Whither solitude?

On the SpareOom elist, someone pointed to this article, The End of Solitide.
What does the contemporary self want? The camera has created a culture of celebrity; the computer is creating a culture of connectivity. As the two technologies converge — broadband tipping the Web from text to image, social-networking sites spreading the mesh of interconnection ever wider — the two cultures betray a common impulse. Celebrity and connectivity are both ways of becoming known. This is what the contemporary self wants. It wants to be recognized, wants to be connected: It wants to be visible. If not to the millions, on Survivor or Oprah, then to the hundreds, on Twitter or Facebook. This is the quality that validates us, this is how we become real to ourselves — by being seen by others. The great contemporary terror is anonymity. If Lionel Trilling was right, if the property that grounded the self, in Romanticism, was sincerity, and in modernism it was authenticity, then in postmodernism it is visibility.
I've been pondering solitude... visibility... invisibility...

My Twitter, Facebook, Storytlr, FriendFeed, blogs and e-mail accounts all keep me visible and connected. But with whom? To what end? What would happen if I shut them off? Would that make me less of a person? Would I cease to exist in the eyes of the outside world? I think back to the "days of old" (less than a decade ago) when I had none of these outlets, none of these connections. Solitude wasn't scary (it isn't now), nor was a lack of constant connection to people and ideas.

Sometimes I question why I'm feeling the need to engage with these so-called tools, to expose things I think/feel/notice to the outside world. Am I befriending people on Facebook because I honestly want to connect (or reconnect, as in the case of one person that lived across the street from me during my childhood)? Am I tweeting because I think my thoughts are that important or that anyone cares? Do my blog posts satisfy any needs greater than those that could be satisfied by bookmarking links, keeping a reading diary and creating a journal?

No answers yet...

ETA: Monica's blogging about the same thing!


Aravis said...

Humans are social creatures. Without social interaction, a part of us withers. Those who don't receive any attention at all withdraw into themselves and never fully recover from it emotionally or mentally.

Our need to be social is true with or without technology.

Technology allows us to socialize with a wider audience, and it does let us reveal more of ourselves than we might otherwise in a face-to-face setting. I think a lot of us do want to be known more fully. Did you ever think "If they knew this about me, they wouldn't like me?" But that can leave a person feeling as though they aren't liked for themselves as they truly are, because they aren't known as they truly are. We don't necessarily want to win a popularity contest (unless you're in high school or a politician), but at some gut level we do want to be accepted and affirmed. We may not be able to find that in our immediate surroundings, or perhaps we just lack someone to talk to about a hobby or pastime. But somewhere in the world, someone else has thought or done or liked the same things we have. The technology connects us.

Nor do I believe that technology interferes with our solitude. It is far easier to turn off the computer than it is to walk away from someone with whom you no longer feel like talking in a face-to-face setting! *G*

camillofan said...

Do you Tweet? I'm just curious, because you know how a person sometimes reaches that "no más" point, the point past which he or she will not go, even though everyone else sees it as a logical next step?

For me, that point used to be MySpace, but I caved when someone I respected made a page, and then I followed that person to Facebook when he decided it was the more "grown-up" alternative.

Now, however, it's Twitter. I can just about rationalize all the online connectivity I've pursued, but I can't see the the point of Twitter, even though some people I think well of are using it. I've told the Man that if he catches me signing up, he's to take my computer and bury it in the back yard.

As for the main premise of your post, I will say that I have never feared solitude, but I have always preferred exchanging ideas. And, unfortunately, my immediate surroundings-- chosen freely by me, but no less inescapable for that-- don't afford me the opportunity to do much, er, idea swapping, unless I'm content always to take the role of the Eccentric or the Antagonist. In that respect, online communities have been a lifeline. Though-- as you know-- I am periodically disillusioned with the whole thing, I mostly embrace the Brave New World.

But ask me how I feel when I catch my kids texting in class...

Jandy said...

Hmmmm, food for thought here.

Since I moved west I lost a lot of my face-to-face social network. It's much smaller here. My Facebook list of friends is still under 20. I'm much more of a loner than I used to be.

But Aravis rightly says we're social creatures. It's good to know someone misses me if I'm not around (not counting immediate family or coworkers). None of us lives in a vacuum. These are one more way to reach out.

Like Cam I have no desire to Tweet. Of course 12 or so years ago I had no desire for someone to be able to reach me by phone in my car. It was a place of refuge. Now I have my hands-free cell phone to have chats on long drives. We keep moving that bar of what we will or won't do.

One of the advantages of the current communication methods is the "reach". Without the chat rooms and now social networking, there are some good people I would never have met (like you).

Another advantage is it's the modern way of sensing self. You mentioned the need to blog (or participate in other venues). It replaces the old diary we had when we were kids. People need a way to express themselves if only to themselves. It's gratifying to know others may be interested in what you say as well.