On Solitude

“I have never found a companion that was so companionable as solitude” – Henry David Thoreau

Comedian Marc Maron made a funny comment about the world we live in on one of his podcasts (“WTF with Marc Maron Episode 484 – Josh Radnor”): he and Radnor were discussing the pace at which we live our lives in today’s digital age, when Maron made the comment that technology was supposed to make our lives easier and more efficient. Things were supposed to become less busy, freeing up more personal time for us to pursue that which matters to us.

I think we’ve missed that mark.

To beat you, the reader, over the head about how we’re too locked in with our smart phones/Facebook pages/Vines/Snapchats would simply be redundant and a little hypocritical on my part. It’s fun sharing pictures with friends in distant places, or seeing how you can capture a short film in seven seconds on what is the world’s smallest supercomputer. Hell, I’ve checked Twitter about 20 times since I started writing this.

But I used the above quote from Thoreau’s Walden (1854) because it frames what I think we are partially missing here. In Conor’s post, “This Ain’t Your Grandpa’s Blog,” he talked a lot about what individuals our grandfathers and great-grandfathers were, and poised the question of if, in this new world, could we be the same type of man as them? Could we stand out amongst the crowd like they did?

What I think we’re missing is the time and ability to craft that individual within ourselves? We’ve let the hive mind mentality take over. We don’t take time to think within ourselves. We concern ourselves more with “likes,” “favs,” “retweets,” and “shares,” with the spaces we occupy digitally, and less with the space we occupy within ourselves. Instead of taking in the environment around us, we’re taking in the the latest Buzzfeed listicle. We turn to comment sections where we reinforce our newly formed opinion immediately, rather than dissect it ourselves. Giving ourselves our alone time gives us the space to form our own ideas and opinions, free from the groupthink that would shape them otherwise.

Our 24/7 connection just feeds the hive mind mentality. As Albert Camus wrote: “In order to understand the world, one has to turn away from it on occasion” (The Myth of Sisyphus and Other Essays, 1942). How many times does someone lose or turn off their phone for a few days, only to proclaim how nice it was to not be so connected, so bogged down by everything? That’s what we need more of. We need to turn away and find our solitude. It’s there that we are able to find the companion within ourselves and shape who we are, and, maybe, find that answer as to what it means to be a man in today’s world.

“Guard well your spare moments. They are like uncut diamonds. Discard them and their value will never be known. Improve them and they will become the brightest gems in a useful life” – Ralph Waldo Emerson


One thought on “On Solitude

  1. The band Alpenglow has a great song titled “Solitude” (http://www.alpenglowmusic.com/music/), in which they sing: “If I wanted my solitude, I’d move to the city…if I wanted to be with you, I’d move to the woods for a little while.” I see these lyrics as a reflection of the reality that our 24/7 connection through technology has actually resulted in profound loneliness- the life of the city, which I take to be synonymous with mainstream society or anywhere with internet/4G, is consuming us. To have deeper relationships, to feel the rawness of life, to reflect on the lives we lead and how we do so (in my case, how I do so as a man)…that all now requires “moving to the woods,” carving out the Emerson’s “spare moments,” creating that true solitude of which you so elegantly write.

    I was blessed to be able to spend every summer from ages 9-25 largely disconnected from all technology. Those opportunities to engage with nature and the people I was surrounded by have been invaluable in my development. I’ve never thought of how the decline in solitude related to developing as a man, but I believe that your thoughts are right on. Great stuff.

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