What is solitude? Many may perceive it as isolation, loneliness, withdrawal or various other negative connotations. This is understandable because we as a society have grown accustomed to this type of definition, but as we all know, that is not always the case. In this day and age of smartphones, social media such as Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and easy access to the WiFi (I am writing this blog at a Second Cup that offers free WiFi for customers), we are constantly connected one way or another. The elderly are becoming more involved in learning and using these applications. Companies are constantly updating their own Facebook pages and the like. We see social media everywhere. It seems like we just cannot escape it, even if we wanted to. I believe that this is all bittersweet. On one hand you have convenience (text messages, emails, etc.) and you’re constantly connected with others regardless of who they may be and on the other hand, you sacrifice your privacy and solitude.
Before our lives became consumed by all of this, we were able to leave our workplace and find a sense of “solitude” once we stepped out. Not solitude in the conventional sense (I’m thinking of a cabin in the middle of the woods), but solitude within your own life. What I mean by this is that once you left work, there was nothing following you. No emails, no phone calls, etc… You would be able to leave work and enjoy your time and claim it as your own. There was no smartphone that followed you. There were no computers, laptops, gadgets waiting for your arrival at home or anywhere else for that matter. You were able to be alone in basically every sense of the form. I feel as though nowadays, due to our (well more like everyone else’s) thirst for more (more Facebook, more Twitter, more social media apps), we have unknowingly accepted a trade-off: our privacy and solitude for a fake sense of belonging and popularity (amongst other things). In my opinion, it’s a thirst: A thirst for knowledge. A thirst to be seen and heard. A thirst for recognition and fulfillment. Alex Mar is a writer who was forced to take a residency in order to write a new novel without any distractions. The solitude was welcomed until they noticed that they were able to get internet access on their phone while standing in the corner of their cabin porch in freezing weather. http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/10/books/review/one-hundred-seconds-of-solitude.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0 I probably would have done the same thing. The thought of being alone in the middle of the woods with no access to others is very daunting.
There are people (me being one of them) who realize the loss we are facing. Yes it’s great that I can communicate with my grandmother in England or my cousins in Australia, but getting constant text messages or notifications on my phone when all I want to do is just relax and unwind is just not fun. Someone calling you 2 a.m. for whatever reason is not nice either. The question now is this: can we have a balance of both. Clara Moskowitz wonders the same thing in “Net Loss: Is the Internet Killing Solitude and Downtime?” http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/recommended-net-loss-is-the-internet-killing-solitude-and-downtime/ “… society to stop and think about protecting some aspects of our pre-Internet lives, and move toward a balanced future that embraces technology while holding on to absence.” I believe that there is a possibility, but it comes down to individuals rather than corporations or institutions. An individual needs to recognize the value of having time to themself and I don’t mean just physically, but wirelessly as well. William Deresiewicz in “The End of Solitude” presents a case about someone who sends roughly 3000 text messages a month. He points out that that is about 100 messages a day and approximately 1 per every 10 waking minutes, therefore she is only “alone” for no more than 10 minutes. You can find the article here: http://chronicle.com/article/The-End-of-Solitude/3708 I have noticed that I send more than 3000 text messages a month and breaking that number down to about 6 minutes a day really bothers me. If people took into account how much time they spent on text messages and social media and how much time they have to themselves, I believe that many would at least acknowledge that there is an issue at hand. As for how many would try to cut down, that I can’t predict nor can anyone else.
Many believe that there is a huge issue in regards to the eroding of absence. There are a handful that believe this (the internet, social media) is actually helping our society. In “Using the Internet to Find Empathy in Solitude” by Alexandra Samuel http://www.alexandrasamuel.com/relationships/using-the-internet-to-find-empathy-in-solitude, she argues in favour of the internet and social media. She believes that this engages us both in solitude and its opposite because we are communicating with others while being alone. I disagree with this. Just because this (Facebooking, Tweeting, etc.) can be done alone by no means implies that there is any sense of solitude at all whatsoever. If you leave work, your employer can contact you through various venues for whatever reason. If you are on a vacation, friends and loved ones can always keep track of you through various apps (WhatsApp and Viber are popular apps). On your way home? You have your smartphone and lately, tablets that you can use constantly to do as you please. Where is the solitude in that? We are evolving into a society that cannot live in solitude, which cannot bear the thought of living without their phones and social media, a society that has created a false sense of connection and community. We are a society that lives in constant motion/connection, but who are alone. Maybe Alexandra Samuel was right, but not in the way she hoped.