No Texting for Lent and The End of Solitude

Roman Catholic Bishops in Italy have added some contemporary relevance in the fasting tradition during Lent:  High Tech Fast.  The faithful are urged to free themselves from the bondage of technology and gadgets, and refrain from surfing, emailing, twittering, texting … in order to prepare themselves for Easter.  This could prove to be a penance much harder to practice than not eating meat, even just on Fridays, for texting could well be the newest form of addiction today.

At about the same time, I heard an interview on the CBC Radio program Spark.  Host Nora Young conducted an interview with William Deresiewicz, literary critic and essayist, who has recently written an article entitled ‘The End of Solitude’.

Deresiewicz taught at Yale from 1998 to 2008.  When he asked his students what place solitude had in their lives, he got this reply: “Why would anyone want to be alone?”

With the ubiquitous use of high tech gadgets, and the torrents of Internet social networks around us, we are caught in a web of connectivity like never before:

Not long ago, it was easy to feel lonely.  Now, it is impossible to be alone.

Not only that, the goal now seems to be to gain as much self-exposure as possible, to be visible.  It seems that the number of friends we have on Facebook, and the number of hits on our blog directly leads to our self-esteem and our quality of self.  The irony is, the pseudo and the virtual are substituting the genuine and the authentic.

What does friendship mean when you have 532 “friends”?  How does it enhance my sense of closeness when my Facebook News Feed tells me that Sally Smith (whom I haven’t seen since high school, and wasn’t all that friendly with even then) ‘is making coffee and staring off into space’?

Deresiewicz notes that solitude used to be a desirable social value.  From religious sages to the Romantics like Wordsworth, solitude is the channel one hears the still, small voice of God, or heed the beckoning of Nature.  As modernism crept in,  the literati turned inward to find validation of self, like Woolf, Joyce, Proust.

Then came urbanization and suburbanization.  The generation that used to vegetate in front of the TV has given way to the child of the Internet, the networked self.  And we no longer believe in the solitary mind.

So what does it matter when we have lost the moments to be alone?  What have we 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.

Also, the urge to be instantly connected has bred a new generation of skippers and skimmers, replacing readers.

… five minutes on the same Web page is considered an eternity

No wonder we’re told to keep our blog posts short if we want to attract readership.

With the loss of the capacity for solitude, we’ve lost the ability to cultivate depth of self  and create independent thinking.  Emerson said that “Solitude is to genius the stern friend.”  Deresiewicz goes on to say:

…no real excellence, personal or social, artistic, philosophical, scientific or moral, can arise without solitude.

The irony is, the more we are connected with the virtual world out there, the less we are connected with ourselves inwardly.  But this is what’s valued nowadays, isn’t it, to be open, sociable, gregarious.  But to maintain a sense of authentic self, we may have to sacrifice popularity, to be not so polite:

Thoreau understood that securing one’s self-possession was worth a few wounded feelings.  He may have put his neighbors off, but at least he was sure of himself.

Those who would find solitude must not be afraid to stand alone.

Maybe this is one meaningful connection we should strive for: solitude, introspection, slow blogging, quality thinking, quality reading, quality writing, quality self.

****

Click here to listen to the full interview.

Click here to read the article ‘The End of Solitude’ by William Deresiewicz.

Click here to read my review of Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together

Click here to read my post on Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own in which she explored the privilege of Solitude.

 

Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

10 thoughts on “No Texting for Lent and The End of Solitude”

  1. I found this to be very interesting…
    Thanks for sharing.
    Have you read Pamela Aidan’s series the Fitzwilliam Darcy, Gentleman? The First book in the series is An Assembly Such as This.

    Ellen,

    Yes I’ve read the Trilogy a few years back. I remember they’re well written and quite enjoyable, especially the first and third books.

    Arti

    Like

  2. Good post, Arti. The “high tech fast” is something I’ve at least thought about, if not managed to actually do. 😉 During Lent, however, my goal is to stay offline in the mornings, to allow time to be more intentional, more meditative about my day.

    I missed your post on slow blogging so just read that now, and am going to check out Todd Seiling’s page next. Thanks for the link!

    Shari,

    I think there’s value in fasting per se, to clear our physical body of toxins… the same with our mental and social self I suppose.

    Arti

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  3. We do need respite from being online and to avoid internet “junk food”. It’s too easy to click on some internet “junk food”. We need to choose wisely. We can make great connections online, though. (I’m thankful I found your blog, for example.) I’m thrilled to be interacting with my far-flung cousins, too. But we do need time to reflect without the chatter of the world. Thanks for this.

    The ingenuity of technology has brought us great advancement and much conveniences, but I think we need to be aware of the possible consequences if we just embrace it without reservation, especially our young, as the saying goes, ‘you are what you eat’. Solitude in itself does not make us better persons, it’s what we focus on while we’re alone that can transform us. You’re right in taking advantage of the pro’s of technology and avoiding the cons. It takes maturity and wisdom to make such choices. Thanks for your comment.

    Arti

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  4. Arti,

    I smiled as I read this one, remembering the heron from my own current post. Not only is he patient, he is quite solitary, and happy to be so.

    I remembered, too, a paragraph from my “About” page, one of the first things I posted in my blog. Describing my life, I said,

    “Living a quiet and hidden life, anchored to my dock like a barnacle to a piling, I varnish boats on the Texas Gulf Coast. My dock provides both things Virginia Woolf recommended for a woman who writes: money, from the labor, and a room of my own – space and solitude for thought, remembrance, and creative reflection on the truths and mysteries of life. ”

    How I came to such wisdom, I don’t know. But wisdom it is, and I hew to it with every fibre of my being. Without space and solitude for thought to grow and develop, we easily slip into “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

    As for the blogging endeavor and all of this wonderful “social” networking that surrounds us, my convictions remain equally firm. I am convinced that rich, thoughtful content, attentiveness to readers and as much honesty as I can muster will result in a good experience all around. And, it’s clear to me that there are readers who can focus for five or ten minutes. I love them dearly.

    Personally, I don’t twitter or tweet. I don’t instant message, and I’ve never sent a text. I don’t think such things are evil, I simply don’t see the point.
    Just an old-fashioned girl, here, enjoying my solitude, and your posts!

    Thanks especially for this one.

    What timing! I think exactly the same time when you were writing this, I was at your blog leaving my comment on your post ‘Taught by a Heron’s Heart’. Yes, smile and even chuckles as I find the coincidence in thoughts. When you’ve got time, yes, maybe 10 minutes, do click on the Interview and save the article for future reference. I think it’s a gem. In the hustle and bustle of modern life, the art and discipline of solitude is essential to our survival, and the capacity of introspection the crucial element to the integrity of our self. Thank you again for the inspiring post you have written and may this period of Lent be a meaningful and rewarding time for us all.

    Arti

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  5. Hello,

    I just came over from The Task at Hand, having read your comment on her “heron” post. I agree with many of your thoughts regarding the loss of solitude–and I thoroughly enjoyed reading Deresiewicz’s article (so much so that I bookmarked it). After reading him, I wonder–do you think that there is a difference in the way men and women regard solitude? And the way male or female solitariness is regarded by others? I mean, Deresiewicz mentions Goethe and Schiller; Eliot and Pound; Wordsworth and Coleridge. Meanwhile, Dorothy W. was back in the cottage, scrubbing the floors, or organizing her brother’s papers (I was glad when he finally got around to mentioning Clarissa Dalloway’s retreat to her ‘narrow white bed’; the novel is not only about her party) Is it that we are losing our ability to access the ‘still, small voice’ or that our means of doing so is changing?
    For the record, I find that texting is actually the best means of communicating with my ‘college girl,’ and email the easiest way to reach friends and family, but facebook? IM? Twitter? No, thank you. The technology is here, but that doesn’t mean we have to let it control our lives…does it?
    Thank you for your words, the article, and for all of the thinking that they are inspiring. I’ll be coming back for more.

    Hi ds,

    I think you’re right in pointing out that Solitude could well be a social privilege throughout history, although I think Dorothy W. did have her share of Nature with her brother, as some of his poems reflect. But then you’re right that she may not have enjoyed as much solitude as she could have got. You have a valid point that maybe females (in the old days) did ragard Solitude differently from males simply because they were more constrained by their domestic role. While men could find Solitude in Nature, or the outdoors, women could well have strived for that in the home. And that’s why Virginia Woolf was so adamant about a room of her own. It’s not just the financial means of having a room all to herself, it’s having the privilege, the mental space of enjoying Solitude. Just like Jane Austen, who was confined in a rural home most of her life and did not have the chance to travel much, had her share of Solitude right at her writing desk… yes, just a desk, not even a room. So I guess it’s not the actual physical place for Solitude, but rather the mental capacity wherever you are to capture that spark of introspection that is important.
    Now having said that, I must say everyone should have the privilege to let Nature be the teacher. And that no one should be so confined and restricted by her/his social role that she/he cannot be given the opportunity to pursue solitary reflection.
    I have a post actually written on Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. Here’s the link to it: https://rippleeffects.wordpress.com/2008/03/17/in-praise-of-austen-virginia-woolfs-a-room-of-ones-own/
    I’ve appreciated your taking the time to read and leaving your response. I look forward to more of your insightful comments. A heart-felt thank-you!

    Arti

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  6. A high tech fast is a brilliant idea–a bit sad that it’s necessary, but brilliant. I suspect the stretch of time it covers and the inevitable difficulty many will feel in putting aside their gadgets will make for one tricky Lent. Until recently, I only used my computer during the day, which gave me a built-in break. No weekends either. Now, I’m starting to feel what the younger generation must feel: to be without is to be out of touch.

    But then, I’ve always liked being out of touch. : ) I never understood people who brought cell phones and computers on vacation. I fear there’s little opportunity anymore to just be alone in nature and let your mind wander. Or, conversely, to think something through more deeply. Or to not think at all but rather to just be.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post–and the link to your Slow Blogging post, which was heartening as well.

    summer picnic,

    “Or to not think at all but rather to just be.” … I like that.

    It all points to the fact that it’s a choice that we make regarding how we are to live our lives. As some readers have responded that they use texting to connect with their loved ones, drawing closer despite distances. They also choose to use it wisely and not be an addict or jump on the bandwagon and follow the herds.
    Yes, I think taking the time to read, think, write, and blog slowly can be a real pleasure and privilege, one that we should shrive to preserve. Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

    Arti

    Like

  7. I simply can’t let this pass without adding it to the discussion. In a bit of amazing irony, this, from the Holy See:

    (CNN) — The Pope has admitted making mistakes over the lifting of the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop, saying the church will make much greater use of the Internet in the future to help avoid such controversies.

    Pope Benedict XVI has admitted making mistakes over Bishop Williamson’s return. In a letter to church leaders, Pope Benedict XVI says the church should have been aware of the views of Bishop Richard Williamson.

    “I have been told that consulting the information available on the Internet would have made it possible to perceive the problem early on.

    “I have learned the lesson that in the future the Holy See will have to pay greater attention to that source of news.”

    The entire article can be found here: http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/europe/03/12/holocaust.bishop.pope.benedict/

    While I appreciate the need for solitude, and applaud a disciplined use of the tools available to us for communication, it also seems recent events may help the Pope appreciate that cyber-resources can be used for good. A text here, a twitter there, and pretty soon you’re saving yourself a great deal of embarassment!

    Linda,

    Huh! What a twist in this latest commotion about texting! Thanks for alerting us to this new episode. But of course, the term ‘Fasting’ presumes some form of sustenance, like food. We can’t live without it, but too much of the good stuff can lead to all sorts of problems. In Deresiewicz’s article, he mentions a teenager he knows who had sent 3,000 text messages one recent month. That’s 100 a day, one every ten minutes, day and night. It’s a given that we can’t be a Luddite and still live in the 21st Century, but it takes discipline to be a wise user of technology. And keeping the solitary self intact and nourished could mean going against the tide.

    On another note, I’m a little surprised to hear that the Pope needs to Google to get info about one of his own. Could he, like us, have learned about this call for a ‘High Tech Fast’ from the Net too?

    Like

  8. It is even harder to be an introvert in today’s society. I love people but I am re-energized being alone. Being alone makes me a better person. A writer cannot write without time for introspective thought. I loved Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. She understood the demands placed on women to be a mother and wife and caretaker rather than hunker down alone and write.
    Thanks for such an interesting post.
    Jennifer

    Jennifer,

    I totally agree with you about the quiet and reticent being frowned upon in our society. I think Solitude is crucial not just for creativity, but even sanity. VW is perceptive to see that a room of one’s own reflects more than just physical space, but the source of creativity as well. Thanks for your comment.

    Arti

    Like

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