone but generally only so my wife/child can reach me if needed.

I also use e-mail, Last.fm, Facebook, and other social Internet software/sites. However, those Internet technologies don't preclude solitude for me. What really keeps solitude at bay for me is the 40-hour work week. When I am/was unemployed, I pretty much had all the solitude I wanted, and it was wonderful most of the time, and depressing some of the time. TRUE STORY!
posted by mrgrimm at 4:16 PM on January 26, 2009


i'm passionate about my solitude.

driving from northern MN to Los Angeles one early Spring some time ago... *that* was exquisite solitude. not speaking to anyone above a mumble for days upon days. enjoying the spectacle of America in tableau. all blue highways instead of six-lane thruways.

i remember not telling many people that i was going to do it--since they would often react in a vague sort of horror that i'd do such a thing as a woman alone. it was fabulous. and yes, there were bouts of extraordinary loneliness that, paradoxically, felt as wonderful as they were scary. something about the desert.

i've gone on a few such trips. and i always feel sad that so many women think it's out of the question. that they'll be snapped up by some serial killer the minute they stop for gas in the middle of nowhere. the best vacations, IMO, are those undertaken alone, without itinerary.
posted by RedEmma at 6:14 PM on January 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


A comment in a book I'm reading: "Americans now find community by sitting alone at home in front of their computers." That's a paraphrase, the book is by Morris Berman.

I doubt we are facing the end of solitude - unless we forget how to be solitary, or lose the desire to be alone, or lose the awareness that solitude can be a good thing.

In fact we are more able to be alone now than ever before. Throughout most of human history (and in many traditional societies today), we have been part of close knit families. Everyone knew your business.

Now in general we get in our car and drive out to the suburbs to our homes where we live alone or with only our immediate family and watch tv or play on the internet or talk on the phone. Americans are unlikely to know their neighbors and if they do it is only on a superficial level. Extended families no longer live next door or in the same dwelling, but are likely scattered across five different states.

So in the old days I imagine solitude was harder to find, but there were far fewer distractions. Tending a flock, cutting wood, hunting, plowing a field - these are activities of a different quality than sitting on a computer with windows open to facebook, excel, email, and an IM program, with at least one telephone nearby and coworkers in the next office or cubicle. Similarly, doing the dishes at home with the TV on while talking on the phone is a very different experience than doing the dishes without electronic conveniences/distractions.

Likewise, reading a book is (usually) a much deeper task than having a discussion on Metafilter.

I have only read the discussion here so far, I'm about to go read the essay itself - but I wonder if it might have been more accurately titled: "Rapidly Multiplying Challenges To and Distractions From Contemplation and Real Relationships" rather than "The End of Solitude".
posted by natteringnabob at 7:10 PM on January 26, 2009


People holding cellphones, imo, all look like Linus holding his security blankie.

...years of studying psychology, therapy, learning about people by street vending, learning to become a better friend to myself and others.

Is it just me, or is this a very common disconnect? You seem to only have learned as much as you need to cast judgments on those who live differently.
posted by setanor at 7:16 PM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


To clarify my comment above:

We have a choice: We can do dishes in solitude, or with the room full of noisy family members, or with the tv on and a friend on the phone. The difference is, prior to the 1950s, we had only the first two options.

So the threat is not the end of solitude, but more and more forces acting on our lives to make us forget that contemplation (and real relationships) are important.
posted by natteringnabob at 7:18 PM on January 26, 2009


Ok, just read the article. I believe the writer has confused the great thinkers of western civilization with the rest of humanity.... the value that westerners place on solitude is a cultural choice and its practice is probably restricted, even in the west, to those with the leisure to spend long hours in purposeful contemplation. I don't think the internet has changed this.

What has changed is the number of things vying for our attention. Most humans, for most of history, have had unavoidable times in their life when they were alone, had to be alone, for long periods, with no radio, phone or TV. These times lend themselves to contemplation. So even the peasant who lives in a hovel with his children, wife, parents and grandparents and maybe brothers and sisters would have more time for solitude and introspection than a modern human... but would he have the luxury or mindset to use this time for what Deresiewicz or I might consider "worthy"?

Agggh.. my goddammed postmodern education.

And, haha, after I read the article I posted it to Facebook.
posted by natteringnabob at 7:53 PM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think I quite buy the boredom as a modern phenomenon claim.

i guess the main argument is just that the word is recent (mid 19th c), but of course you're right that some form of the concept could have been around in other times. However, theories about it think of it as part of a modern society where the person has no purpose, or feels no personal connection to the work they do daily (they do it just for money, reputation etc, secondary goals, not for survival, happiness, identity, craftsmanship etc, or primary goals: which disconnects them from the purpose).

THis doesn't mean that people weren't unhappy in previous societies - they would grow tired, be weary of work, be listless or have low spirits or energy - but the distinction with boredom is that being bored does not require low energy; in fact it is often characterized by a kind of tense high energy, like nervousness or anxiety (are we there yet? are we there yet? are we there yet? I'm booorrred!). It's very wrapped up with the "loss of purpose" of the modern world, and the notion that in earlier times, we'd have a greater sense of belonging to something, and working toward some ideal, not just trying to stay entertained until we eventually die.

I have to remind them again and again that I am only reachable in person, via landline (corded phone!), snail-mail or e-mail...and then watch them look askance at me

And only about ten years ago, even that would have been more than normal. I designed a datebook/address book in 1997 and put in a section for people to write their email address, and I remember both worrying over whether to write "e-mail" or "email", and also, being told by a few people I was a weirdo for including the category at all. Now it's apparently acceptable for the neo-luddite. Things move fast.
posted by mdn at 7:59 PM on January 26, 2009 [1 favorite]


The crucial difference between now and the past, for me, is that everything has an off switch. If I'm at home and you knock on my door, unless I turn off all the lights and cover my ears, I can't avoid you. Today, I can unplug the phone. I can turn on the phone. I can turn off the computer, or the web browser, or the chat client, and it's nothing personal, nor is it irresponsible. Actually, it's on you to leave me a note, and with email, text, IM, offline messages, facebook, it's easy for you to do that. I can turn off metafilter, my link to tens of thousands of people, with a simple mouse click.

I prefer it this way.
posted by saysthis at 8:55 AM on January 27, 2009


Relatedly, it seems like childhood daydreaming is dying too. There's value in sitting in the backseat of the car

I agree with posters above about it representing the end of childhood, and I think in part it's an absence of curiosity about what happens when other people don't generate and choose substance/media/content for you and serve it up on a screen.

With regard to the end of childhood or daydreaming, I don't really see it. Gameboy and Walkman (iPod 0.1) have been out for two and three decades respectively and have filled many dreary hours during car trips and long stays at [relatives]' house, but daydreaming and childhood survived. Furthermore, listening to music -alone- is a solitary activity that allows plenty of time to think. It's what people usually complain about.

I think opting to do/create things that interest you has more to do with the parenting you receive and the available ways to express your personality rather than with the ways you can waste time. Social networks seem to have a greater potential to affect one's teenage years when parental control is effectively thrown out of the window and one's developing personality finds all these other people with good and stupid advice, the long tail accommodating to his particular freak and may connect to someone who lives a hemisphere away while not having someone in the flesh*. I suppose adolescence is still weird, nets or no nets.

So even if Sartre really did say "Hell is other people," an even bigger hell is having very few other people.

No Exit featured three actors during most of the play.

*not to say they'd necessarily have someone in the flesh, otherwise.
posted by ersatz at 10:05 AM on January 27, 2009


I am sitting in my fortress of solitude right now, having not left the house the whole day. I detest the phone and IM, but do enjoy online socializing somewhat.

When I do go out in public, I am *very* social and outgoing. However, I am also self-conscious. I purposely do not notice others noticing me. I walk quickly. I do not engage strangers in conversation unless there is a pointed reason to do so (with the exception of social arenas, such as nightclubs, parties, events, parades, and the like); when others engage me seemingly at random, I am polite and engaging but brief, often preferring silence and smiling above small talk.

At music festivals, on trips, vacations and group outings, I often wander off by myself. Being alone in a crowd of tens of thousands for 9+ hours is not a big deal at all.

My childhood was spent primarily alone or in libraries, reading.

My time alone is my sanity; solitude and introspection charge my batteries for lively social engagements. I would rather spend 5 years without any meaningful social contact beyond email or physical letters, wandering the earth, experiencing things, observing, learning, evolving... than spend one week in a retail or public service occupation, where my primary role is human interaction. I certainly feel Sartre's pain in No Exit as others have mentioned.

When I'm in public and I have my earphones in and am reading or quietly looking somewhere or obviously in a hurry and others try to get my attention, I don't understand why. Surely they are doing things, too? Unless they need help?

Whether I am single or attached, in a country alone where I don't speak the language or in a room full of loud family members, isolated from all means of contact (blackberry and phone dead, no access to the internet) or at my office with 9 means of contact within arm's reach... I am always happiest just being, and doing, and thinking. Sharing with others is a great joy, but this constant texting/IMing/calling/beeping/emailing/poking/twittering baffles me. There is value in mystery; there is value in sharing with the select few the quintessence of what you have learned from this life.

I frequently go out alone. I frequently travel alone. I spend days at a time at home, without communication of any kind, doing projects and resting and learning and thinking. I don't understand women who will only go out in packs, or with another friend or a boyfriend. I don't understand why it would terrify anyone to move to another city/state/country/universe alone. I don't understand needing reassurance or approval from others on a near-constant basis.

What I'm trying to say is: It seems to me that this loss of solitude has made the need for approval and attention from large crowds of people, strangers, even, more important than developing your own genuine personality and fulfilling life. External stimuli are no substitute for the imagination. Constant communication allows no time for reflection or growth of character from being allowed to make (and learn from) one's own mistakes.

How can people NOT appreciate solitude? It is the environment most conducive to centering one's self. It is the state of being that most closely resembles meditation and allows you to prioritize goals and tasks. Solitude is priceless.
posted by Unicorn on the cob at 7:32 PM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]


Solitude is all around us all the time. It is us who choose to allow other people and technologies into our lives. We can always say no, or unplug, but that is usually not the case.

Some folks revel in the experience of collecting friends on social networks as if it were a competition, extending their circle of acquaintances to people they don't really even know or could pick out in a crowd. The more the better somehow validates that they are who they think they are.

Ultimately, if it makes you feel better good for you. However your social network will not be there on your death bed with you. Your family and if you are lucky your close friends will be there to support you as you pass into the non-network.
posted by alfanut at 8:42 PM on January 27, 2009


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