Americans have perfected the ability to be alone together.
Sherry Turkle has a new book about the phenomenon of our time: the dependence upon social media for our relationships at the expense of maintaining actual personal relationships. Alone Together: why we expect more from technology and less from each other is on my list of “next books to read,” not because the social networks are abuzz with it, but because I see it enacted every day here in the twenty-something realm of higher education. Now, compound that observation with my own particular brand of anomie and the consequences are mind numbing.
At the party last weekend (thanks, by the way, to Cindy and Mark for hosting it, and to Steve, AnneMarie, Paul and Kay for all their contributions) there were both extremes in evidence: A) people in the midst of a relative crowd, who were texting and tweeting and googling and checking bids on eBay and god knows what else on their smart phones, while B) there were genuine conversations under way between and among friends, but also with absolute strangers who had nothing more in common than knowing me or Peter. Despite the two manhattans crafted for me by Mark (or, perhaps, because of them), I had a few genuinely insightful exchanges with some of my favorite people. One of them with a friend who said he had a letter half-written and would complete it when he got home, and the other from a friend who said he wanted to start a correspondence in slow time to savor each word sent, each phrase received, each thought shared, each idea explored.
When’s the last time you wrote a letter?
I thought about this earlier today when I stumbled on a posting titled “9 Abandoned Islands where Time has Stopped” and lusted for a few moments of genuine isolation to center myself with the World. Soon enough time will indeed stop for me, but while I wait, there are days I’d wish to teleport to the island of Hirta or some other place with only un-mown turf, abandoned houses that had once been loved and might be again.
Do you suppose the Scots would let me camp there for a week? I promise to come back a different person.