Technology and the Slow Fade of Solitude
Fasten up, we’re going for a ride!
In the thesaurus, the synonyms for solitude have only a vague correlation to what it actually is. Instead of references to time spent alone, or a certain tranquil state, you get ‘arid region’, ‘badland’, ‘barren’ and ‘wilderness’, all words that come wrapped in shadows and exist far away from its actual nature. Of course, within the climate of a culture that, more and more, lacks the ability to be alone, the definitions begin to seem quite appropriate.
Though brands like Google and Apple might seem synonymous with technology, its ubiquitous nature does not belong to any one person or corporation. However, despite no one force being entirely accountable, finding a moment of silence away from the madding crowd is beginning to seem like finding the last air pocket in a car that is sinking towards the bottom of a lake. Even as we maintain the ability to breath, we are painfully aware of the world outside, the water that is urgently pressing in and the information that can’t seem to wait.
The Loss of Physical Places where we can dwell in Solitude
The evolution of technology is commonly related to the most familiar of human concepts, progress and change, which are representative of the improvement of the human experience and the height, or breadth, of our capacity. But while creativity, originality and newness are among our highest capabilities, doesn’t the ever-presence of technology lead to the slow burning death of the solitude that gives birth to our grandest achievements in the first place? It’s sometimes said that the womb is the most comforting of states. In our moments of acute desperation and fear, we cry out for our mother because she represents a return to the ultimate quiet, the peaceful state before we are thrust out into the world in a visceral haze. We come out crying, raging, covered in tears and blood, and it serves as the first of so many introductions to the palpable fact that we are alone and apart from all other things.
As we grow up and get older, we begin to define not just our physical existence and everyday perceptions as different, but the ideas which separate us from the crowd. We have a choice as to what we pay attention to, how many social networks we decide to be on and if we even want to own a smart phone. But unfortunately, in this modern and invasive world, a simple, diverging choice can begin to make you feel like you’re the only person around who’s not wearing the required uniform. In a society where having a smart phone and a Facebook account are fast becoming the norm, it no longer seems like an easy choice to differentiate yourself without running the risk of being considered a knuckle-dragging luddite.
Quiet Boundaries & Margins where Solitude Can be Sought
Of course, criticism of technology has become more prevalent in recent years with the revelations of the NSA’s secret surveillance and the ever-shifting nature of Facebook’s privacy settings, and the metaphor of the boiling frog is credible for just this reason. It’s only after our sense of privacy and solitude has been thoroughly breached that we have the capability to perceive what’s being eroded, and by then, it is much too late to retrieve what’s been lost or even correctly comprehend its value anymore. And this near holy reverence for technology, our most modern of Gods, has a dire impact on one of the most precious human resources we have: that brief time away from the madding crowd.
It’s in the moments of separation that we have the greatest capacity to discover ourselves, and the ideas within us which exist beyond the parameters of the known world. “Talent develops in quiet places, character in the full current of human life,” said philosopher Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. It is those things alone that enable us to see beyond the tangible world and possibly change its configuration. So, in a society where we’ve become obsessed with our access to every news item and trending Twitter feed, what becomes of the solitary moments that can’t be publicized or even made consumable? Those that must be worked through in pieces so they can come to fruition? What happens to the artist who must create a world out of thin air when the whole world is pushing in, unrelenting and omnipresent?
When we’ve irretrievably shut ourselves off from the part of ourselves that requires alone time, we’ve cut ourselves off from the best part of our nature: the solitude that is the wellspring from which art, music, philosophy, individuality and creativity are derived. It’s become too easy to forget that many of the great artists and thinkers needed time away from the world to give birth to the things they created, time to develop and mull over their own thoughts. But, in all likelihood, if Steve Jobs used the iPhone the way so many of us do, it would only exist as an idea swaddled in tides of excess information.
Without solitude, that mental wilderness, what can the future world be?