The Loss Of Solitude

Nov 4 2012 @ 7:09am

William Deresiewicz sees privacy and solitude as privileges "rare both historically and globally" and notes that most "people in the world are too poor to even have the space to be alone."  He claims that pervasive social media and the frenetic pace of contemporary life are "eliminating our ability to be alone with our thoughts and feelings, and with it, the dense, complex private inwardness of the modern self":

[S]olitude and privacy are not just privileges. They are also compensations. People didn’t have modern selves in traditional society, but they didn’t need them, because they had family and community: extended families, face-to-face communities. They had an intricate structure of relationships, traditions, roles, and expectations to give content to their lives and direction to their efforts, to orient themselves in space and time. They didn’t need to go it alone or make up the world for themselves, so they didn’t need the equipment that enables modern individuals (if they’re lucky) to do so.

Now all we have is ourselves. The modern self is a consolation prize; it’s what we have to cling to—that and friendship, modernity’s central relationship. Intimacy is also a modern phenomenon, because it rests on privacy. When E. M. Forster said “Only connect,” he didn’t mean that’s all we need to do; he meant that’s all we could do: forge our horizontal bonds, because the roots are gone.

Now friendship, too, I think, is under threat. We lost the old things, and now we’re giving up the things we got instead.