Via Clive Thompson's tumblelog, an essay by William Deresiewicz called The End of Solitude. With Facebook, texting, Twitter, and other ways to stay connected, Deresiewicz argues that we're never alone, and we've lost our capacity for solitude.
And losing solitude, what have they lost? First, the propensity for introspection, that examination of the self that the Puritans, and the Romantics, and the modernists (and Socrates, for that matter) placed at the center of spiritual life -- of wisdom, of conduct. Thoreau called it fishing "in the Walden Pond of [our] own natures," "bait[ing our] hooks with darkness." Lost, too, is the related propensity for sustained reading. The Internet brought text back into a televisual world, but it brought it back on terms dictated by that world -- that is, by its remapping of our attention spans. Reading now means skipping and skimming; five minutes on the same Web page is considered an eternity. This is not reading as Marilynne Robinson described it: the encounter with a second self in the silence of mental solitude.
I read William's article alone, with a cup of coffee. And I saw a lot of myself in it. I am very, very rarely "alone" and when I am, I'm often on the computer, or puttering around the house with the radio on in the background. For me, being alone is unusual, and sometimes uncomfortable.
Nora will interview William about about solitude next week, and we'd like to hear from you. With email, text messages, Twitter, and Facebook, are you ever alone? Do you make time for solitude and introspection? What do you gain from solitude? Leave your comments below, or phone them in to 1-877-34-SPARK... then go take a few minutes for yourself.