I was thinking of a painting I imagined myself this morning.
A water colour of a woman in a white bonnet on a hilltop with her back to the viewer. There are rolling hills all around dotted by white and yellow grass flowers as far as the eye can see. It’s springtime. There is no noise except that of the passing breeze. She is drinking in the surroundings alone, at peace.
Then I imagined another painting. A man in a dark room at a solid, brown, wooden table sitting by candlelight at work. Everything beyond that circle of light is dark, undefinable, unfathomable. Quiet. Night. Perhaps someone else is reading or writing a letter in another corner beyond the scope of the painting. Only his heavy breathing is audible. This man is secluded completely.
I see a third painting. Two people sitting in a sparsely furnished room engaged in deep discussion. They are looking intently at each other. You are aware that that is how they have been in conversation for the last half hour even though this painting has only captured a moment in their interaction. A tiny fraction of their concentration.
As a viewer, I feel like an intruder. I mustn’t be here watching them.
Then I think of a real-life scenario. What would it have been like if they were real people in my own place and time?
The hilltop of the first imagined painting is still there but a loud beep penetrates the thoughts of the woman in the white bonnet. A text has arrived that says “R U @ d top yet?” She is, after all, seventeen.
Or perhaps her eye keeps drifting to the phone in the expectation of a text which hasn’t arrived yet. “Your bill is paid in full with no outstanding balance.” Maybe the woman is thirty five. Who knows?
The man in the second painting in the lighted circle is sitting in the glow of a table lamp, not a candle. Outside the circle it’s still dark but the walls are being illuminated by flashing blue and white lights that are moving continuously which gives the whole picture a surreal feel. He has fixed a TV on the wall himself. He is obliged to keep running this TV at night lest he miss out on a news item. Or worse still, lest he feel alone.
It is the same with the two people in discussion in the third painting in the sparsely furnished room. They are still rather proud that they don’t own much furniture. But they have gadgets with real or virtual keyboards on the table that demand their attention from time to time. I am no longer the only intruder here.
Why has being alone become more difficult than ever before? Even when there is no one around, even when we are completely alone, on a hilltop or in a cave or in a room, we are desperate to record the moment to show others who are not here. Take millions of pictures, tweet the moment, record our location or update our status. Why are we never just alone, in seclusion or in isolation just being there without feeling compelled to create a narrative of the moment? To record, to objectify, to display?
We have to be the hero of our secluded state and for that we need other people who will read, view and somehow pass on what we have captured via likes and sharings and recommendations. We want to become the recorders of beauty, the conquerors of time, the hoarders of information and the best authority on the passing second in the temporal history of mankind.
And in that blip of a temporal history as compared to the life of the universe, it is no longer possible to be completely alone, to feel what is around us just for the sake of feeling it without a compulsion of a purpose.
To lose the past, to forget places, to bask in blissful oblivion of names, faces events–that is a luxury we don’t have anymore. There is no drifting apart of lives, no losing touch with relatives, no remembering a face but forgetting a name. There is a record of everything. We are now cursed with our crowded memories forever thanks to our social networks. Where is the chance to get lonely?
Despite living in such crowded spaces now, we have come to dread loneliness. To fear it almost. Being with people has penetrated the deepest recesses of our beings in a new way.
So company has to be cultivated very carefully–play dates for children have to be planned with precision, romantic dates have to be fixed like clockwork only on weekends. Preparations have to be done. Meetups found on the ‘net based on common activities necessitate developing an interesting hobby, social networking regulated by complex algorithms necessitate being constantly on guard to appease the shifting terrain of the logical gods.
We are not only getting rid of loneliness this way but becoming the vehicles of exorcizing other people’s solitude (which we think is loneliness) as well by making them visible through liking, recommending, sharing or just by being connected to them. Even when we loudly proclaim, in our status updates that we are spending “me time,” “alone time,” or “quality time” (as though naming will give us some power over our lives) we are not alone. We are talking about ourselves incessantly, albeit to no one in particular, posting pictures, tweeting and updating our status hoping someone notices and comments back from the void.
But perhaps there are new ways of being alone in this crowd, ways a bit more nuanced and inventive than merely switching off our gadgets or losing them for a day?
Perhaps new generations will discover new ways of being alone is such a noisy world. After all, our seclusion survived the telephone, why not the internet?
©bottledworder, 2013. https://bottledworder.wordpress.com
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