Loss of Solitude

I recently read an article about the End of Solitude by William Deresiewicz. It provided me with considerable food for thought about the impact of ultra connectedness (e.g., ability to text, social media). In part, the article was focused on the affect on education/learning. As an academic, who engages in learning activities every day, I could relate to much of what was written in terms of effects on concentration, creative thought, and even my “propensity for sustained reading”. As a leisure scientist, I’m also interested in considering how these ideas related to leisure behavior.

He also discusses boredom and our increasing low tolerance for having nothing to do. He argues that television and the Internet has become and easy fix to boredom. “Television, by obviating the need to learn how to make use of one’s lack of occupation, precludes one from ever discovering how to enjoy it. The television has contributed, in part, to our intolerance of being bored.” Sadly, I have experience with the trap of television to combat boredom or not being able to make a conscious decision to do something else. Despite a belief and understanding that television will contribute very little to my quality of life, leisure or life satisfaction, or personal growth (all things I consider very important)… at times, television is the easy default. I should know better. I do know better. And yet… some nights I’m plopped in front of the television for the entire evening.

After thinking about this for a few weeks, I approached my husband about trying an experiment – only watching television when it is intentional. For us, this means the few shows that are favorites that we enjoy and the news. I could have done this without him, but part of my reason for wanting to make the change was because I felt the unintentional television viewing was going to have an impact on our relationship if this became a long term habit. He would watch a show that I wasn’t interested in and I would surf the Internet or get on Twitter. We are together in the same room, but we were not connecting or communicating. And, it is way too soon in our marriage to accept this as a norm. We don’t have children so we have more freedom than most of our friends/family. We are also healthy. However, we certainly not living our lives in this way.

We’ve already realized this is difficult (and I’m somewhat disturbed by this). There is the adjustment to the quietness in the house. There is also the effort of deciding what to do when we’re tired or feeling bored. So far so good in figuring it out. We went a 70 minute walk one Sunday.  One Tuesday evening, we had a great conversation about our favorite parts of the Christmas season. We’re getting out of the house more too – doing errands during the week. I have done a bit more pleasure reading as well. We are certainly not unique. Many individuals are working to “slow” their living or are changing their habits in a way that reduces the amount of stimulation (e.g., television, email, text messages) they encounter daily or hourly so that they can be more present with what they are doing or focus more on their defined priorities.

Deresiewicz discusses the idea of being alone and our inability to be alone as a result of technology. People spend time on social media (e.g., facebook) to feel connected. He ponders who deep these connections are or whether they have the same value as face-to-face ones… or, are they just a solution to the need for constant connection and stimulation. While cyber pessimists would jump on board and argue the negative consequences of social network sites (SNS), there is emerging research that demonstrates that facebook, for example, can help build an individual’s social capital (the resources available to people through their networks/relationships). I’m working on this as well – avoiding simply being drawn to social media because I’m alone or things are quiet. I wonder what the implications may be for communities as individuals find themselves connecting more through SNS (and people all over the world). Will this mean less individuals seeking connections in their neighbourhoods, towns, workplaces, recreation or sport clubs? If there is less connections, what would the impact be? Would this mean a weaker connection/sense of belonging to community, fewer ties in one’s geographic community, less interest in volunteering in one’s community? I don’t have the answers, but these are things I’m curious about. These could be some of the consequences of some people’s need for constant connection and their ability to meet that need online.

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