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All The Lonely People
November 19, 2010 4:48 AM   Subscribe

"Every day there are untold millions of comments, texts, and online interactions. Millions. And each one says, I am here and I extend my consciousness to there. There might have been a time when humans were content to sit and simply be, like the goat I saw yesterday sitting contently in a patch of sunshine at the Lincoln Park Zoo. That time was long ago. We want the news. We want to chatter and gossip. We want to say "I am alive" in a billion billion different ways. And now here is internet, providing such an easy, easy way to do that."
posted by nomadicink (35 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite

 
But why are you writing them? Don't you have anything else to do?

By choice, man.
posted by Greg Nog at 5:07 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


roger ebert is a national treasure. with every blog post, this becomes even more true.
posted by Heliochrome85 at 5:11 AM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Good essay. I quite easily, and quite enjoy, slipping into the Goat at Lincoln Park Zoo mode. If it is not freezing cold or raining, I go sit on this cement contraption behind my work, find a patch of sun, and zone out staring off into the distance with a smile on my face. Some people get really frustrated when they have to wait, I kind of like sometimes. I'm like: "Standing here in line. I have to wait. Phone's in the car" = Zoo Goat Mode and I just kind of check out. Maybe that makes me simple or something, I don't know.
posted by marxchivist at 5:17 AM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


I can comment on MF like a goat, too. I also happen to be in a spot of morning sun.
posted by clvrmnky at 5:27 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The biological reason we fall in love may be to encourage reproduction. Yet why did nature provide homosexuality if that is the only purpose? Why do people marry with no prospects of children? Babies are not the only thing two people can create together. They can create a safe private world. They can create a reality that affirms their values. They can stand for something. They can find someone to laugh with, and confide in. Someone to hold them when they need to be held. A danger of the internet would be if we begin to meet those needs without feeling there has to be another person in the room.

I think this "danger" is overstated. Woody Allen once quipped that he was fond of masturbation "because it is sex with someone I love," but even Woody had to step out.
posted by three blind mice at 5:27 AM on November 19, 2010


There might have been a time when humans were content to sit and simply be, like the goat I saw yesterday sitting contently in a patch of sunshine at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

I know, we used to have to rely on psychedelics in order to talk to invisible people. Now we have the internet.
posted by jeremias at 5:31 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Oh yeah, I found this via Making Light.
posted by nomadicink at 5:32 AM on November 19, 2010


Interesting. I've found myself feeling frustrated with Facebook as it seems that all anyone posts are meaningless minutae of interest only to themselves or their relatives. "I'm making dinner now, tacos and salad," is a typical post. Or "I'm having a great day!" as if everyone is interested. So many people screaming LOOK AT ME, I'M HERE. I log off quickly and go out back in my yard to watch the few remaining leaves trembling in the autumn sunlight and I'm perfectly content. I also used to spend lots of time camping alone in the woods, and was amazed at how disturbing others seemed to find this. "What's wrong with you, you don't like other people?" they'd ask, and I'd explain yes, others are fine, but sometimes solitude is more than enough. Other people can be very distracting at times.
posted by kinnakeet at 5:33 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I am a goat in the garden of summer.
posted by pracowity at 5:43 AM on November 19, 2010


I have a goatee.

[BUT NOT A HIPSTER]
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:45 AM on November 19, 2010


"goat" vs "twitter" is a false dichotomy. Why not read a book or do some math puzzles or garden or build a chair or something? You can be active without needing outside input.
posted by DU at 5:47 AM on November 19, 2010


Of all the purposes of education, I think the most useful is this: It prepares you to keep yourself entertained.

Now there's some useful truth.
posted by chavenet at 5:48 AM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


A danger of the internet would be if we begin to meet those needs without feeling there has to be another person in the room.

On of the Asimov R. Daneel books has them traveling to (or at least communicating with) a planet where there's a very low population. On the order of thousands. Each person lives by themselves on a vast, vast, VAST land area with all the work done by robots. They can communicate and meet with each other via holograms, though IIRC they rarely want to.

This is the perfect world.
posted by DU at 5:51 AM on November 19, 2010


...we used to have to rely on psychedelics in order to talk to invisible people.

I never talked to invisible people on psychedelics. I did, however, marvel (for what might have been what you'd call an eternity) on the brilliant and undeniably sublime perfection of a glass of water. A cylindrical vessel containing and embodying the swirling, universal essence of life. It was so beautiful... and it meant... everything.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:51 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


There were lonely people before the internet. The internet makes life better for them. How is that a bad thing?

People are creating things, and then sharing them. Blog posts, artwork, music, games. Once again, why is this worse than the past?

I'm glad that Roger has never been lonely. I'm surprised, though, that someone who hasn't experienced that emotion is critiquing how people who do feel it go about dealing with it.
posted by MrVisible at 5:58 AM on November 19, 2010


I'm glad that Roger has never been lonely. I'm surprised, though, that someone who hasn't experienced that emotion is critiquing how people who do feel it go about dealing with it.

I don't think it was critique, just him thinking about it and marveling at what the internet has done for human communication.
posted by nomadicink at 5:59 AM on November 19, 2010


On the internet no one knows you're a goat.
posted by snofoam at 6:01 AM on November 19, 2010


On the internet no one knows you're a goat.

That's actually old school. What with the various social sites which almost demand photos and ever decreasing cost of video cameras, it's getting to the point where it'll be odd if you don't know what your internet friends look like.
posted by nomadicink at 6:04 AM on November 19, 2010


Unless they ate their web cams.
posted by pracowity at 6:10 AM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


Lonely people have a natural affinity for the internet. Perhaps I wasn't lonely before because I didn't have it, so it couldn't be gone.

Ebert is a newer, more likable Andy Rooney.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 6:12 AM on November 19, 2010


Lately I've been thinking a lot lately about my relationship to the internet and whether it is a handicap for me or a lifeline. Ever since I was a teenager I've spent many hours a day on the internet. It has been my primary source of interaction. I have dealt with crippling anxiety and depression and people on the internet have been a source of education and encouragement for me. But the fact is I rarely leave the house, never spend time doing anything with friends offline (and in fact don't have any in the same city), and I go to school but its online. I haven't dated in five years since I swore off internet relationships. Because of the internet I can play Scrabble every day with my aunt who lives far away, but my aunt who lives right here in Philly never sees or hears from me anymore.

I am very rarely bored and I learn a lot every day. There have been times when I didn't have the internet for extended periods of time and I don't remember being more socially active then. I left home more, but I was still doing everything alone. I used to go to the theater alone, now I watch movies online alone. I used to go to restaurants alone, now I order from grubhub and eat alone. I used to go to concerts alone, now I make my own and listen at home, alone.

I don't know if I'm lonely or not anymore. My social sense is so warped (changed?) by being on the net all the time and I'm so used to it that I may be repressing any other social desire to the point that I barely miss it. What I do miss maybe is being touched, but that has not been much a part of my life anyway, more like a dream.
posted by Danila at 6:26 AM on November 19, 2010 [14 favorites]


I think the thing that people miss more than face-to-face interaction (which, unless you're a complete shut-in, you still get at the office, in the checkout line, etc.) is a sense of connection to their real-world community; that feeling like their home extends beyond their front door to include the neighborhood or town they live in.

That sense of community is not something you can bootstrap online; you need to get engaged in the real world, get to know people who live and work near you, get the pulse of what's going on in town. I'd say that less than half of the events around here ever make it onto any kind of online calendar; I hear about a lot of stuff via local Facebook contacts, but I wouldn't have those contacts if I didn't already know them in the real world! In that respect Facebook functions very much like a small-town general store.

Getting a friendly wave on the street or in the grocery store gives me warm fuzzies in a way that no number of MeFi favorites of Facebook likes ever could. (And I say that as someone who has spent pretty much all day, everyday on the internet since 1998.)
posted by usonian at 7:01 AM on November 19, 2010 [3 favorites]


I'm glad that Roger has never been lonely. I'm surprised, though, that someone who hasn't experienced that emotion is critiquing how people who do feel it go about dealing with it.

Did you read the second to last paragraph? He's not critiquing, he's terrified.
posted by octothorpe at 7:01 AM on November 19, 2010


> I did, however, marvel (for what might have been what you'd call an eternity) on the brilliant and undeniably sublime perfection of a glass of water.

I did the same thing once...only it was a plastic water bottle...and it was empty....

I'm of two minds about the internet. Some days it seems like a holodeck, the School of Athens and the Library of Alexandria rolled up into one, other days I log on and it's nothing but depressing news, stupid wastes of time and people flinging poo at each other. On those days its generally best to retreat and enjoy some time in Goat Mode.
posted by The Card Cheat at 7:04 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ebert is a newer, more likable Andy Rooney.

It would be impossible to be less likeable than Andy Rooney. Also, you're wrong. Ebert is a wise and gifted writer, who shares his sense of joy and wonder with us, as he rediscovers his life in a radically altered form. Andy Rooney is my grandpa moaning about his hemorrhoids during dinner.
posted by Optamystic at 7:12 AM on November 19, 2010 [4 favorites]


I quite easily, and quite enjoy, slipping into the Goat at Lincoln Park Zoo mode.

this sentence is begging for hyphens.
posted by fallacy of the beard at 9:00 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I quite easily, and quite enjoy, slipping into the Goat at Lincoln Park Zoo mode

When I first read this, I missed the 'mode' at the end and thought "well jeeze, but how does the goat feel about it?"
posted by FatherDagon at 9:04 AM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


Something tells me it's all happening at the zoo.
[Simon & Goatfunkel]
posted by pracowity at 9:13 AM on November 19, 2010


Great article. I spend a lot of time online, mostly just reading and lurking, and have the same love-hate relationship with it that I suspect a lot of people do. One of my best friends, who I meet weekly for beers, is in full-on "the Internet sucks" mode lately and I've been defending its many uses while at the same time realizing that he's right about some of his criticisms. He's very smart and pretty tech-savvy, but he spends almost no time online, and he's a successful musician, composer, writer, chef, and restaurant owner and is now happily married. Maybe there's a relationship there between his lack of internet time and his accomplishing of a lot of non-meta things. I dunno.

I am definitely in "this is easier than going out and meeting people" mode, although I'm not quite a hermit. Maybe 90% hermitude achieved.
posted by freecellwizard at 9:24 AM on November 19, 2010


Did you read the second to last paragraph? He's not critiquing, he's terrified.

Yeah, I think that's what bugs me the most, actually. It's like someone coming into my house, and then going on about how terrified they are that they may have to live someplace like it someday.

I've been through times when I was lonely without the internet, and when I've been lonely with it around. The latter is infinitely preferable.

If Roger does find himself alone and lonely someday, I hope he finds a welcoming community that he can contribute to, feel part of, and find solace in online.
posted by MrVisible at 9:30 AM on November 19, 2010 [2 favorites]


I'm interested to see our perception of the internet in 20 years, and our perception of our current relationship with it. I like the internet but I also feel like I'm on it way too much. Even now I look back at some times in my life and think, "it's a shame I was on the computer instead of getting out there and experiencing more things." And yet here I am now. I really doubt if I'm better off for it, even though I think it has been positive in a lot of ways.

I wouldn't be surprised if in the future, they talk about internet users of the early 2000s like we talk about smokers of the 1950s.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 10:19 AM on November 19, 2010


I wouldn't be surprised if in the future, they talk about internet users of the early 2000s like we talk about smokers of the 1950s.

They probably will, but in they will think as primitive apes because we lacked the ability to jack and have our senses manipulated by the net.
posted by nomadicink at 11:10 AM on November 19, 2010


"I know, we used to have to rely on psychedelics in order to talk to invisible people. Now we have the internet."

Oh god, yes, a million times yes. The Internet came along about three years before my life imploded, so when the real world became unliveable I was already part of a community of invisible people who let me talk (or rather, type) to them. They listened to me, responded with sympathy, and gave me the sense that there still was a world out there beyond my private hell, that I could actually be part of. Without the net I'd have probably gone to a very dark place, and never come back again.

It can be wonderful to wander through lonely streets in unknown cities and spend time in caf├ęs with strangers, but that's only true if you have a home to go back to. That's a vacation. When your whole existence is empty streets and brief, unsatisfying interactions with strangers it's not fun anymore. Thats why the Internet is both a lifeline and real life to those who have nothing else.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:14 PM on November 19, 2010 [1 favorite]


The really weird thing about today is that my real life friends are increasingly using the net to communicate, and now there's places like Facebook where I can theoretically reconnect with hordes of real people who long ago disappeared into the mists of history. So nearly everyone I ever knew is becoming an invisible person, and the distinction between real life and the Internet is blurring into an abstraction.

There's both pluses and minuses to this. On one hand, the stampede towards virtualizing all human interaction reinforces the feeling that the physical world of air, water, dirt and fire isn't really important, but on the other hand, it's greatly enhanced my feeling of being socially interconnected and part of society, as I can now communicate fairly easily with everyone, including the real life people who I was cut off from in the past.

So you never know. Everything changes in time, including the things we value most, and even lonely hermits can become social butterflies.
posted by Kevin Street at 4:41 PM on November 19, 2010


There might have been a time when humans were content to sit and simply be,

A time when we had no instinctive drives, social, sexual, material, or otherwise? Doubt it. It would have been a pretty bland world if it were so.
posted by Xezlec at 7:20 PM on November 19, 2010


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