How Were People Distracted Before the Internet?
Picasso said it well.
"Without Solitude no serious work is possible"
Some people thrive in solitude. Other's find solitude to be a withering experience. Introvert or extrovert tendencies aside, finding the balance between real solitide and healthy human interaction is absolutely critical for all of us.
There is a complication unique to the modern era. The complication is perceived social interaction on the Internet. Caution is required, particularly when considering the social/solitude balance. Neither Picasso nor Jesus nor Paul had to take Internet connectivity into account when thinking about aloneness and community. LTE/4G/3G networks are pretty much everywhere. We're never alone, and this could be problematic.
Qualifier: I love the Internet and I love the possibilities of the Internet. I am also a relatively active user of social media. While living in Mongolia, the Internet and social media was a lifeline to friends and family in the US. Now that we're living in the US again, I use this same lifeline to stay connected with friends in Mongolia (and friends in Africa, Europe, South America and anywhere else friends may land. Society is now global and friends can be anywhere). I am not anti-Facebook or anti-Twitter or anti-Internet. Heck. Chances are you're reading this on the Internet and you found me through social media. So, that's good.
However, while I'm a user, and perhaps even a fan, of this medium, there are consequences to this medium that we have to be careful of. One of those consequences is the reality that we are never really alone. Or so we think.
It is more complicated than this. But here is my assessment.
For the extrovert, the problem lies in the fact that there's never a break. Real solitude becomes extremely difficult. There's always connectivity. There's always a network. I was able to post to social media while traveling the no-man's-land of the Gobi desert in outer Mongolia. I can always look at what people are doing and what people are saying, and inform everyone else about what I am doing, saying, eating, drinking, reading or watching. There's never a break from the noise.
For the extrovert, the essential human need for solitude needs to include not having anything that connects wirelessly to any kind of network. I'm convinced that only then are we truly in a place to receive the benefits of solitude. Being unavailable for periods of time is a healthy state of being. I'm planning to do more of this.
I think there's similar issue when it comes to the introverted side of the populace (I'm one of those odd ducks who scores right at 50% when it comes to the introvert/extrovert spectrum. I have to think about both of these things). We all need healthy human interaction. I realize there is some argument that social media is human interaction. But it's not. Not really. I mean I follow a guy on Twitter who poses Kim Jong-Un for crying out loud. It's humerous and entertaining (at times). But it's not real. People can take on any kind of persona they want in cyber-world. We need to be with people of the non-digital variety.
Last evening Reneé and I went to a "life group" at our local church. It's their version of small groups for the purpose of fellowship and connection. Honestly, I didn't want to go. It was Reneé's idea completely. I didn't know a soul, and wasn't feeling particularly social. We went anyway. It was awkward and weird and awesome. There is something about being with people, flesh and blood people, that makes all the difference. I ended up thoroughly enjoying the evening, and actually finding the Gospel-based human connection incredibly helpful. Lesson of the night being, introverts need people (maybe fewer people, but people none the less), not Facebook. There's no substitute for real human interaction.
I fear a lot of folks in our era are using the Internet in general and social media in particular as a replacement for the essentials we need as created human beings. Real solitude. Real human interaction.
It makes me wonder what the alternative temptations were in Picasso's day, since he didn't have the Internet. Is it possible we are living in a day when very little serious work will be accomplished? I don't think that has to be the case, as long as we live with awareness, discipline and embrace the routines necessary for real work and healthy lives.
Note: I just finished reading a book by Greg McKeown called Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. I can't recommend this enough. This article touches on a one aspect of Mr. McKeown's opus. Chances are I will be exploring more aspects of this book in articles to come.