Loneliness and Solitude

I’ve been reading ‘Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age’ by Sherry Turkle. It’s a superb book. I had already been examining my life for a while, looking at how technology affects me. I am someone who embraces technology in as many areas of life as possible, but at the same time I really struggle with the hold being constantly connected can have on my life.

I have a Macbook, iPad, iPhone and AppleWatch, plus lots of other bits of tech… I use them a lot. I work on them, I connect with friends on them, I read on them, watch movies on them, make plans, write a journal, cook while using the recipe app… etc.

It’s not so much technology itself which concerns me, but how it has affected how I relate to others.

How I can so easily lift my phone and check it for messages, right in the middle of a conversation with someone else. How a vibrating phone can cause a fantastic conversation with a group of friends to implode due to everyone scattering to check if it’s their phone. How dinner time conversations about life can be devastated due to an urgent text. When I catch myself glancing at my phone on the table beside me while having coffee with my wife… thats huge, my phone just captured my attention, and left the crazy amazing woman I love wondering why I’m ignoring her. Then there’s how we allow children to watch their devices as a way of keeping them entertained for a while… I could continue. I don’t need to search for long before seeing these always connected issues surfacing in my life and others around me.

“Every time you check your phone in company, what you gain is a hit of stimulation, a neurochemical shot, and what you lose is what a friend, teacher, parent, lover, or co-worker just said, meant, felt.”

We ignore the people present in front of us, in favour of the distant connected people online.

One area I have recognised is how technological connection to others can affect our understanding of solitude and loneliness. With our always connected lifestyles we can struggle to deal with disconnection. Any form of disconnection can feel like loneliness and drive us back to social media and online connection, robbing us of the joy of solitude.

“But if we don’t have experience with solitude — and this is often the case today — we start to equate loneliness and solitude. This reflects the impoverishment of our experience. If we don’t know the satisfactions of solitude, we only know the panic of loneliness.”
“In order to feel more, and to feel more like ourselves, we connect. But in our rush to connect, we flee solitude. In time, our ability to be separate and gather ourselves is diminished. If we don’t know who we are when we are alone, we turn to other people to support our sense of self. This makes it impossible to fully experience others as who they are. We take what we need from them in bits and pieces; it is as though we use them as spare parts to support our fragile selves.”

Maybe I can disconnect more. Embrace solitude. My own thoughts. I’ve started this journey simply; times in the day where I leave all devices down and simply think, rest, allow my brain to process everything.

“When we let our minds wander, we set our brains free. Our brains are most productive when there is no demand that they be reactive.”

In our home we have made dinner times device free. We have limited screen time. Our lounge is a space for music, reading, conversation, real connection, eating, drinking, laughing… there are many other areas of my life where I still need to unplug… that journey continues, but at least I’m becoming more and more aware, making conscious decisions, not simply caught like a machine in a constant stream of messages, news, alerts, emails, the urge to check for another update, or jumping because I felt a phantom phone vibration.

I LOVE TECHNOLOGY. Seriously. I also recognise how it can consume me.

I desire wonderful times of solitude in my life. Special times talking to and enjoying my friends. As well as lifting my head, disconnecting, and taking a look at the beautiful creation and culture all around me without the thought of capturing the perfect shot for Instagram.

“Language . . . has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude’ to express the glory of being alone.” Paul Tillich