October 20, 2013 § 9 Comments

Martha the last Passenger PigeonI sometimes feel like Martha, the last passenger pigeon, living out the final days of her uniqueness alone in a small cage at the Cincinnati Zoo.

Far from vanishing, my species is overwhelming the earth–just as Martha’ s once obliterated the sky,

But my species is undergoing a voluntary and collective evolutionary change that is making the kind of human I am seem quaint, a relic, irrelevant.

Humanity and technology are evolving together. We led it, now it leads us.

Before technology made it easy to connect, meet up, or network intangibly, we looked into each other’s eyes, offered a handshake, lay back in the grass together and stared at the stars.

We spent time alone.

Alone is where the self ticks along, the individual becomes individual, where thoughts are given the isolation and deep time needed to become ideas.

Of course we gain from the easy connection technology gives us. I can see my daughter and grandson in New Jersey every day on SKYPE. In an earlier time that distance would have reduced us to infrequent letters, earlier still and that distance would have been a permanent good-bye.

But what do we gain by making connection constantly available?

We can reach anyone anytime and they can do the same to us. We justify this availability with worst case scenarios. If I break down on a deserted stretch of road I can call for help before the sun sets and I hear banjo music. If disaster strikes somewhere in the web of my life I will know instantly!

Captain Jean Luc Picard of the Borg.And so we carry a device that can interrupt us at any time.

The generation that has never known the state of being solo sleeps with their on-call device under a pillow.

It won’t be long before the pocket or purse will be seen as inconvenient. Why not implant the rest of humanity in an easy to carry chip somewhere in your body?

We are not interrupted every second—but we could be. That possibility keeps us in idle mode, like a sleeping computer. When not in contact we wait, ready to be activated by that beep, that jingle, that unique ring tone shared by a million others. Like Pavlov’s dogs, we salivate on cue.

We participate in the great bagel a high school friend ate for breakfast. We help a sister choose which pair of shoes to wear for her big date.

We are right there to co-enjoy, be sympathetically horrified, share indignation, kill time.

So, what is lost?

We have traded a leisurely river, one with eddies and slow spots, for constantly churning rapids. We cannot keep up with the rush of all humanity, but we are left breathless by the effort.

Time with other people now comes with a disclaimer: I am here for you exclusively–unless I get a text. We are much better in the flesh, really. We can be hugged and our facial expressions are nuanced. Compare a real smile to this: : )

Always in touch, the deep time needed to think a complex and individual thought without seeking the approval of the collective is lost.

Something anticipated, even yearned for, touches us more than instant gratification. Missing someone and longing to see them makes coming back together a moment that races the heart.

When everything arrives with an equal sense of urgency we are less able to distinguish between the important and the trivial.

We mistake the virtual for the real so we spend less time experiencing the world where yes, there are mosquitoes and we get sweaty, but where magnificence is scaled to remind us that we are small and finite, a fleck in something beyond our comprehension. Rarely awed, we believe we are large and in charge.

We farm Farmville and never plant a real tomato in genuine dirt.

Perhaps we are just young at being this kind of species and we will develop the wisdom to know when to turn our connectedness off and enjoy solitude and our own thoughts, when to stop clicking YouTube videos and get dirt on our hands.

And perhaps I really am Martha. It feels like it some times.  You say, “Just a sec!” and I am alone, watching you stare at your smart screen, no longer with me at all.

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§ 9 Responses to Alone.

  • craig reeder says:

    Wow! You really put a laser focus on something deeply important. I immediately recognized myself as guilty, and as one who has let himself foolishly slide down that slippery slope away from the real world. Thank you for the wake up call!!!! (Oops, that was a bad analogy.)

    I hope this blog reaches lots of other people. This is something we all need to hear!


  • KM Huber says:

    This blog post is a conversation I have with myself quite frequently. As you know, I value my solitude and many see me as quite reclusive. It is true I often feel most alone in large groups, as if I am the dinosaur in the room sans any screen/device. It does not make me want to bring a screen or device so I can join in, however. Screens/devices seem to keep conversation flowing, as you say, so that no one has to spend too long in any one subject. I am fortunate to have friends who enjoy a one-on-one conversation, and those times sustain me.

    That said, I also enjoy online conversations with other bloggers and their readers but again, this is done in a sort of solitude: one screen, one blog, one comment. A most thoughtful post, Adrian.


    • The online conversations you describe are considered, more like an old-time exchange of letters than the smattered back and forth of text messages. In that sense the new age is great. We can have conversations across geographic distances we will never traverse and have them with people we will never meet.


  • carolyn says:

    The tomatoes in Farmville do not get eaten by squirrels (as mine did in real life, leaves as well as the fruit – BOO!). And I must say that I really enjoy keeping up with friends, family and colleagues from HS, college, and various locations around the world. Being in Foreign Service, I would not have been able to stay in touch as easily as we moved from place to place, and friends and colleagues moved on to other locations as well. It has allowed me to share in photos from their new posts, where I have never visited, as well as keep track of children who are now in college and having babies of their own…

    However, I agree with you on the dangers of the I-phone/BB/etc and being in constant attachment to electronics, without time to sit in real grass and look at the sky/river/woods. I can see in many of the younger colleagues at work, always tapping under the table in meetings, not feeling this is in any way discourteous….. even when the meeting involves foreign colleagues who have travelled 1/2 way around the world, giving a readout from a 2-week audit of U.S. facilities producing items for export to their country! UGH! I wanted to kick them under the table to say pay attention, but could not reach! It seems some prefer to live a virtual life … I think I prefer to stay the dinosaur and walk to the other side of the building and say hi in person, rather than emailing…

    PS And happy that Locutus of Borg was able to have his implants removed and resume being captain of the Enterprise, so maybe the chips will not irreversible, if enough friends come to rescue us!


    • It is interesting that Star Trek assumed that we would resist assimilation and then, fight to regain our individuality. I guess that the writers of Star Trek for all their beaming up and their fast and loose ways with the space-time continuum were dinosaurs like ourselves.

      I liked the mental image of you trying to kick colleagues under the table–if only your leg had been longer.

      Thanks for your notes on my blog. You have had such an interesting life since PHS.


  • What you’re describing is a behavior and implying an absence of choice. You’re right though, there are lots of lemmings that follow the main-stream conscious, but don’t discount the folks who have made a choice regardless of the outcome. Some folks want to be connected all the time, want help making any decision. They revel in the collective, they are Borg. Others have decided not to be connected all the time and are teased for their antiquated viewpoint. I had someone laugh out loud (not lol… 🙂 because I said I didn’t own a cell phone. I made that decision years ago and while I may someday change my mind, I haven’t yet. My friends constantly make jokes about that decision. I like my solo time and I like hooking up with people. Yes technology has enabled many an interaction, but face to face meetings are still my preference.


    • I think that for the extremely shy virtual connection is a way to get close to others without actually getting close. Someone physically isolated can also connect virtually and it is far better than remaining alone–but I’ll take real human contact and genuine solitude over constant virtual connection any day.

      By the way–thanks for the tech support with my crashed hard drive. You saved the day, and the files!


  • Gina says:

    I forgot my phone twice this weekend. The first time by sheer accident and absent-mindedness. The second time, I think, was an unconscious choice, prompted by the freedom I unexpectedly experienced from the first time. It was wonderful to experience my day, my life, and the world around me without the anticipation of being interrupted by something ‘important.’ The world did not end!
    This is a timely and important post, Adrian. A subject that we all need to consider–and I do every time someone puts up a hand and says “Just a sec” (including me…I too am guilty, Craig!) I just wonder if the young people who have never traveled life without their devices will ever recognize how much they’ve gained and how much they’ve lost because of technology.


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