Ah, Look at all the Lonely People



Google the word “freedom” right this moment and the first of 209,000,000 entries is the website for some sort of gizmo that allows your computer to essentially kick your ass off the internet.

Am I the only one who finds that profoundly sad? Am I the only one who generally finds the internet a lonely vacuum, a vortex, a votive candle in the men’s room of the noisiest shopping mall on the planet? Am I the only one who feels like I’m wasting way too much time nosing around in nonsense, having what’s left of my brains beaten in by jackhammers, and trying to “make friends” when I should be doing a better job of actually being friends?

I don’t think so. Daniel Akst, writing in The Wilson Quarterly, doesn’t think so either. In a piece entitled “America: Land of Loners?” Akst delves further and more thoughtfully than most other critics into the perils facing a generation that spends such huge chunks of its life in front of screens. “In restricting ourselves to the thin gruel of modern friendships, we miss out on the more nourishing fare that deeper ones have to offer,” Akst observes.

Aristotle, who saw friendship as essential to human flourishing, shrewdly observed that it comes...in three distinct flavors: those based on usefulness (contacts), on pleasure (drinking buddies), and on a shared pursuit of virtue—the highest form of all. True friends, he contended, are simply drawn to the goodness in one another, goodness that today we might define in terms of common passions and sensibilities.

“Land of Loners” is fundamentally a passionate defense of traditional friendships and meaningful relationships, but Akst isn’t just another guy running a jackhammer. He’s asking important questions, and at its core his piece isn’t even a cut-and-dry anti-net screed. He—like lots of other people—is simply trying to understand why so many of us are so lonely, so depressed, so unhealthy, and so disconnected from sources of genuine stability, connection, and vitality.

It’s probably no real surprise or comfort, but it turns out that more than 50 years ago a science fiction writer had a pretty clear and disturbing vision of where humanity was headed; the best sci-fi writers, after all, have always had a particularly keen understanding of the average human’s weakness for all manner of gee-whizery.

Jeffrey Chuang
12/3/2010 12:07:12 AM

On one side, I understand the author's point, and yet part of thinks 'well, what is the actual physical world other than yet another interface?' Even in the physical (or non-internet world as it were) once you engage in a deep conversation, aren't you in some sense immersed into a kind of cyberspace? In some ways, the virtual world allows a certain freedom from the concrete world, in that suddenly certain things become much less relevant, such as your physical appearance, how your voice carries, your age, etc. If you think about it, those things, the apparent things that come in the physical world can be a hindrance between two people forming a friendship or understanding each other. For instance, I like to think of myself as a pretty funny person. The problem is, my delivery sucks. But on the internet, my delivery doesn't matter. I post a funny comment on facebook and I don't risk ruining the joke by stammering or bad timing. So, in conclusion, what I'm saying is that a friendship or relationship formed on the internet is no less valid than one formed otherwise, and in some ways may be even more concrete. Sometimes I am brilliant when I am drunk.

Lauri Lumby
11/17/2010 8:02:29 AM

I love the irony of the word "freedom" as it is related to the internet and social networking. I have entitled the work that I do "Authentic Freedom" to reflect the search for inner freedom that is at the heart of the human spiritual journey. The end result of the journey is the realization that fulfillment, contentment, peace, joy, compassion - all those things we desire as human beings can ONLY COME FROM WITHIN! As such, the external search will always result in frustration and..you got it...MORE loneliness! The good news is that it does not result in a human populace that is anti-social, but one that nurtures relationships that are reflective of the harmony we now feel within. AHHHH This is heaven on earth! Lauri Lumby Authentic Freedom Ministries http://yourspiritualtruth.com

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