Saturday, July 31, 2010

On Loneliness

No, don’t worry. You won’t need your emo-shielding to read this post. I’m not going to talk about how horribly lonely I feel or anything dumb like that. I just decided to post a few observations I’ve made of society recently.

It occurred to me one day that our perception of loneliness has changed from what it probably was in the past. Where people normally spent long stretches of time unable to communicate with people who lived twenty or thirty miles away with any kind of ease, let alone someone half a continent away, we are able to pick up a phone or a computer and contact anyone we want, regardless of distance. While people in older times were isolated by travel time and technology, we have the advantage of satellites, optical cables and engines to shrink the gaps between us and those we consider our friends and families. In place of letters, messengers, and the odd carrier pigeon, we have emails, Facebook, and texting at our literal fingertips. There are very few places that remain outside our reach, even as we simply sit at home.

Yet at the same time, there is the sense that we are more isolated and lonely than we ever have been before. We live in cities full of millions of people, yet many of us barely know the names of our closest neighbors unless we make an unusual effort or meet them elsewhere. All sense of community has seemed to vanish, so that even when we are surrounded by people we don’t feel their company. Where we would consider ourselves lonely, our ancestors might look askance at us and point at the nearest person. Or they would simply mention the fact that it would only take us a half hour to cover the distance they traveled to see their friends when it used to take them a full day. Maybe they would just shrug.

I can’t quite figure out what has happened to create this situation in our culture. It could be that as it has become easier to see people and communicate, we have allowed that to cheapen the value of our relationships. Or maybe what we term as ‘loneliness’ was just a feeling that our forefathers simply endured without complaint. It might even be that in earlier times people simply were more comfortable when they were left to themselves, or that they stayed close enough to their family and friends that they never felt cut off the way we do. It’s strange, and I can’t seem to settle on a simple reason for it. Oh well. I guess it is one more thing to ponder about as life continues to change. See ya around!

1 comment:

  1. Interesting thought. I've wondered about that too. We interact with each other much more frequently, but the quality of our interactions seem to have fallen sharply. It may be connected to our modern economic system and our country's level of development; in a lot of 3rd world countries, after all, people are much more open and trusting, and loneliness isn't a problem. There isn't even a word for the concept in Arabic--just "waheedan," which means by oneself (and also means "only").

    Maybe the reason for this is our individual selfishness, which our culture seems to promote. When we are only really concerned about ourselves, our 'only-ness' can easily transfer to 'loneliness'