Being alone is not the same thing as being lonely.
I think I read this somewhere many years ago and I have entirely forgotten who said it, or in what context. However, having internalised the thought behind the statement, I have almost attributed the saying to myself, and constantly repeat it to whoever is willing to listen!
Paul Tillich once said, “Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.” How true and succinctly explains the difference between loneliness and solitude. Jean-Paul Sartre was more blunt when he said, “If you’re lonely when you’re alone, you’re in bad company.” Aldous Huxley said, “The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude.” Henry David Thoreau expressed my feelings best when he said, “I find it wholesome to be alone the greater part of the time. To be in company, even with the best, is soon wearisome and dissipating. I love to be alone. I never found the companion that was so companionable as solitude.”
Ever since the invention and the introduction of smart phones and the highly addictive pursuits that have mushroomed over social media, people today live a life of instant gratification. In an increasingly smaller and connected world, validation is sought not from within oneself, but from the peer group. There are enough and more memes on social media wondering how different is the profile picture on social media from the real one. Or, whether the droplets trickling down the cheeks in the privacy of one’s home is really hidden by the vivacious existence portrayed for the public at large.
I have seen infants as young as two or three years old with their own personal mobile phones, gleefully playing the sundry games available for free.
As they grow older, they get into more interactive platforms. With approaching puberty and in the years of the terrible teens, existence and acceptance itself is based on the number of “likes” and “retweets” and “shares” received on the photograph eating that awesome breakfast, or a new hair cut, or the new shirt or skirt that has become a part of the wardrobe.
When one visits a tourism spot, one is amazed at how much these people are removed from reality. Between their reality and the environment around them is a wall that has come up. A digital wall in the form of a smart phone. Instead of enjoying the experience of being in the middle of a site, they are more intent on looking at their phone screens, trying to capture a selfie to prove that they were there. In the process they get entirely removed from the reality around them and are submerged into an unreal digital world, subsumed by the worry of how many “Friends” will “like” the post. And God forbid, if the number of “likes” are not as per expectations, the walls close in, the ground below the feet shifts, life itself loses all meaning. Some overcome the initial setback and go about posting a few more photos, hoping that the tide will turn in their favour. If someone asks a question in response to the post, for instance, “Did you see the room where such and such happened?” is responded with “Huh!?” Alternatively, the response is, “Wait, m still here, will post a pix. Gimme a sec.” The purpose of the visit is to capture selfies, not to experience what there is to experience.
Thanks to social media, we are learning to live vicariously through what our “Friends” are doing. Conversely, we add to the cacophony by adding our own voice to the selfie album.
Is it this reality that is forcing me to become more and more a loner, looking for my own solitude? I do not totally agree with the first part of Jodi Picoult’s statement, but agree with the second part, “Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.” I continue to be disappointed by the attitude, lifestyle and choices made by many people that I come across. It is almost impossible to argue logically with them about the perils of living an unreal digital persona.
I am often confronted with the generation gap and the fact that technology has changed the way people live their lives today. I agree with this entirely. Every subsequent generation feels that the members of the previous generation lived an archaic life, without the benefits of the many kewl gadgets made possible through technological advancement. The airplane changed the way the world travelled. Radio made way for the television, black and white screens moved and colour television took its place. Landline telephones are almost a relic, with the majority of the population connected through mobile phones. Letter writing has been replaced with email and subsequently to SMS. Just a few years ago one had to pay substantial amounts of money to send a text message attached with a photograph. Whatsapp changed all that. Sure, life has become a lot easier with technology. What we however tend to forget, is that these are mere gadgets and should not replace basic human emotions and values.
Am I suggesting abandoning gadgets and to start living in a cave once again like our primitive ancestors? Not at all.
These gadgets can and do make life a lot easier. What I am saying is to reduce our dependence on these things. We need to start enjoying life as we see it around us, not through the window of a phone screen. Just try and take away the phone from a youngster and see the reaction. Major depression will set in almost immediately and in a few days medical intervention might be called for. Is that what we seek from technology and the modern way of life and living? I hope not.
We need to be able to find comfort by ourselves, without any of the encumbrances that modern amenities make available. They are mere aids to living our life, not the reason for it.
If one cannot be comfortable, content, satisfied and happy without external crutches, any and every thing that makes our life a little easier, will become a bonus. We have to find our own solitude. It need not necessarily be in the folds of the mountains, inside a secluded cave, on the swirling waters of a river, it can be found even while living in the chaos and cacophony of a crowded city life. Meditation is something that has been prescribed by many people in the know. Psychologists and psychiatrists might offer different solutions. But the simple solution is to sit down, close your eyes, take a deep breath, and live a life where your closest friend is you and yourself.
If we do not understand this malady of the modern generation, things will get a lot worse before it gets better. By then it might be too late for some people who will become the lab rats for this change. With increasing numbers falling prey to the need for external validation to justify their existence, will per force entail a change in technology to bring about a modification of how we live our lives. But with whatever advancements that come about on the technological front, the easiest and immediate solution is to find our own solitude and be comfortable within it.
Go ahead, try it. It is so liberating when you do not need to look at the phone screen to check whether or not there is any new notification. Let the phone stay in your pocket while you revel in the wonders of the place you are visiting. Try and not announce to rest of the world that you are such and such airport travelling to so and so place. Enjoy your own solitude.